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The Earth's terrain through the eyes of Native people

ASU professor to speak about "Place, Culture, and Geoscience."
Ethnogeology seeks to include indigenous beliefs in research.
November 16, 2016

ASU professor and leading expert on ethnogeology to talk about different cultures' interactions with homelands

When people look at a landmark like a peak, they may see a few things. A mountain, first of all. Maybe some history to go with it, like a Civil War battle once being fought at its foot. Perhaps a personal aspect, like usually stopping there for a cone.

Native people see another dimension entirely. They see all those things, and more: religion, myth and beliefs, physically manifested in stone and sand.

There are places on the Navajo nation — certain mountains, dune fields, canyons, high passes between cliffs — where ancient heroes fought monsters.

Studying how different cultures understand their physical homelands is a new specialty called ethnogeology, which combines geology, geography and anthropology.

Arizona State University’s Steve Semken, an associate professor of geoscience education and geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, will lecture about ethnogeology Thursday night in a talk called “Place, Culture, and Geoscience.”

Semken is the country’s leading expert on the topic. He became intrigued with the subject when he taught geology for 15 years at the Navajo tribal Dine College's branch in Shiprock, New Mexico. When he took students on geologic field trips, he noticed they had different names for places than what was on maps.

He began participatory research with the help of Navajo partners. He now studies human interactions with and knowledge of the Earth.

Asked if he could give specific examples of landmarks that feature prominently in Navajo mythos, he declined.

“I can’t talk about those places because I don’t know if the snow has fallen yet or not,” he said. “Those stories are only told when the snow has fallen.”

Navajo believe when the snow has fallen, the landmarks are asleep and they can’t be offended.

Examples that can be illustrated include the Oracle of Delphi in Greece. Eyewitnesses described priestesses inhaling vapors from a fault in the floor of their chamber. In the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers discovered the original fault in the chamber floor, and evidence that ethylene gas — a hallucinogenic hydrocarbon — was present in nearby springs.

In the Pacific, radiocarbon dating of scorched vegetation beneath lava sheets corresponds to historical dates of battles between the fire god Pele and other deities.

James Riding In is the interim director of American Indian Studies at ASU.

“In American Indian studies we have long reflected the views of Indian people that place is central to identity,” Riding In said. “I think what that shows is that in some instances Indian beliefs are impacting the way the research is being done.”

Semken said his field shows indigenous people that geology is part of them.

“I’m trying to help the students understand they’ve always had a place in this science,” said Semken, who holds a certificate in the Dine Philosophy of Education from Dine College. “Their culture has important knowledge, and they can bring that to the table and it will motivate them to study and learn.”

New Discoveries Lecture Series: 'Place, Culture and Geoscience'

When: 7:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.

Where: Marston Exploration Theater in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, Tempe campus.

Admission: Free, but registration is kindly requested for planning purposes.

Details: More information, including parking, can be found at ASU Events.

Top photo of Monument Valley by Carol M. Highsmith

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU powwow to celebrate Native veterans

Public invited to share in Native culture during annual Veterans Day powwow.
November 9, 2016

Annual Veterans Day tradition features Native drummers, singers, dancers, artists and food

It’s hard to miss evidence of Indian history and culture in metro Phoenix: Valley residents drive down Apache Boulevard, hike past Hohokam petroglyphs on A Mountain and enjoy fry bread at fairs and festivals.

Yet, the influence often goes unnoticed.

An ASU event that honors military veterans, however, is rapidly growing a reputation as an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Native Americans through ceremony, celebration and face-to-face interactions. On Saturday, Nov. 12, ASU West will host the 16th annual Veterans Day Weekend Traditional Pow Wow, an all-day gathering, free and open to the public, featuring Native drummers, singers, dancers, artists and food.

This year’s theme is “A Celebration of Native Veterans,” but organizers say all vets are welcome to take part and will be honored in a special evening ceremony. 

Event planner Jacob Meders says the powwow represents a chance for people to explore the history that led to the Apache Boulevard name, ask about the petroglyphs or learn the story behind fry bread.

“We have so many misunderstandings of what Native culture is and who Native people are, and (at the powwow) there’s such a wide range of Native people all in one place, and they’re willing to hang out and talk and share,” said Meders, assistant professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural StudiesThe School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies is part of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences..

Event chairman Dennis Eagleman agrees, saying he recognized the need for such connections about 10 years ago leading an immersion tour for West campus’ Native American Student Organization. He had been taking non-Native students on a trip through some of the more than 20 reservations in Arizona when he realized just how uninformed much of the general public could be.  

