image title

ASU scholars offer a spectrum of resources to local and state tribes

November 7, 2019

‘Doing Research in Indian Country’ conference showcases university's research in Indian Country

Some of the most innovative and groundbreaking research at Arizona State University is taking place in indigenous communities and on reservations around the Copper State and beyond.

“Tribal nations and communities are becoming more and more interested and embedded in the research process in its entirety, from the research design and implementation to large questions of data use and ownership. More importantly, they are engaged in the institutional review process,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs. 

The university has a wide breadth of research and interaction taking place in Indian Country, which was showcased at the “Doing Research in Indigenous Communities” conference held Nov. 4-5 at ASU SkySong.

“Part of our work during this conference is to hear from these tribes and communities and to connect them with universities and researchers with the hopes that some synergies will emerge and so that researchers and institutions better understand the needs and wishes of tribes in the larger arena of research," Brayboy said.

Now in its third year, the conference featured more than 130 ASU scholars, researchers, staff and students making an impact in indigenous communities in the fields of history, health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability research methodologies and higher education experiences.

Keynote speaker Malia Villegas, who helped Brayboy with the conception and birthing of the conference several years ago, said it was like watching a child grow quickly.

“I think it’s phenomenal to see how this conference has taken off. ASU has proven they are leaders when it comes to Native American research and is a place that others look to for inspiration,” said Villegas, an enrolled member of the Native Village of Afognak in Alaska who serves as the vice president of community investments at Afognak Native Corporation, overseeing shareholder services. “Looking at this from a tribal industry lens, I’m excited to see business and industry people here, tribal members, students and faculty, all showcasing the great success across Indian Country and inviting people to take a look into the research space.”

There was no shortage of research to offer up, including a first-of-its kind look on technology use on Indian lands. The paper, “Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands,” was released last month through the American Indian Policy InstituteThe American Indian Policy Institute is now a unit within the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. . It showed that many Native Americans do not have equal access to the internet and that most are using smartphones to go online, albeit at much slower speeds.

“This study gives us a clearer picture of what tribal connectivity looks like,” said Brian Howard, a research and policy analyst with the American Indian Policy Institute. “We also looked at things like affordability issues that would prevent tribal residents from accessing internet service.”

The study not only identified the issue but came up with several recommendations. They included a dedicated tribal office in the Federal Communications Commission with a permanent budget allocation, a Tribal Broadband Fund, prioritize funding for tribal lands and encouraging the FCC to engage with tribes and sovereign nations on the issue.

For Lance Sanchez, a 24-year-old member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and a senior at ASU, his focus is more on saving teen lives and getting them more socially and politically engaged.

Sanchez, who is double majoring in American Indian studies, and community advocacy and social policy, said Native Americans have the highest teen suicide rates in the country.

“I am looking for ways to empower youth through leadership building as well as creating different programs that focus on them bettering themselves within the community,” said Sanchez, who is also a member of the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission and United National Indian Tribal Youth. “The work has paid off because Native Americans are now taking the charge in continuing with higher education. We need more Native teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors and researchers. This conference helps create those partnerships in tribal communities.”

Denise Bates, assistant professor of leadership and interdisciplinary studies in the College of Integrative Science and Arts, is nation-building through her work by helping other tribes in the Southeast document their histories through community-driven initiatives.

“Many southern tribal communities have not been well documented, particularly during the 20th century,” Bates said. “Colonialism and racial segregation had a huge impact on southern indigenous peoples, and it has only been recently that many tribes from this region have been actively looking for opportunities to engage the public with their histories — and on their own terms.”

Bates has been working with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana for the past decade through a variety of mediums, including accessing and digitizing archival material and recording oral histories. Bates has also a written book, “Basket Diplomacy,” (University of Nebraska Press, 2020), documenting how the Coushatta community worked together through multiple generations and leveraged opportunities so that existing and newly acquired knowledge, timing and skill worked in harmony to ensure their survival. The Coushatta is now one of the top private employers in Louisiana through their economic endeavors.

“ASU is an institution that has a lot of resources and helping other tribal nations should not be a regionally focused mission,” Bates said. “It impacts all of us because a lot of best practices often come up as a result of intertribal coalitions and support.”

In addition to nation-building, there was plenty of trust-building, said Bates. Last year ASU brought a Coushatta tribal elder and former chairman, Ernest Sickey, to the Valley to speak to faculty and staff. In return, Bates said, the Coushatta Tribe is encouraging their students to attend ASU.

“They know that ASU is a supportive place, one that not only supports its students but offers the potential to help tribal nations envision a future for their communities,” Bates said.

Top photo: Devin Hardin, with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community Education Division, and others listen to speakers at the "Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" conference, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at ASU SkySong. More than 130 people from around the state took part in the third annual conference featuring scholars, researchers, staff and students and their impact in indigenous communities in the fields of history, health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability research methodologies and higher education experiences. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


Assessing the quality of water to improve the quality of life

ASU engineer Otakuye Conroy-Ben recognized for research with Native communities

October 25, 2019

Research that is helping regional communities solve their wastewater pollution problems has earned Otakuye Conroy-Ben a Technical Excellence Award from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

The award is presented to an indigenous professional who has made contributions to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — by developing a product or a solution and is actively involved in the Native American community. Otakuye Conroy-Ben researches wastewater pollution and their effects on local Native American communities. Photographer: Deanna Dent/ASU Now Otakuye Conroy-Ben researches wastewater pollution and its effects on local Native American communities. Download Full Image

Conroy-Ben, an assistant professor of environmental engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, was one of five 2019 recipients of the AISES Professional of the Year Award presented at the organization’s national conference in Milwaukee on Oct. 10-12.

Conroy-Ben, who is of Oglala Lakota descent, got involved with AISES as an undergraduate student and has increased her involvement over the years. She was a recipient of an AISES graduate student research award and later joined the organization’s board of directors. She is currently involved in the mentorship program.

“This is an organization that's near and dear to my heart, and so I was thrilled to be recognized for my hard work and my years of dedication to the organization,” Conroy-Ben said.

Since she joined the Fulton Schools in 2016, she has continued to be active in the organization as an adviser to the ASU chapter of AISES.

Now a tenure-track faculty member, Conroy-Ben studies environmental endocrine disruption and antibiotic-resistant genes that arise from wastewater, as well as the transport of microbes in water. Her work on the biological effects of polluted water has direct applications to the challenges facing the tribal communities she works with.

As an engineer, Conroy-Ben has been focusing on improving the lives of people in local tribal communities. Her research lab, the Emerging Contaminants Laboratory, focuses on wastewater contaminants and epidemiology. Beyond laboratory research, she also works directly with members of the tribal communities to better understand their needs and to provide her expertise in water quality.

“I'm working with tribal communities in the Great Plains, so I'm working with my tribal community on different aspects of water pollution,” Conroy-Ben said. “For Arizona, I'm working in collaboration with the Intertribal Council of Arizona, who works directly with 21 Arizona tribes.”

Conroy-Ben was nominated for the award by Fulton Schools Professor Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at ASU. Halden and Conroy-Ben are collaborating on tests to evaluate the overall health and potential environmental threats facing Native American communities.

“I think that Conroy-Ben is an exceptional faculty member for multiple reasons, for the work she is doing as well as for her cultural background,” Halden said.

“The fact that she is one of the few, if not the only, female environmental engineering professor of Native American descent puts her in a position to understand the environmental health concerns that exist in Native American communities and reservations across the nation and to implement interventions that can improve both the water quality and the health status of those communities.”

Conroy-Ben credits much of her success working with tribal communities in the Southwest and the Great Plains region to the vast resources ASU offers to help connect with these communities.

“ASU's a great place; we have a lot of support not only for students but for faculty and staff when it comes to tribal initiatives,” Conroy-Ben said.

“There is an administration, there's two associate VPs for Indian affairs, and to bridge that work, they have introduced me to some local tribes interested in agriculture, air pollution and water. I wouldn't have had that opportunity at any institution that doesn’t have these types of positions or doesn’t have those strong relationships with the local tribes.

“Part of the process is going out in the community, meeting with the tribal institution review board, and working with them, not only doing research but different services that I can provide as an engineer or as someone who specializes in water quality.”

Her efforts to provide cleaner water to tribal communities in Arizona and the Great Plains have taken four years to come to fruition.

“I would say that working with these tribal communities does take time,” Conroy-Ben said. “I started these projects when I first arrived at ASU, but to go through the tribal approval process and then to look for funding and get preliminary results, we're just now seeing the effects of all of this hard work four years later. It's not like working with just any community — it takes time.”

Karishma Albal

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


image title

ASU study: Much of Indian Country lacks access to internet, but 5G expansion could be a chance to catch up

October 20, 2019

Technology is hurtling forward, and a policy group at Arizona State University is working to make sure that tribal nations across the country are not being left further behind.

The American Indian Policy Institute at ASU has released a new research paper showing that many Native Americans do not have equal access to the internet and that most are using smartphones to go online at slower speeds.

The project, “Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands,” is important for two reasons: One, little research has been done on this issue, so the picture of Indian Country connectivity is incomplete. And, as the major telecommunications providers work quickly to expand 5G service, it’s an opportunity for tribal nations to catch up.

Traci Morris, director of the American Indian Policy Institute, is co-author of the new report and also worked on the most accurate previous research on tribal connectivity, which came out in 2009.

“There were a lot of numbers out there, but a lot of it was inaccurate, so that was the first study of its kind,” Morris said of the 2009 report. Nationwide reports that measured digital access and literacy typically excluded Native American populations because the sample size was too low. Some research relied on self-reporting by telecommunications companies, which was inaccurate.

“When my board was formed in 2016, one of the first things they said was, ‘You have to do the real, baseline, academic, replicable study,’ ” she said.

Researching internet use on tribal lands is difficult because the population is remote and spread out, Morris said. And the research team wanted to make sure they were measuring people’s internet use in their homes, not at work.

So the team developed a 22-question survey and then went out and interviewed people at tribal gatherings, such as powwows, festivals and Indian markets, in 2017. They asked whether the internet was accessible in the household, how they were accessing it and what they were using it for. In 2018, the team sent additional surveys through email and social media. The project ended up with 160 respondents who were enrolled tribal members in 19 states.

“It’s a small study — we recognize that — but it is replicable,” she said. “The difficulty is how do you survey 573 tribes?”

 Among the survey’s findings were:

  • 18% of reservation residents have no internet access at home.
  • 31% have spotty or no internet connection at home on their smartphones.
  • 33% rely on cellphone service for internet access at home.
  • 49% use a land-based internet provider, such as cable, DSL or dial-up.

The report also found that reservation residents rely on public wi-fi or connectivity at other people’s houses.

The findings are meant to be a starting point for further research — such as whether the dominant use of smartphones limits access to online education or e-commerce, said Morris.

Among the recommendations in the report are:

  • Establish a dedicated tribal office in the FCC with a permanent budget allocation as well as a Tribal Broadband Fund.
  • Prioritize current funding for connectivity specifically for tribal lands and not just remote areas in general.
  • Require the FCC to engage with tribes as sovereign nations (the current agreement is not legally binding).
  • Encourage tribes and providers to work together on innovative solutions.

Another recommendation is to require providers to discontinue the practice of stockpiling “spectrum licenses” over tribal lands. “Spectrums” are the radio frequencies that devices use to communicate. The FCC manages the licenses, which are sold at auctions, according to Brian Howard, research and policy analyst for the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU.

“Usually, the licenses go for hundreds of millions of dollars, and tribes don’t have that kind of capital,” said Howard, co-author on the report. “So many times, major industry providers will buy up a lot of those spectrum licenses, especially if they cover tribal lands.

“There are certain buildout requirements associated with those licenses, but more often than not, the companies that obtain the licenses can fulfill those buildout requirements without actually having to provide service on the reservation. They target a lot of the densely populated areas surrounding reservations.”

It comes down to profits.

“They can’t make money [providing service to tribal lands] because of low population density and high deployment costs,” Howard said. “Also, there are various permitting approvals you have to go through not only with tribes but also with the federal government because the federal government is our trustee.”

The institute is emphasizing the message that spectrum is like a natural resource.

“A natural resource could be water, minerals, precious metals, oil or gas. Those are easy to understand because they’re tangible,” Howard said.

“You can’t see spectrum so people don’t necessarily understand the infrastructure behind the internet connection on their phone.”

Morris said: “People don’t think about the impact spectrum has on our everyday lives. It’s everywhere. And you assume a tribe has its land, why doesn’t it have its airspace?”

The next frontier is 5G, which stands for “fifth generation” wireless technology, which can move data faster and among more devices. The technology is in very limited use in a few urban areas now, but providers are working to expand it.

“This gives us another opportunity to say, “If you’re going to repurpose spectrum from federal use to commercial use for 5G deployment, then tribes need to be involved in that process to identify which areas of their reservations are underserved, and to hopefully push tribal priority,” Howard said.

“When that spectrum license area is identified, if it covers tribal lands, then tribes should have the first crack at it before it goes to auction, because once it goes to auction, you get the AT&Ts and Verizons and Sprints of the world laying down a lot of money to buy that license and tribes can’t compete at that level.”

But digital equity will require more than 5G access.

“There needs to be a broad ecosystem of technologies,” he said.

“We were very careful in the study because we saw high use of mobile technology, and the FCC has been pushing that for a number of years now, saying, ‘As long as you have a smartphone, you’re connected, you’re fine.’