“There were people who had lived in Phoenix their whole life saying, ‘We’ve never been to a reservation, are we allowed?’” he recalled with a chuckle. (The answer: Yes.)

The ASU powwow started as a way to honor a Native service member who was being deployed to Iraq, and it has grown into an annual celebration celebrating veterans and Indian culture.

The term powwow has become a catchall for the celebrations of North American indigenous people. Throughout history — across various tribes and names — such events have always been about honoring aspects of Native culture. And much like certain songs, stories and foods, the concept of the “warrior society” has long been deeply engrained in Native communities, and therefore celebrated at such gatherings.

Eagleman, a member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe, discussed the context, saying: “Basically, everybody was a veteran. You had wars, and everybody fought. … It’s like in ‘Dances with Wolves’ when one character was trying to explain to another that everybody’s a warrior. It’s not like there’s one certain group.”

Today, Native Americans have the highest number of service members per capita of any ethnic group in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Though neither Eagleman nor Meders are veterans, they both count vets among their family members. Eagleman’s father was a member of the U.S. Navy, and Meders’ father, grandfathers and uncles served in various branches.

Meders, of the Mechoopda Tribe, jokes that he was granted a pass on the military lifestyle and instead graduated from ASU in 2011 with a master’s in printmaking. When he’s not teaching at West campus, he runs a studio in downtown Phoenix, Warbird Press. One of his favorite things about the powwow is the chance to share Native art. 

“Native people are really truly original interdisciplinary artists,” he said. “Storytellers, dancers, singers, visual artists. That’s always been part of who we are. There’s so many renaissance Native people” in professions such as law who also “do beading, or storytelling, or dancing. They do it all.”

Both Eagleman and Meders hope the public will take advantage of the opportunity to learn and engage.

“If somebody non-Native were to go to the powwow and start asking questions, some of the [Native] people will talk your head off,” said Eagleman, enthused.

“You have to start somewhere,” said Meders, “and a powwow is probably the most laid-back, easiest way to engage. … We’re not asking people to feel guilty about their ancestors. But we are asking them to truly understand the true history of this country.”

For information, including parking and a complete schedule of events, go to:

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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ASU Law students work to ensure Native votes count

Dozens of initiative volunteers come from ASU, community.
Project volunteers will work at polling places and on telephone hotlines.
November 7, 2016

Native Vote Election Protection Project aims to help American Indians navigate problems such as intimidation on Election Day

ASU Law student Allyson Von Seggern said she felt like a rookie two years ago working a primary election.

She had recently moved from small-town Nebraska to the Phoenix area for law school. Eager to earn extra credit, she signed on to help with an ASU Indian Legal Clinic voter initiative. But she had no idea what to expect: “It was one of the most painful days of my life,” she said.

Today, thanks in part to hundreds of hours of experience with the clinic, she’s ready to lead a group of about 80 volunteers for the clinic’s Native Vote Election Protection Project, an outreach effort that helps American Indians navigate problems on Election Day.

“We’re out to make every vote count,” Von Seggern said.

Composed of ASU students and dozens of community members, the initiative aims to ensure that Native Americans exercise their right to vote in federal and state elections. The volunteers have been trained to be ready to help with a range of issues, including voter intimidation.

ASU Law professor Patty Ferguson-Bonhee runs the Indian Legal Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, located at the Downtown Phoenix campus. She started Native Vote in response to a 2004 Arizona voter ID law.

Ferguson-Bonhee said that particular law and subsequent others don’t take into account the negative effects on Native Americans and that they often lead to canceled votes, confusion and disenfranchisement.

“Native Americans like to exercise their right to vote,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “In the old days it was obvious why these laws were passed. These days the reasons are different, but it’s still the same result.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Arizona has a bad track record regarding elections. According to her project’s website, Native Americans weren’t allowed to vote until 1948, when the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a long-standing ban on Indian voting. Natives continued to be excluded until 1970 through so-called literacy tests.

Since then, she said, many Native people in Arizona have continued to experience voting difficulties.

“It doesn’t seem like in this day and age there are people out there trying to prevent Native American from voting, but there are,” said Kris Beecher, a first-year law student who is enrolled in ASU’s Indian Legal Program.

Beecher, who is Navajo, worked in the 2014 election. He said he saw many Native voters get disqualified due to newly instituted laws and a lack of knowledge from poll workers. He also noticed something else.

“Many of the poll workers are not Native Americans, and they were on Native American soil and disqualifying potential voters,” he said.

The initiative includes volunteers dispersing to 12 polling sites around the state and others working a telephone hotline.  