“But you’re not going to use a cellphone in a school to take a standardized test online. You need access to a real computer to do that.”

Top photo: San Carlos is about 110 miles east of Phoenix, on the San Carlos Reservation. “Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands” is the first report out of the American Indian Policy Institute since its move to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions earlier this semester. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


'Still here:' Native American scholars discuss Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Phoenix is part of a growing list of cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day.

October 14, 2019

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona State University alumnaLaura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program in 2018. Today, she works as a student success and retention coordinator at the American Indian Student Support Services. Laura Medina enjoyed getting the day off school for Columbus Day every October. But she also remembers feeling conflicted. The holiday celebrates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America in 1492. And as a member of Michigan’s Ojibwe tribe, Medina knew that the land he sailed to was neither empty, nor undiscovered. Tribal civilizations like that of her ancestors were already there, and Columbus’ arrival was the start of a brutal colonization campaign that permanently altered their lives.  

“Columbus Day did not feel right, even as a kid,” Medina said. “Back then, you’d sometimes hear people asking why we celebrate Columbus, then around 2012 I started hearing about the idea of celebrating something else, instead.” Laura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. ASU alumna Laura Medina has attended the Indigenous Peoples' Day march in Phoenix for the past two years. This year, she helped organize it. Download Full Image

Now she’s doing exactly that. This year, she’s spending the holiday with ASU students, local community members and fellow alumni for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day march through downtown Phoenix.

Organized this year by ASU’s student-led Alliance of Indigenous People, the event is the third of its kind in Phoenix.

The Indigenous Peoples' Day designation was first proposed in 1977, at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas in Geneva. Its proponents sought to shed light on the genocide, displacement and continued discrimination indigenous communities in North America faced as a result of colonization.

More than four decades later, Phoenix is one of over 100 cities and 15 states across the U.S. to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of or alongside Columbus Day.

Medina said it’s an opportunity for Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes to be heard, and for the public to recognize a piece of history that has been left out.

“Colonization has made us invisible in the past, reclaiming this day gives us the power to challenge that and come together as a community,” she said. “I also think it’s exciting for people to see students of color from such an important institution leading this; it shows ASU is accessible to everyone.”

We caught up with other academics from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program to hear more about the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and what it means to them. 

David Martinez

David Martinez is an associate professor in The College's American Indian Studies program.

The 1977 resolution helped propel the conversation about Indigenous Peoples’ Day forward. But David Martinez, an associate professor in the American Indian Studies program and a member of Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community, traces the idea back to the country’s first rights group created for and by Native Americans over a century ago. 

“The Society of American Indians held their first meeting in 1911 and on their agenda was the establishment of an American Indian Day,” Martinez said. “The concept of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is in many ways the latest chapter in that effort, in that it served to give a sense of meaning to the American Indian identity and draw attention to the fact we exist.”

Though the society mostly disbanded after fighting for and winning federal citizenship rights through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Martinez said the push for recognition they started lived on in the work of indigenous activists that followed. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps their fight continue.

"For a long time, history has been told from the side of the European discoverers, which is that Columbus embarked on this hero journey and found this land Western civilization hadn’t seen before,” he said. “There is no problem recognizing somebody's ancestor, in this case a European ancestor, having done something dangerous, but the presumption of discovery erases us from the narrative.”

He said it’s also about honoring contributions American Indians have made to society.

“Whether it’s episodes of tribes assisting settlers to get through winter, like at Plymouth Rock, or the indigenous sense of environmental stewardship and appreciation for the land, our culture has influenced a lot of facets of America,” he said. “I think one important thing to remember is that this holiday is also about acknowledging that impact.”

Jayme Deschene

Jayme Deschene graduated with a master's degree from The College's American Indian Studies program in 2015.

Born and raised in the Navajo Nation city of Kayenta, Arizona, Jayme Deschene was surrounded by her Native American culture from a young age. She said Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps bring to light why tradition and land matter so deeply to indigenous communities. 

“Land is very connected to being indigenous because our land holds our stories, our stories are our heritage, and our heritage is connected to the way we live today,” she said. “As a Navajo person, I am lucky to still have some of my homeland, but many others do not — I think this day is important to help people understand that when that land was taken, a part of our identity was taken too.”

Deschene graduated with a master’s degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in 2015. She returned to campus a year later as a student success and retention coordinator with the American Indian Student Support Services, a position she still holds today.  

Now living in Tempe, she said it can be challenging to ensure her three children get the full picture when it comes to understanding the past.

“My daughter is 7, and some of the school work she brings home about settlers at Plymouth Rock makes almost no mention of Native Americans,” she said. “I try to talk to her about what is missing or incorrect, and give her additional materials about our history.” 

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is one way to drive that understanding further forward.

“Sitting on campus, we are on ancestral tribal land right now, but a lot of people don’t realize that,” Deschene said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not so much about older communities as it is about educating younger generations like my daughter’s and making sure our history, language and culture continues.”

Eric DeLorme

Eric DeLorme is a graduate student in The College's American Indian Studies program.

For Eric DeLorme, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree from the American Indian Studies program, returning to school was a chance to gain more insight into cultures across North America.

“My mother is Mexican American and I am an enrolled Pueblo of Acoma tribal member in New Mexico, and a descendant of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana,” DeLorme said. “I studied Chicana/o studies in my undergraduate years, now I want to expand my knowledge of indigenous peoples all the way from Canada down through Mexico.”

DeLorme sees Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a chance to recognize a historic trauma and honor the sacrifices made by communities that came before.

“I see this as a day to remember that we survived genocide, my ancestors fought hard so that I can put my feet on this earth today. The movement now is regaining the identities that were lost during colonization,” he said. 

Some controversy between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day continues, but DeLorme said it’s important to keep conversations going, even when difficult.

“I think what’s happening now, with people discussing these differences, that’s a good thing, because it’s the first step in challenging the narrative,” he said. “By acknowledging another part of this country’s history, we can get closer to understanding one another.” 

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


image title

Indigenous Act helped complete the work of the 19th Amendment

October 11, 2019

ASU professor says voting inequalities for Native Americans still exist nearly a century after Congress granted them citizenship

The 19th Amendment of the American Constitution officially gave women the right to vote in 1920, putting to rest decades of contention, civil disobedience and suffrage efforts.

However, many people don’t realize that not all women (and men) were on equal footing after its passage.

The Indian Citizen Act of 1924 gave Native American men and women full citizenship (and the right to vote). And nearly a century later, it’s still a struggle.

To commemorate the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 14, ASU Now turned to Katherine Osburn for elucidation.

Osburn, an associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, is an ethnohistorian whose research focuses on gender, race and political activism. Her current book project, "Sovereignty, Services, and Citizenship," focuses on the relationship between indigenous peoples and the state of Arizona. She said despite the good intentions behind the 1924 act, the legislation remains a work in progress.