Kyra Climbingbear, a first-year law student from Piscataway, New Jersey, said she volunteered because “where I’m from, not many people vote.”

“Arizona has a large indigenous population, and they seem more unified here,” Climbingbear said. “They seem to understand that Native lives matter … you’re only as loud as your voice.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Natives will face many issues on Election Day, which could include providing acceptable forms of identification, problems with confusing ballot language, being placed on a permanent early-voting list (which she said some counties do), being sent to incorrect polling locations, and legal and procedural differences between tribal and state elections.

“Once you secure a right, it’s great, but there’s roadblocks all around,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “Our job on Election Day is to clear the roadblocks.”

Top photo: Director of the Legal Indian Clinic Patty Ferguson-Bohnee touches base with her students during an orientation for the Native Vote Initiative at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on Nov. 1. The initiative was organized by the Indian Legal Clinic and led by third-year ASU Law students. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU students celebrate Native American Heritage Month this November.
October 31, 2016

ASU student groups create series of events throughout November for Native American Heritage Month

ASU English lit and public policy major Megan Tom says it can be tough for Native Americans living away from their home communities for the first time.

Underrepresentation and pervasive stereotypes mean that many in mainstream society carry misguided notions of what it means to be an American Indian today, making students such as herself representatives for a population of more than 5 million people from more than 560 distinct tribes across the U.S.

“It’s exhausting giving Native 101 to everyone,” the fourth-year Navajo student from Cameron, Arizona, said.

To ease that individual burden, build connections and break down stereotypes, Tom, president of ASU’s American Indian Council, and other indigenous student groups at Arizona State University have created a series of events for Native American Heritage Month.

November represents an opportunity, Tom said, to share the “perspective from a larger community.”

The Nov. 1 kickoff celebration at the Memorial Union on the Tempe Campus starts at 11:30 a.m. and will include frybread, cultural performances and information on American Indian organizations.

Next week, “Water is Life #NoDAPL” will address the ongoing protest at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock Souix tribe and their supporters are lining up to block the 1,000-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. Developers say the pipeline will boost the economy and make the U.S. less beholden to foreign countries. Protesters say it cuts through sovereign territory and could contaminate the area’s drinking water.

The Nov. 8 eventHosted by the American Indian Science Engineering Society, Construction In Indian Country Student Organization, and American Indian Council. will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and feature Native students and pipeline protesters who can explain their perspective to attendees.

Students stand in front of building

ASU students showing their support for Standing Rock protesters.

Tom said it’s especially important because some young people dressed up as pipeline protesters for Halloween.

“This is a fight for water, a basic human necessity,” she said, adding that it’s “frustrating” that people would make a joke of it. “It shows where we are in the nation’s perspective of Native people.”

“Changing the Way We See Native America: Dismantling Native American Stereotypes,” meanwhile, will feature photography from the Project 562, led by Matika Wilbur, of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribe in Washington state.

The Nov. 22 eventHosted by the Womyn’s Coalition, Rainbow Coalition and American Indian Council. will start at 6 p.m. on ASU’s Polytechnic campus. Wilbur said the project’s name comes from the number of federally recognized tribes in the U.S. when she started. There are now 566 recognized tribes. She is working to photograph everyday, modern Native people on tribal lands to break down longstanding stereotypes.

“It’s quite obvious that the popular understanding of a Native American is that of a noble savage or spiritual being,” Wilbur said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

woman holding camera

Photographer and social documentarian Matika Wilbur.

ASU interdisciplinary studies major Emerald Byakeddy said such work is important because “a lot of people don’t understand that” American Indians “are not one-dimensional.”

Sometimes people “can’t understand until they’ve been in your skin,” the Navajo senior from Tuba City, Arizona, said.

“Deconstructing Stereotypes and Abolishing the R-word: A Discussion on the Use of Sports Masots” will get into the problems many Native people see with the images and names associated with the Cleveland Major League Baseball franchise and the Washington, D.C., professional football team.

The Nov. 28 eventHosted by ASU American Indian Studies Department. will start at 6 p.m. at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus.   

“The perception of Native Americans is not even of a vanishing race but a vanished race, even in Arizona where school kids continue to say things like, ‘I thought all Indians were dead,’” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center of Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs. “These perceptions and stereotypes still exist and persist, and it’s complicated.”

More than 2,600 Native American students attend ASU, which recently saw its largest graduating class of over 360 in May.

Brayboy said the mascot conversation “is pretty timely” because of Cleveland’s place in the World Series. “If you look at the caricature of what Chief Wahoo looks like what you see is a caricature — and it’s a pretty hateful one, from where I sit — but it locates us in a past moment.”

“We need to expose our kids,” Brayboy said, “to modern versions of Native people. This is exactly what our students do — they represent the very best of the present and future selves of Native Nations.”

Other events include:

• Zuni Pueblo: Culture, History, Language & Art with Matthew Yatsayte, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Nov. 4, Discovery Hall 313, Tempe campus

• 16th Annual Veterans Day Weekend Traditional Pow Wow, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Nov. 12, Fletcher Library Lawn, West campus

• Celebrating Native Americans in the Law: Judge Diana Humetewa, 12:15 p.m.–1:15 p.m., Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Downtown Phoenix campus

• One Word Indian Two Communities, 5–8 p.m., Nov. 17, Sparky’s Den, ASU Memorial Union, Tempe campus

• 22nd Annual Josiah N. Moore Memorial Scholarship Benefit Dinner, 6–9 p.m., Nov. 19, Carson Ballroom, Old Main, Tempe campus

For a full listing of scheduled events, go here.

Top image: Chief Bill James of the Lummi Nation at a sacred site in the northwest corner of Washington State. Photo taken by Matika Wilbur for Project 562.

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ASU alum fashions a new path

ASU alumnus has designs on the fashion world — and on @PHXFashionWeek.
October 10, 2016

Mechanical engineer finds inspiration in design, Native American culture; will show his collection at Phoenix Fashion Week

There’s really not a polite way to say this — Loren Aragon’s house is a mess.

Not far from the entrance there are several racks of handmade garments, raw fabrics and dress forms. Sewing machines, pattern paper, thread, pincushions, measuring devices, cutting tools and two draft tables dominate what was once the dining and living areas. 

His Maricopa residence has been this way for the past year.

That’s about the time he decided to turn his fashion-design hobby into a full-time vocation.

Which might come as a surprise: The Arizona State University alumnus received his degree in mechanical engineering in 2004, but the call of the creative drew him back to the arts.

“My study and practice as a mechanical engineer further fuels my artistic passion and abilities as an artist,” said Aragon, who is from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Sixty miles west of Albuquerque, the pueblo is known for its pottery and long ancestral line of artists.

“My work is a result of a combination of my artistic vision and technological discipline.”

In June, Aragon was one of 15 artists selected by Phoenix Fashion Week to attend its Emerging Designer Bootcamp. Over a four-month period, he learned the ins and outs of the fashion business, including branding, messaging, margins, profits, team building and public relations.

“We have about 40 different things we teach them in those four months, and then they are tested in real time,” said Brian Hill, executive director of Phoenix Fashion Week. “Loren has great designs, which is the baseline for everything.”

This week Aragon will unveil his spring/summer 2017 collection at the Talking Stick Resort in the East Valley, where hundreds of retailers and an estimated 6,000 people will see a dozen of his new designs. Fashion Week takes place Oct. 13-15.

Aragon’s company is called ACONAV, which represents the Acoma and Navajo tribes. The latter is in tribute to his wife and business partner, Valentina, who hails from the Navajo Nation.

The brand’s mission is to represent part of the Native American culture in high-end fashion, with the idea of evoking the empowerment of the female spirit. Their work is resonating with many in the fashion world.

“ACONAV clothing is beyond description and is different from anything else out there,” said Taté Walker, editor of Phoenix-based Native Peoples Magazine. “The passion, the care and culture infused within each piece are prevalent in every stitch.”

Two years ago Aragon and his wife left good-paying corporate jobs to devote their full-time efforts to ACONAV.

“There’s a lot of 20-hour days and all-nighters,” said Valentina, who runs the business-operations side while her husband is the creative force. “We haven’t hosted any dinner parties in a while because there’s nowhere to sit.”

That devotion caught the attention of Hill, who has become one of Aragon’s biggest cheerleaders.

“He’s all in,” Hill said of Aragon. “Loren should be doing this full-time because he’s that talented. He’s bright, focused and he has the talent to get to the top.”

Aragon has spent the past two decades trying to get to the top. In high school and college he started a greeting-card company, designing one-off cards and selling them at craft shows for pocket money and tuition. He was also gifted mechanically and pursued an ASU degree in mechanical engineering.

His artistic side was pushed aside for several years as he pursued a successful career testing vehicles and designing military seats and training weapons — pushed aside, that is, until an August 2008 visit to the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was amazed by the amount of contemporary Native American art for sale and sensed a movement was afoot.