Woman in blue dress

Katherine Osburn

Question: What was the Snyder Act, and how did it come to pass?

Answer: The Indian Citizenship Act granted full citizenship to all indigenous peoples living in the United States, but it is important to understand that a fair number of Native Americans had already become citizens before it passed. Throughout the 19th century, state officials occasionally granted their indigenous neighbors citizenship if the applicant appeared to be “civilized.”

Policymakers could debate what activities constituted civilized behavior, but the one constant in the decision to extend or withhold citizenship was tribal standing. Government administrators regarded Indians who lived on tribal lands as owing allegiance to an alien political system. This was one reason why Indians who accepted individual allotments of land under the 1887 policy of forced assimilation known as the Dawes Act received citizenship if they lived on their allotments for 25 years. Policymakers believed that living on these allotments severed tribal ties and assimilated Indians.

Moreover, by the 20th century Congress had extended citizenship to numerous indigenous persons through random provisions of individual acts of Congress and as a reward for military service. Yet many Indians still lacked citizenship until Congress granted (or imposed upon, depending on your point of view) citizenship to remaining American Indians. Support for Indian citizenship in Congress was no doubt bolstered by their military service in World War I, but the larger context of this act was rooted in a desire to assimilate indigenous peoples into the mainstream of American culture. After all, the Dawes Act was still in force. 

The text of the act reads:

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property."

In a legal sense, the second part of the act allowing citizen Indians to continue residing on tribal property undercut the long-standing idea that living in tribal communities was incompatible with citizenship. In a practical sense, however, state officials carrying out the machinations of citizenship still resisted extending full citizenship rights to their indigenous neighbors on reservations. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established the process for creating new states, and it allowed state officials to construct the stipulations for exercising the franchise. Thus, the Snyder Act extended the franchise in word, but not necessarily in deed. This meant that as late as 1938, seven states still disfranchised indigenous citizens. Arizona was one of those states.

Q: The irony of allowing indigenous peoples, who were here first and allowed to vote last, is not lost here. How galling it must have been for all Native peoples.

A: Leaving suffrage for the First Americans for last is indeed ironic, but it was that very matter of being First Nations that created that situation. Indigenous peoples are citizens of tribal polities that existed before the creation of the United States, and these polities hold a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Thus, their political status is unique, and that means that they are not just another minority group hoping for inclusion in the U.S. political order. For indigenous communities, protecting their sovereignty as tribal nations is the paramount political concern. Indeed, in the early 20th century, most indigenous communities were focused on immediate matters of survival under very difficult economic conditions. At the time the act was passed, a minority of Native Americans called for the franchise, and they did so more to improve the lives of their people through political engagement than from a desire to participate in American political institutions.

The most prominent advocates of citizenship and voting rights in the early 20th century were certain members of the Society of American Indians (SAI), a pan-Indian organization founded to lobby Congress and the Indian Service on behalf of Indian self-determination and to educate the public on Indian issues. The SAI was created on Columbus Day in 1911 by a group of highly educated Indian professionals (graduates of Indian boarding schools and American colleges) who had been working with sociologist Fayette Avery McKenzie of Ohio State University to improve Indian policy. One of the most prominent leaders was Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Wassaja), a Yavapai whose family resided in the Mazatzal Mountains.

In 1871, a Pima raiding party had kidnapped Wassaja and sold him to an Italian immigrant named Carlos Gentile. Gentile renamed him Carlos Montezuma and sent him to boarding schools and then to college. Montezuma took a medical degree from Chicago Medical College in 1889 and helped to found the SAI in 1911. In 1916, Montezuma started a journal titled Wassaja in which he expressed his criticisms of the way indigenous peoples were treated. When WWI broke out, he editorialized that, without citizenship and full civil rights, Indians should not be compelled to fight, especially since they were allegedly fighting for democracy, the benefits of which they were denied at home. This was a position held by a lot of indigenous peoples. Others felt that fighting would earn them citizenship. Still, citizenship in the United States for indigenous peoples is a dual citizenship and must be understood as such.

Although Montezuma sought civil rights for indigenous peoples, he also fought for Yavapai self-determination, helping to create their reservation at Fort McDowell in 1903 and supporting the resistance to relocating them to the Salt River Reservation in 1918 and 1919. He led efforts to win water rights for the reservation in the early 1920s. ... He represented a new way of thinking in the early 20th century that sought to use citizenship as a tool of indigenous self-determination. Voting must always be seen in that context.

Q: Why did it take longer for indigenous peoples to be fully franchised than for women?

A: The issues surrounding the 19th Amendment were very different than those of disfranchised indigenous peoples. Women’s voting rights were entangled with assumptions about gender, while Indian voting was linked to their unique political status. Moreover, simply passing the Indian Citizen Act did not fully franchise Indians. Since states set the parameters of voting rights, they were able to raise barriers to Indian voting.

While literacy tests and poll taxes were used against indigenous voters in many places, the primary impediments to voting were generally rooted in the unique political status of indigenous peoples as belonging to separate polities. Some states borrowed the language of the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, which bars “Indians not taxed” from citizenship and used it to deny voting rights. Legislators in Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Washington withheld the franchise from their indigenous citizens because those who were living on reservation lands did not pay property taxes. In New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, state officials argued that living on a reservation meant that Indians were not actually residents of the state, which prevented their political participation. These issues were at the forefront in Arizona when indigenous activists challenged their disfranchisement.

Article 7, Section 2, of the Arizona constitution stated, “No person under guardianship, non-compos mentis, or insane shall be qualified to vote in any election.” Arizona lawmakers understood this as prohibiting Indians from voting because they were allegedly under federal guardianship on their reservations. When two Pima men from the Gila River Reservation attempted to vote, the Pinal County recorder refused them. Tribal leaders mounted legal challenges that finally reached the Arizona Supreme Court. In Porter v. Hall (1928), the state argued that indigenous Arizonans were outside of the political boundaries of the state and that, following Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), they were wards of the federal government. The court dismissed the first notion but fastened on the second. Arizona Indians lived within state political boundaries but, as long as they resided on reservations, they were under the guardianship of the federal government — as federal officials had maintained. Regardless of the provisions of the ICA, they would remain disfranchised until they assimilated and abandoned their tribal status. The Arizona Supreme Court eventually overturned Porter in Harrison v. Laveen (1948), on the grounds that the guardianship clause in the Arizona constitution violated the 14th and 15th amendments. Despite this victory, literacy requirements still disfranchised Arizona Indians until the 1965 Voting Rights Act banned them.

Q: Did the Indian Citizen Act end up making a difference? Did Native Americans end up becoming a big voting bloc?

A: Yes and no. No, because efforts to disfranchise indigenous Americans continued regardless of the law. Yes, because the Indian Citizen Act, paired with the 14th and 15th amendments, provided the foundation for legal challenges. Court victories against voting restrictions throughout the 1940s and 1950s helped more indigenous citizens to exercise their rights. In the 1950s, the Indian vote was significant in several Western states. In the 1956 election, both parties in Arizona issued a statement on their Indian policy, and in 1964 President Johnson's campaign made a point of reaching out to Indian voters.

More significant, however, was the Voting Rights Act, and the 1970 and 1975 amendments that strengthened the act. The Voting Rights Act outlawed any practices that “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” and established federal oversight of elections in areas where discrimination had historically been practiced. Apache, Coconino and Navajo counties came under scrutiny for disfranchising Native voters, and the literacy requirements were finally struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court under the provisions of the 1970 amendments. In 1975, Apache County attempted to gerrymander its voting districts to dilute the Navajo vote. Navajos challenged the action, and the case made its way to the District Court for Arizona. In Goodluck v. Apache County (1975), the court struck down the gerrymandering as unconstitutional. That same year, amendments to the Voting Rights Act ordered that language assistance be given to voters whose first language was not English. This provision increased voting on Navajo lands in San Juan County, Utah, by 95%. Indigenous voter rolls in Arizona have grown steadily ever since, and candidates for public office ignore their concerns at their peril.

Q: What is the situation today with Native American turnouts at the booths, and do they still face issues?

A: In recent years, indigenous voters played a significant role in Western states where their numbers are greatest. Janet Napolitano traced her victory in the 2002 Arizona governor’s race to the Native vote, and indigenous voters helped Al Gore carry New Mexico in 2000. The National Congress of American Indians created a national campaign of voter registration and education titled Native Vote in 2004. They encouraged tribes to hold their tribal elections on the same day as national elections, and places that followed this advice increased turnout significantly. On the Navajo Nation, Code Talkers (veterans who had used the Navajo language for security in wartime communications in WWII) traveled the reservation in 2004 urging their people to vote. In Phoenix, the Native American Community Organizing Project registered voters for the 2004 elections, and both Democrats and Republicans reached out to indigenous voters.

Ultimately, however, election officials across the nation have continued to suppress the Native American vote. Current challenges include refusal to accept tribal identification cards and residences — reservations often do not have traditional street addresses — for voter registration, scant language assistance, and inaccessible polling and registration sites. These problems led to a bipartisan investigation on indigenous voting rights in 2018 that resulted in the Native Voting Rights Act. The bill creates a Native American Voting Rights Task Force to provide funds and assistance to tribes for increasing voter participation and addresses problems with voter registration and polling sites. The bill provides funds for federal election observers and requires the Department of Justice to consult annually with tribes to make certain elections are flowing smoothly. It is stalled in the Senate, and its passage is not certain given the current political climate.

As always, however, indigenous peoples are not waiting on the federal government to deliver justice. Indigenous leaders all across the nation have organized to resist disfranchisement. Here at ASU, Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, director of the Indian Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, founded Native Vote project in 2004. Third-year law students run the clinic, which provides both legal and practical assistance to Arizona’s indigenous voters. Most galling to some of the workers is the presence of nonindigenous poll workers disqualifying indigenous voters on indigenous lands. Native volunteers monitor 12 polling stations around the state to prevent such actions and provide legal assistance on the phone. Nearly a century after the Indian Citizen Act established American citizenship for indigenous peoples, its promises are still not fully realized, but indigenous activists and tribal leaders continue to demand the United States keep its word to America’s first peoples.

Top photo: President Calvin Coolidge posed with Native American men, possibly from the northwestern United States, near the south lawn of the White House on Feb. 18, 1925. It was taken after Coolidge signed the bill granting Native Americans full citizenship. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Reporter , ASU Now


Public service with a crown: ASU alumna becomes Miss Navajo Nation

October 4, 2019

Last month, Arizona State University alumna Shaandiin Parrish stood in front of a crowd at the annual Navajo Nation Fair and waited to learn whether she’d become Miss Navajo Nation 2019.

Over the previous five days, her traditional knowledge had been put to the test with a series of rigorous competitions focused on Navajo language, culture and practices. She’d spent months preparing, making regular trips back to her family home in the Navajo Nation’s Kayenta, Arizona, to hone her skills under the watchful eye of her grandmother. To Parrish, participating in the pageant was about more than a title. It was about upholding a traditional way of life and giving back to a community she’d spent time away from while at ASU.  ASU alumna Shaandiin Parrish wearing a crown standing in front of a desert backdrop Shaandiin Parrish graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in educational studies in 2018. This September, she became Miss Navajo Nation 2019. Download Full Image

Discovering she’d won, Parrish felt a flood of emotions.

“It was such an honor, but also very overwhelming,” she said. “This is a title that means so much to our people — I think in that moment I felt all the responsibility of it, and the crown was suddenly very heavy.” 

Parrish is no stranger to the pageant world. She’s been competing since she was young and has already held Miss Indian ASU and Miss Indian Arizona titles. But in the mosaic of pageants across the U.S., Parrish said the Miss Navajo Nation title is unique. 

Winners spend a year visiting over 27,000 square miles of tribal land. Because the Office of Miss Navajo Nation is a branch of the tribal government, the titleholder also serves as a goodwill ambassador, promoting community health, economic development and other initiatives. 

“To become Miss Navajo, you must butcher an entire sheep in an hour, all in the traditional way, cook traditional dishes and complete interviews in both Navajo and English,” she said. “As the titleholder, you are responsible for visiting communities in our tribal lands in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, making sure people feel like their concerns are being heard and they matter.”

Parrish’s run for Miss Navajo Nation is the latest milestone in what she says is a lifelong commitment to public service that she began cultivating at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies and a minor in educational studies from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in 2018.

Forging a new path

A passion for community service initially attracted Parrish to education. She came to ASU as a Gates Millennium Scholar with plans to teach in a bilingual Navajo-English classroom. But when she was unable to complete her teacher aid training with Navajo-speaking students in her final year, she began rethinking her life’s path, and her major.

A call to a new kind of service came to her at the 2015 Navajo Nation Fair, watching the then-Miss Navajo Nation pass on her title. 

“She delivered her entire farewell speech in Navajo and talked about how all her work in the role had been for the benefit of her people,” Parrish said. “To me, her humility was such a display of community and public service — I think that day I realized that maybe one day I could actually be Miss Navajo, too.” 

The speech inspired Parrish to start engaging her community through public policy and government. Back at ASU, it marked the beginning of a new degree path in political science and a host of achievements over the next few years. 