“Native American art is traditionally basket weaving, rugs, pottery and silversmith jewelry,” Aragon said. “When I walked around I discovered graphics, painting, photography and sculpture. People were taking their culture and putting it on their art in a lot of different ways. I wanted to find a way to do that, too.”

Aragon was inspired by that visit and renewed his dedication to his once-dormant company. He branched out into illustration, jewelry and sculpting, and he even created a line of street wear. That eventually morphed into women’s couture evening wear when he created a traditional dress with a modern twist.

The polychrome-patterned dress, which he still keeps at home and loans out for special occasions, won first place at the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2013. Since then, orders for his work steadily came in through street fairs, trade shows and his website.

Most of Aragon’s collections display the influences of the pottery designs of the Acoma people with traditional elements as highlights to modern looks. He uses mostly high-end silks and cotton sateens because “they give off a symbol of elegance.”

Aragon hopes Phoenix Fashion Week will be the launching pad for brand success, as each piece of clothing is “an extension of my life, love, creativity and prayers.”

His hope is to eventually have a brick-and-mortar store with a studio, where patrons can buy made-to-order bridal wear, evening attire and cocktail dresses.

Valentina says that idea is appealing on many levels.

“I’d like to host a dinner party again in my lifetime,” she said. “For once I’d like to wake up and not see a dress form or rack of clothes in my entryway.”


Phoenix Fashion Week

What: A series of runway shows at the leading fashion-industry event in the Southwest.

When: Oct. 13-15. The ACONAV show will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15.

Where: Talking Stick Resort, 9800 Talking Stick Way, Salt River Reservation (near Scottsdale).


Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


1st recipient of Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Law Scholarship drawn to hands-on policy work

September 20, 2016

Sarah Crawford was initially terrified to leave her community of Peever, South Dakota, to attend a two-month internship in Washington, D.C. Little did she know that those two months would eventually turn into five years and ultimately lead her to attend the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and participate in the Indian Legal Program.

Crawford, from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate community in northeastern South Dakota, is the first recipient of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Law Scholarship that was started earlier this year as part of a $1.2 million endowment to the ASU Indian Legal Program. The endowment from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation will support scholarships, grants and other programs benefitting current and prospective Native American students like Crawford at ASU Law. Sarah Crawford Sarah Crawford, from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate community in northeastern South Dakota, is the first recipient of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Law Scholarship that was started earlier this year as part of a $1.2 million endowment to the ASU Indian Legal Program. Photo by Danielle Williams Download Full Image

“The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation has been a leader in Arizona for Native voting rights, gaming issues and the protection of tribal sovereignty. It is only fitting that Sarah be the first Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Scholar as these are our interests as well,” said Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program. “Sarah is a great student and a natural leader. We are proud to have her at ASU Law and as part of the Indian Legal Program family.”

ASU Law and the Indian Legal Program have hundreds of graduates who are practicing in the Indian law field and represent tribes from across the country.

Crawford said it was after doing a yearlong undergraduate research project involving policy and Indian Country that, specifically the Indian Child Welfare Act, a lightbulb went on and she realized the importance that policy work could have.

“For the longest time in my undergrad I didn’t know what to do; I kept bouncing back and forth. I knew I wanted to help out the underserved — that was always my focus. I just didn’t know how to put that into a career, and it wasn’t until I looked into policy work that I realized that policy really impacts change and can create a domino effect,” said Crawford.

After graduating from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in business management and political science, she was selected for the Native American Congressional Internship with the Udall Foundation. Every year, the Udall Foundation places Native American students in internships throughout the U.S. Congress and federal agencies.

Crawford was assigned to the office of South Dakota’s U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. She felt it was the right choice given he was not only the senator from her home state but he also served on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“To this day I remember that work and the best part was being able to travel back home to South Dakota and work one-on-one with community members, and being able to listen to the issues that were impacting tribes and tribal members on the ground,” said Crawford.

She loved the work so much, she decided to continue working on Capitol Hill as Johnson’s congressional staffer for more than three years after her internship ended. She worked her way up the ranks and eventually became a legislative associate. She became the point person within the office to work on Indian Affairs legislation, specifically working on legislation that would provide tribal tax parity, ensuring program funding for Native languages, and addressing the quality of education in Indian Country. 

Once Johnson decided to retire, Crawford was intent on staying in Washington and joined the staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal regulatory agency set up to monitor Indian gaming across the U.S. It was there she got the first inkling she wanted to pursue law.

“I got to see what they were doing, that hands-on work on policy that I thought, this was it. This is what I really want to do,” said Crawford.