In the fall semester of 2015, she earned a CAP/Udall ScholarshipThe CAP/Udall Scholarship was created by the Central Arizona Project and the Udall Foundation that funds students who are interested in careers focused on the environment, American Indian health care, or tribal public policy, and who display leadership potential, academic achievement, and a record of public service. and transitioned into a political science major at The College. Outside the classroom, she worked as a page intern in the Arizona State Senate for three years before taking a position as a public information officer for Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

smiling woman kneeling next to smiling, seated elderly woman

Parrish during a visit with Navajo elders at a community center on the Navajo Nation. Photo Courtesy of Shaandiin Parrish

Melding tradition and service

Parrish said working for and meeting state representatives made her feel part of something larger than herself. 

“At 24, I was the youngest Native American working at the Arizona State Senate on a daily basis, and it made me see how much impact one person can make,” she said. “The College played a huge role in my finding that internship and advancing professionally, especially during a hard transition changing majors.” 

Still, living far away from the community she’d long planned on serving was taking its toll. The Miss Navajo Nation pageant was one way to bridge the gap. And standing on stage to accept the title last month, Parrish felt like she was entering a new phase of her journey that was bringing her closer to home. Now living in the Navajo Nation’s capital Window Rock and having the opportunity to visit communities full time, Parrish said the role feels like a new phase that’s bringing her closer to home.

“People don’t realize that the Navajo Nation is kind of like its own country, and the Miss Navajo title has a huge influence on our people,” she said. “I’m coming to this position from a very different government setting, and I think one of the best parts is being able to serve my community directly, every day.” 

Now, she aims to help a new generation of Native Americans develop their futures while holding onto their history.

“I’d like to go back to ASU for a master’s degree and eventually law school,” she said. “As the eldest female child in my family, I’m also responsible for maintaining our Navajo traditions — I think my biggest motivation now is making sure I do that for my siblings, while also being someone who they can look up to in the world.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


ASU Law launches nation’s first Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs

Lawrence S. Roberts and Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes join as founding faculty

October 1, 2019

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has announced that it will be the first law school in the United States to offer programs focused in both Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance as part of its Indian Legal Program (ILP).

Tribal initiatives have successfully addressed challenges that echo from repudiated federal policies. ASU Law is supporting those tribal initiatives by developing advanced degree programs focused on Indian gaming and tribal self-governance for professionals who desire an advanced, concentrated curriculum in these areas. photo of Lawrence Roberts and Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes and Lawrence S. Roberts join as founding faculty of ASU Law's new Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Programs. Download Full Image

The Indian Gaming Program is anticipated to provide an in-depth curriculum focused on the legal developments that led to Indian gaming, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the role of tribal and federal regulatory agencies, tribal-state compacts, intergovernmental agreements and evolving trends in Indian gaming.

The Tribal Self-Governance Program is anticipated to include courses focused on federal Indian policy, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, planning for assumption of federal programs, strategic planning and administration, negotiation of contracts and compacts with the federal government, the HEARTH Act and evolving trends in tribal self-governance.

“ASU Law is committed to serving the educational needs of our tribal nations,” said ASU Law Dean and Professor of Law Douglas Sylvester. “With the addition of our Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs, we are building upon our world-class Indian Legal Program to ensure that our students receive the best possible education and real-world experience while they are here.”

The Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs will equip professionals with a background in federal Indian law and comprehensive courses designed to help graduates seamlessly integrate into the job of their choice.

Graduates may serve as in-house counsel, senior or mid-level executives for tribes or tribal entities, tribal elected officials responsible for overseeing these aspects of their tribal operations and other professionals with careers that intersect with these areas, such as congressional staff and federal, state and local employees.

The programs will be offered as a degree emphasis in the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree program and Master of Laws (LLM) degree program, as well as a certificate.

“History has also shown that tribes can better meet the needs of their citizens when the federal trustee works to promote tribal sovereignty and self-determination. We believe that both our programs will provide critical education for those working for the tribes or in Indian gaming,” said Sylvester.

Founding faculty include Professors of Practice Lawrence S. Roberts and Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes.

Roberts was appointed to a position within the Indian Affairs office in the Department of the Interior by President Barack Obama in 2012 and served in a variety of leadership positions while there. As the deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development, Roberts supervised the Office of Self-Governance, the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development and the Office of Indian Gaming. Roberts later served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, managing all Indian Affairs programs and offices, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Roberts served as the acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs and led Indian Affairs for the final year of the Obama administration. Over the course of the Obama administration, Indian Affairs restored over 500,000 acres of homelands to tribal nations; implemented the HEARTH Act to promote tribal sovereign authority over the leasing of tribal lands; revised regulations to advance tribal self-governance and self-determination in the areas of the Indian Child Welfare Act, land into trust, the granting of rights-of-way across Indian lands; the leasing of Indian lands; and reorganized the Bureau of Indian Education.

photo of Lawrence S. Roberts

Professor Lawrence S. Roberts speaks at the Indian Legal Program's Welcome Dinner earlier this year.

“Professor Roberts’ depth of experience in leading Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior during the Obama administration, serving as general counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission, and work as a trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice will provide students with the insights and skills needed to excel in an increasingly competitive job market,” said Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, professor and faculty director for ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program and director of the Indian Legal Clinic.

Roberts, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, grew up in an urban environment, and it wasn’t until law school that he fully appreciated how federal Indian policies directly affected his family.

“College was not a certainty, but it was a goal. It was a goal instilled by my grandmother, Maxine Elm, who earned her college degree after raising 10 children. She went on to work for a university, helping Native students earn their degrees,” said Roberts. “My journey to ASU Law was not a straight line, but a series of learnings from setbacks and preparing for opportunities. My personal journey would not have been possible without the foresight, support and assistance of Oneida leadership, encouragement from my family, and the countless professionals and mentors that have guided me every step of the way.”  

“I look forward to educating the next generation of Native professionals that stand upon the shoulders of those that have come before us,” Roberts said.

Roberts is joined by Bledsoe Downes, the executive vice president of community impact and engagement at Ho-Chunk, Inc. Bledsoe Downes previously served as the executive director of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program and, prior to that role, served as the director of graduate programs for the ILP. She subsequently served as the deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. She also served as acting director of the Bureau of Indian Education.

“We are beyond thrilled to have Professor Bledsoe Downes on our faculty. Her passion to teach and her vast experience bring so much to our new Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs,” said Ferguson-Bohnee. “We look forward to seeing the programs’ impact on our Tribal communities.”

Bledsoe Downes also worked as policy advisor for tribal affairs for Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and also served as president of Little Priest Tribal College. She is from Winnebago, Nebraska, and is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She also received her Juris Doctorate from ASU Law, a place she calls her second home.

“I'm from a small tribal community and a first-generation college student. Law school seemed completely out of reach,” said Bledsoe Downes. “However, as I saw my tribal leadership continually fighting for our rights, it was clear to me that law school was exactly what I needed to do if I wanted to advocate for my tribe. Tempe was the first place I lived other than the reservation where I grew up. I have been a part of ASU Law for over 25 years and to now join as faculty is an extreme honor.”

Bledsoe Downes is looking forward to working at the nation’s No. 1 school for innovation, an honor that Arizona State University has been named for the past five consecutive years.

“Academia has a hierarchy and that hierarchy is embedded in a very bureaucratic system. This can sometimes mean it is very rigid. President (Michael) Crow and Dean Sylvester are both leaders who encourage innovation and emphasize service to students and service to community. I think those commitments are the catalyst to change in the overall system. I'm excited to be a part of that,” said Bledsoe Downes.

photo of Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes

Professor Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes speaks at the Indian Legal Program's Welcome Dinner earlier this year.

When reflecting upon her own experience, she knows that her role in educating the next generation of legal professionals is critical.

“So much of what helped me in my career came as a result of an experienced leader who was willing to spend time with me and help me grow,” said Bledsoe Downes. “It is such an exciting time to be pursuing a legal education. There are large numbers of alumni and professionals with similar backgrounds who are willing to mentor and support you. There are still numerous challenges that tribal communities face, and law school requires a lot of sacrifice, but you will emerge as a stronger version of you and you will be ready to help tribes face those challenges.”

The Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance programs build upon ASU Law’s nearly four decades of commitment to tribal nations through its Indian Legal Program.

“ILP’s success in educating Native students in a JD program is unmatched. Adding master's-level programs in gaming and self-governance will open the doors for a whole new range of professionals who do not intend to be practicing attorneys, save employers years of on-the-job training, and maximize tribal resources. Graduates will bring a higher level of expertise to tackle the challenges of today and the future,” said Roberts. “Teaching advanced courses in these areas complements and strengthens what I believe is already the best Indian law program in the country.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law


Presidential candidate to make history with interview Wednesday at Cronkite School

September 25, 2019

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will sit down for a one-on-one interview tonight at the Indian Country Today headquarters in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. It is the first time a presidential candidate will make a visit to a Native newsroom.

This election cycle has already made history in other ways: A record number of presidential candidates have made campaign stops on tribal lands, released official policies on their views of Indian affairs and mentioned Indian Country at various national debates.  Indian Country Today at the Cronkite School “If you look at the history of this country, the federal government has had a huge role in the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Yet representation — whether running for office or visits from potential office holders — has been far less than adequate,” said Indian Country Today editor Mark Trahant. “But this year seems different.” Download Full Image

“To my knowledge, I don’t know of a presidential candidate who has visited a Native newspaper, radio station or television studio,” said Paul DeMain, former editor of News from Indian Country and a reporter who has covered Indian Country for more than 45 years. He is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. The Sequoyah National Research Center, home to the American Native Press Archives, also has no previous knowledge of such an event. 

This visit comes after an invitation for all presidential candidates to join Indian Country Today for an in-depth interview to talk all things Indian Country leading up to the 2020 election. The conversation will be moderated by editor Mark Trahant. 

“If you look at the history of this country, the federal government has had a huge role in the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Yet representation — whether running for office or visits from potential office holders — has been far less than adequate,” Trahant said. “But this year seems different.”

Eleven candidates met with tribal leaders at a presidential forum in Iowa, Trahant noted, followed by the Indian Country Today interview with a presidential candidate at Cronkite.

“This is huge. It’s a chance to frame the discussion before the election,” he said. “And it’s worth noting that many of the candidates we talk with could end up in different areas of the government, including the cabinet. So it really does raise the discourse for Native Americans.”

Indian Country Today moved this summer into the Cronkite School.

“Indian Country Today is making tremendous strides under Mark’s leadership toward deeper and better coverage of Native American communities,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “We are very proud of our partnership with Mark, and there will be more to come as we continue to expand and intensify our focus on Native American news coverage and bringing more Native Americans to America’s newsrooms.”

Bullock was one of the 11 candidates to participate at last month’s Frank LaMere Presidential Forum on Native Issues. He made his remarks and answered questions from a panel of tribal leaders via video conference call. Bullock pointed to his track record working with Montana’s seven tribal nations. He also appeared at the Meskwaki Powwow in July. 

“Gov. Bullock is looking forward to talking about his partnership with tribal governments and his state legislature’s Indian Caucus, and the real progress they have been able to make together — on health care, economic development, public safety, cultural preservation and more,” said Nathan Stein, spokesman for the Bullock campaign

Bullock is one of a handful of candidates who addressed Indian Country recently. He has been actively campaigning in Indian Country, highlighting his work as governor. He granted funding for language preservation programs, worked to combat Native youth suicide and vowed to investigate the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women.  

Assistant vice president, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU students, faculty recognized for outstanding work in planning

Members from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning awarded for their work with cities, indigenous communities

September 19, 2019

From a project focused on mobile home parks to work with indigenous communities, members from the Arizona State University School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning were recognized for their work at the annual meeting for the American Planning Association’s Arizona Chapter. Held on Sept. 12 in Tucson, the meeting brought together planners and researchers from across Arizona and included a moment to recognize the work being done around the state.

Among the winners this year was Maggie Dellow, a recent graduate of the Master of Urban and Environmental Planning program, who was selected as the winner for the student project category. Her project, “Mobile Home Parks and the Future of Affordable Housing in Apache Junction,” was the capstone that she completed as part of her master’s degree program. Mobile home communities in Apache Junction, much like the one pictured, were the focus of Maggie Dellow's work that was recognized for outstanding work by a student by the American Planning Association’s Arizona Chapter. Download Full Image

For her project, Dellow teamed up with the city of Apache Junction, located east of Phoenix along the border between Maricopa and Pinal County. The city is known for its picturesque views of the Superstition Mountains, but is also home to a community of winter-only visitors and 125 mobile home and recreational parks and subdivisions, which create approximately 50% of the city’s affordable housing. Many of these communities have found themselves in disrepair over the years, especially considering many were developed prior to the city’s incorporation in 1978. This has led to some communities being in floodplains or with site plans that wouldn’t be approved under today’s standards.

In her project, Dellow researched 28 different parks that were identified as high-priority. For each park, she analyzed its demographic trends, amenity access and site conditions, and she spoke with affordable housing developers and property owners within the parks to gain perspective of the needs of the community. As a result of her work, Dellow was able compile a comprehensive report she was able to provide to the city of Apache Junction to help shape upcoming decisions related to these communities.

“Maggie’s scholarly work provided extremely relevant data and concrete examples for the city to consider for the reuse or revitalization of these parks,” said Bryan Powell, city manager for Apache Junction, in his letter nominating Dellow for the award.

As a result of her outstanding work, the American Planning Association’s Arizona Chapter selected Dellow for the award for student project category. She also was hired by the city of Glendale as a full-time intern to help develop a mobile-home transition project. Staff from the city of Glendale were on hand in April 2019 when Dellow presented her project as part of the ASU Project Cities showcase.