After meeting ASU alumni from the Indian Legal Program and through the encouragement of her co-workers at the National Indian Gaming Commission, she saw the real possibility of going into law and utilizing her policy and legislative background in a different way. She then applied to ASU and was accepted earlier this year. She is impressed with the reputation of the ASU Indian Legal Program and faculty.

“The professors that they’ve garnered here are the top of the top, and the opportunity to work with these professors that are engaging with the community was another draw for me,” said Crawford.

She says that faculty engagement with Native communities as tribal judges, Native American voting rights advocates and as advisers, shows their commitment to their profession and to Indian law.

She says staying connected to tribal communities by helping solve real-world problems is something she really appreciates and wants to continue pursuing as an ASU Law student and graduate of the Indian Legal Program.

Written by Sharon Tom, American Indian Policy Institute and Office of American Indian Initiatives

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ASU exhibit takes long view of Native well-being

“Native Voices” on display at Hayden Library through late October.
More than 100 tribal leaders, healers, physicians and educators share stories.
September 15, 2016

In latest American Indian health-care move, interactive display examines connection between individual, community

An interactive exhibit installed Thursday at Arizona State’s Hayden Library examines the history, culture and tradition of indigenous medicine to help viewers explore Native American health from a wide-ranging perspective that includes spiritual, social and community well-being.

“Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness,” on display through late October, looks at the connection between wellness, illness and cultural life through a combination of videos, interviews and images.

It represents the latest of ASU’s efforts to focus on Native health, which special advisor Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy says “must be rethought to reflect the idea that we are interested in American Indian well-being. This includes not only a focus on the well-being of individuals, but communities as well.”

Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs, continued: “The focus on physical health, devoid of mental and spiritual well-being is stultifying and limited. This exhibit helps us move forward in important ways.” 

Other ASU efforts to support and serve American Indian health care needs in and around Arizona include:

  • Several ongoing projects related to Native youth and substance abuse at the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.
  • A push to increase the number of indigenous nursing students at ASU through American Indian Students United for Nursing.
  • Efforts to promote, mentor and support Native American nurses and others serving Native people through the Native American Nursing Association.
  • Social work through the Office of American Indian Projects, which has multiple health professionals on its advisory board.  

The new exhibit shares stories that convey how Native people use both traditional and modern methods to enhance their lives, presenting an inspiring account of renaissance, recovery and self-determination.

A public reception, hosted by the Labriola National American Indian Data Center and ASU’s Center for Indian Education, has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Hayden Library, Concourse Level, Room C55.

Native health

Graduate student Kelsey Hinesley (left) and ASU Libraries design strategist Amy Watson (right) work together to set up “Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness,” which will be on display at the Hayden Library through October. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Angela Gonzales, an associate professor of women and gender studies and justice and social inquiry in the School of Social Transformation, will deliver the keynote speech.

“From an indigenous perspective, the very concept of health is not something focused on the physical well-being of an individual, but is instead understood as it encompasses the social, cultural and spiritual well-being of the whole community,” Gonzales said. “Appreciating the holistic understanding of health is essential not only for the planning and delivery of effective health care, but for developing policies and programs aimed at improving individual and community health.”

Produced by the National Library of Medicine, the interactive exhibition is made up of six free-standing banners, each with a specific theme. Tablet computers, headphones and tool kits provide videos, images and interviews with more than 100 tribal leaders, healers, physicians and educators.

The participants describe how the health of American Indians is tied to community, the land and spirit, and the effects of epidemics, federal legislation, the loss of land and the relationship of traditional healing and Western medicine in Native communities.

ASU professor Tennille Marley said she hopes the exhibit will show how colonization has had long-term detrimental health effects on indigenous people, which is part of her research.

“Colonization introduced foods such as sugar and flour, separated us from our gardens and food source and has negatively affected Native American health since the 1800s,” said Marley, an assistant professor of American Indian Studies and a faculty research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.

Marley said the introduction of processed foods, which have been reinforced through government policies and programs, has contributed to soaring epidemics such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

ASU has worked for a year to bring the exhibit to Tempe said Joyce Martin, associate librarian and curator of the Labriola National American Indian Data Center.

“It’s very important the Southwest be represented in this national exhibit,” Martin said. “It was created in Washington D.C. and has traveled to other parts of the country. We have a long indigenous history here and it will have great meaning here.”

The exhibition will up in the library’s concourse until Oct. 26.

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now. 

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU Law graduate discusses Indian Country energy potential

Christopher Deschene, director of U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, visits Beus Center for Law and Society on Downtown Phoenix Campus, emphasizes need for lawyers who understand his field

September 15, 2016

The possibilities at Arizona State University are endless, just ask Christopher Deschene.

Deschene, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, grew up in near Page, Arizona, and is from the Navajo Nation. This month he visited with budding Indian Legal Program students at ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in downtown Phoenix to talk about the Office of Indian Energy as students start thinking about developing their careers in law. Chris Deschene Download Full Image

Deschene graduated from ASU in 2005 with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and concurrent with his master’s studies, he earned a Juris Doctor (JD) through the Indian Legal Program with a focus on federal Indian law and energy and natural resources.

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU established the Indian Legal Program in 1988, providing a unique set of academic and clinical opportunities for students to understand the differences between the legal systems of Indian Nations and state and federal governments.

He recalled how little focus there was on energy.

“When I came here, people said you’re crazy because you want to stick to energy. Why are you doing that? We need lawyers and anything else but energy. I said, no one is focusing on energy,” Deschene said.

“When I first came to ASU they had offered energy as an elective. It wasn’t a mainstay discussion, and it wasn’t offered, Indian energy. We were talking more about natural resources and water.”

Licensed to practice law in Arizona and the Navajo Nation, he focused in business and energy development, natural resources and environmental policies. The goal: to strengthen tribal communities and sustain future generations.

Christopher Deschene

Christopher Deschene, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs.

Deschene described the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs as a progression of Indian energy and Indian energy policies. Among their goals for Indian Country is to promote energy development, efficiency and use and bring electrical power and service to Indian lands and the homes of tribal members.

There are 567 federally recognized tribes and there are staggering gaps between Indian Country and the rest of the U.S., including basic infrastructure needs like having ready access to electricity.

This is a consistent problem across Indian Country and an important problem Deschene and his office are trying to fix. He strongly believes tribes have potential, stating that American Indian lands consist of 2 percent of the land base, but tribes can provide up to 5 percent of the country’s renewable energy generation.

“There is potential in Indian Country, and it hasn’t been developed in a way to help national and administrative goals for energy security, resiliency, climate change. And Indian Country can be part of that,” Deschene said.

Deschene smiled and said people thought he was crazy because he pursued his graduate engineering degree with a focus on renewable energy while working on his JD.

Focused and determined, he knew where he was going.

“I’ve been to a number of schools, you guys are in the best program in the country. I will say that without any reservations,” he said, crediting Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program, for her support during his time at ASU.

He emphasized that there is a need for practitioners, lawyers, tribal and federal law practitioners who have are well-versed in energy.

Deschene had a vison and took the road less traveled, taking a dual-discipline approach, much like the interdisciplinary degrees offered at ASU today, fulfilling the mission of the New American University: solving for the problems of today and those of the future.

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Tribal Radio Summit at ASU unites Native talent

Radio remains vital form of communication for many remote, tribal communities.
Tribal leaders, federal officials discuss way to expand Native radio ownership.
July 22, 2016

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn emphasizes media diversity

Remember when AOL became mainstream? That was two decades ago. Since then we have evolved from dial-up to high-speed internet, from flip phones to smartphones. At a swipe of a finger, we can take pictures, stream video and chase Pokémon.

Meanwhile, our neighbors in tribal communities are determined to keep pace with technology and enhance communication methods across remote areas. For many, especially those in rural communities, radio remains essential for news and alerts.

This week, radio producers, station managers, hosts and media experts from Native communities gathered in downtown Phoenix at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication for the Tribal Radio Summit hosted by the Federal Communications Commission, in partnership with Native Public Media, the National Federation of Public Broadcasters and ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute.

The summit has allowed people from across the country to share ideas, learn important policies and collaborate, delivering advice about what can be done to propel Native radio forward and make this medium of communication more pronounced in their communities.

The summit brings together key players, including FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Geoffrey Blackwell, vice chair on the Board of Advisors for ASU’s American Indian Policy Institute and chair of Native Public Media.

“Summits like these are critically important for tribal nations because working with the federal government and the intertribal organizations brings together all the players in a particular industry, creating an opportunity for tribal nations,” Blackwell said.

He added such conferences help Native leaders understand laws, regulations, opportunities and risks associated with mass communication and closing the digital divide.

“Our nation is the largest in land mass after Navajo and because of that we don’t have full coverage with the stations we have,” Sial Thonolig, from the Tohono O’odham nation and station manager of KOHN, said.

“The reason we are here is to find out about the tribal allotment process because we still have, in spite of the fact that we’re looking at four radio stations we still have unserved areas,” he said. “We’re hoping to use the tribal allotment process to serve the unserved areas. So that’s why we’re very interested in coming up here and hearing from the commission staff, how to do that.”

Through a series of guest panels, attendees received information on what it takes to build and run a successful radio operation. The panels also covered the FCC's Tribal Radio Priority and how that makes it easier for tribal applicants to obtain broadcast station licenses.

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Loris Taylor, Native Public Media president and CEO, and Lyle Ishida, acting chief of the Office of Native Affairs and Policy, address attendees during the Tribal Radio Summit panel at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, July 21. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The highlight of the summit was Clyburn's keynote address on the importance of station ownership and diversity.

“I wish for you what I wish for myself, and I work for you in a way that I would work for the communities in which I nurtured,” she said, emphasizing that she is committed to examine the unique communication challenges in tribal lands, rural communities and poor urban neighborhoods.

“We started this journey together, and it is critical that we continue to collaborate and develop those next paths forward,” Clyburn said.

Antonia Gonzalez is the host and producer for National Native News, an entity of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. Her passion for radio radiated as she sat in the audience during Clyburn’s speech. She is excited about her work and what it means to the Native community.

”Our mission of Koahnic Broadcast Corporation to be a leader and bringing indigenous voices to the air in Alaska and across the nation,” she said. “Often times in the mainstream media there is a lack or a nonexistent view from tribes, of tribes, from the Native perspective so it’s our jobs to bring the Native perspective in stories to the nation.”

Top photo: FCC commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn addresses the first Tribal Radio Summit hosted by the FCC at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Wednesday, July 20. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Native American radio summit empowers station owners, prospects

Advocates to discuss how to expand, improve Native-owned radio stations.
Conference at Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix features FCC commissioner.
July 15, 2016

Media diversity advocates say Native-owned radio stations are especially important on rural reservations and that more networks are needed

Loris Taylor knows firsthand how tough it can be to run a radio station in Indian Country.

When she first took over KUYI 88.1 FM on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona in 2000, she had no support system and at one point made an engineer sketch equipment diagrams on an office chalkboard so she could see how everything fit together.

It was a bad signal for Taylor and others who say radio transmissions are vital in rural areas with limited access to newspapers, local TV and consistent internet service. “I literally knew nothing, and I was the general manager,” Taylor said. “There was no learning curve for me because everything was a straight vertical line.”

But now, thanks in part to efforts from Taylor, who left the station 11 years ago to help start the diversity advocacy group Native Public Media, the task isn’t as daunting and radio is a growing platform on reservations across the U.S.

Taylor’s group aims to improve and expand existing Native-owned and -operated radio stations and to increase the number and reach of such stations. Native Public Media — along with Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute, the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters — is hosting a three-day summit starting July 19 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. Organizers plan to give Native American broadcasters an overview of radio station management, operation requirements, federal regulations, programming, funding and engineering.

“Tribal radio is a lifeline on tribal reservations,” said Traci Morris, American Indian Policy Institute director. She said the conference will provide a needed boost and that “the Cronkite School is the perfect place for Native radio and media professionals to assemble and to consult with the FCC.”

A woman sits in front of radio recording equipment.

Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, has made it her mission
to expand access to local radio on Indian reservations across the U.S.

Tribes have been lobbying the federal agency to grant more broadcast licenses to Native owners on tribal lands. Since 2007, the FCC has approved dozens of new stations in Indian Country. In 2010, the agency adopted a “tribal priority” rule to make it easier for Native owners to obtain radio licenses. The agency’s former Native affairs liaison, Geoffrey C. Blackwell, who also will attend the summit, said in a 2013 statement that the rule is intended to help “provide radio service tailored to specific tribal needs and cultures” and foster “localism and diversity of ownership.”

There are more than 560 federally recognized tribes across the U.S. comprising more than 4 million people. Including the recent growth, advocates say there are currently 58 Indian radio stations and about 20 more headed toward approval. The expansion is promising, but not enough, they say.

“Most of Indian Country is still dark,” Taylor said. “We’re just not wired.”

Summit attendees will hear from FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn, who organizers say has become known as an advocate for media diversity. Clyburn didn’t return an email seeking comment for this story, but she is scheduled to speak Wednesday.   

For Taylor, the conference marks a significant moment, but it by no means signals that her work is over. With more stations on tribal lands, people will be better informed about government, public safety and other issues that affect their communities, she said. Native people also will be able to turn back negative stereotypes by telling their own stories, even in remote areas, she said.

“Radio is a technology that serves Indian Country well,” Taylor said, “because all it requires is a small appliance in the household.”

Top photo: Producer Justin Miller of KLND 89.5 FM in McLaughlin, South Dakota, takes a seat behind the microphone.