Dellow wasn’t the only winner from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at this year’s meeting. She was joined by David Pijawka, professor of planning; Elizabeth Larson, senior lecturer of geography; and Jonathan Davis, PhD in geography student, who were selected as winners of the public outreach award for their work with an indigenous community to create a visioning report.

In April 2018, the team from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning hosted a workshop to work alongside the Sif-Oidak District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The focus was to create a visioning report that will be used in future planning efforts of the community that embraces the community’s values, including the unique physical, emotional and spiritual relationship the community has with the land.

The Sif-Oidak District of the Tohono O’odham Nation is comprised of nine communities located in the northern district of the Papago Reservation that spreads out over 700 square miles of the Sonoran Desert south of Casa Grande and southwest of Eloy. No district within the Papago Reservation has developed a land-use plan nor conducted a visioning workshop to develop a plan, making this effort with the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning the first of its kind for the Tohono O’odham Nation. This effort provided the technical and professional support to assist the communities in developing short- and long-term goals.

“It was an empowering planning experience for our community members that pushed the communities to work together and consider the needs within our community and think critically on how to meet those needs and achieve our district objectives,” said Alex Cruz, Sif-Oidak district chairman, in his nomination letter for the group’s efforts.

“We are optimistic for the future and will work to use this report as a guiding document for the future of Sif-Oidak District and its communities.”

This wasn’t the first time that Davis and Pijawka have been recognized for their work with tribal communities. They have also been recognized for a project where they worked alongside the Navajo Nation’s Dilkon Chapter to complete a community land-use plan.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


image title

Cultural pride by design

September 18, 2019

ASU engineering alum Loren Aragon once engineered military shock absorbers; now he’s dazzling the fashion world with inventive designs honoring Native American culture

The gowns feature bold, geometric patterns that wrap around the body and turn people into works of art. Look closely at the sharp lines and vibrant colors — the designs mirror those found on pottery from the Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico.

Fashion designer Loren Aragon, ’04 BSE in mechanical engineering, grew up in that pueblo and proudly brings his heritage to life through these creations. And he’s just as proud at being named the 2018 Couture Designer of the Year at Phoenix Fashion Week — the first Native American to receive that honor.

Aragon is the CEO and designer at ACONAV, a Native American couture fashion company based in Phoenix. He launched the company in 2016 with his wife, Valentina, who also attended ASU and hails from the Navajo Nation. The ACONAV (Acoma and Navajo) website describes its designs as celebrating the strength and empowerment of women through positive expressions that tie culture to modern style.

Interestingly, 10 years ago, Aragon was a mechanical engineer designing shock absorbers for military vehicles. And while a student, he studied robotics and designed prosthetics.

“Art and technology have always been in my background,” Aragon said. “I’m intrigued by how things are created. My grandfather was a mechanic who worked with gears and got dirt under his fingernails, and my mother was an artist and art teacher who came from a culture that was very active in pottery art. I’m like a reverse engineer — I research the past to understand how the origin of things affects the world today. My goal is to preserve our culture through fashion design.”

His work is attracting the kind of attention reserved for names on labels featured in chic boutiques. One of Aragon’s unique pottery-inspired couture creations was chosen to be displayed at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida. His work also turned heads at the 2019 Tony Awards, thanks to a striking gown he designed for Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs and executive director of ASU Gammage.

Jennings-Roggensack, the only Arizonan eligible to vote for Broadway’s highest awards, wore an eye-catching pattern Aragon calls “shattered details” printed on deep red cloth.

“The geometric pattern of fine-line details suggests the beginning of something new, like clouds breaking to produce rain,” he said. “The color red, like a splash of color through our blood lines, is an homage to my ancestors. Red also represents the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and I’m proud to honor them.”

The dress is accented by a cape that functions as a scarf, which is a nod to an accessory girls in the Acoma Pueblo wear to symbolize that they’ve become women. Plus, the cape playfully suggests a superhero, Aragon adds.

“Our culture is based on a matrilineal system that honors the power and strength of women,” he said. “We celebrate that women create life, and I emphasize that fact in my designs, that we look up to women.”

Jennings-Roggensack, who makes a point to always wear a gown to the Tonys that was created by an Arizona designer, says what impressed her about Aragon was he took time to get to know her before sitting down to the drawing board.

“I admired that he wanted to know who I was as a person,” she said. “Later, when he showed me the design, I immediately fell in love with it. It had a vertical feel that sweeps you upward. I would love to wear his other designs.”

After traveling to Santa Fe to explore Native artists’ work for inclusion in Disney’s Epcot Center, Jackie Herrera, assistant producer for Walt Disney Imagineering, chose to showcase Aragon in the Creating Tradition Exhibit of the American Heritage Gallery. The exhibit focuses on contemporary artists who use historical artifacts as inspiration for their work.

“I thought Loren’s work was very inspired, and asked him to design a dress based on one of the pots the museum owned,” Herrera said. “The dress he made is beautiful. It’s truly art, which is a word not usually used to describe fashion.”

Aragon admits it was “a big surprise” to be asked to contribute work to the Epcot exhibit. After researching the tradition behind the creation on that specific piece of pottery, he decided to marry Acoma’s matriarchal culture with Disney’s princess culture, and create something that could be worn by Cinderella, Belle (“Beauty and the Beast”) or any Disney heroine.

“I listened to the voice of the past to create something that echoes into today,” Aragon said.

The list of influences stretches throughout his life. His first mentors were his mother, Hilda, a seamstress and an artist, and his uncle, Joseph Salvador, a metalsmith who taught him jewelry making and how to use his artistic skills to create pieces that celebrate the vitality in the Native way of life.

He also credits Thomas Sugar, a professor at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, for teaching how mechanical designs drawn on paper could be brought to life. Sugar remembers Aragon as “a very project-focused person. Loren took his creativity and problem-solving skills and today has created some beautifully designed clothes.”

Reflecting on his time at ASU, Aragon recalls designing jewelry and greeting cards to help pay for school.

“When I came to ASU,” he said, “I was an only child who felt sheltered, and school helped me gain the confidence to open my eyes to a different world and appreciate my culture more. It gave me confidence in what I was doing.”

What’s next for Aragon?

“I’m previewing designs inspired by rain,” he said. “Rain is the Pueblo culture’s source of life. Our ancestors prayed for rain, and my new collection will honor the sky, cloud formations and lightning.”

Written by Benjamin Gleisser, who has profiled Dick Clark, Michael Jordan, Oliver Platt and other entertainment newsmakers for publications worldwide. This story originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Top photo: Loren Aragon's gowns feature bold, geometric patterns that wrap around the body and turn people into works of art. The designs mirror those found on pottery from the Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU