ASU course helps grow community of Native changemakers

May 31, 2017

Editor's note: The ASU community, mindful of Arizona’s place in Indian Country and the university’s location on the ancestral homelands of the Akimel O'odham and Pee Posh peoples, aspires to support Native students and tribes in developing futures of their own making. Last week’s story “ASU American Indian Studies Program trains advocates for indigenous communities” discussed AIS’s focus on partnerships to strengthen communities. This story spotlights the ways that one course, AIS 440: Cultural Professionalism, contributes to that effort.

When Arizona State University graduating senior Kendall Cody walked across the stage at the university’s American Indian Convocation on May 10, she carried with her an admittedly big passion: “getting more people to pursue and complete higher education.” ASU senior Kendall Cody explains poster at AIS 440 research symposium ASU graduating senior Kendall Cody discusses her proposal for a pre-college program for high schoolers, "“Gila River’s Life Long Learners." Cody and classmates in AIS 440: Cultural Professionalism showcased their work in ASU’s seventh annual Creating Visions for Future Nations Research Symposium, presenting their proposals in a poster-session format at the close of ASU’s annual American Indian Student Success Forum on March 21, 2017. Photo by Lyonel Tso Download Full Image

She also left ASU with solid experience and confidence in directing that passion to make an impact.

Cody worked as a peer coach for the past two years with ASU’s First-Year Success Center, encouraging other students to make it to the graduation finish line and to discover ways to make the most of their college journey: “I absolutely loved my job, so it never felt like work,” said Cody, who graduated May 8 with a major in psychological science and a minor in American Indian studies.

In the spring semester, as part of the course American Indian Studies 440: Cultural Professionalism, Cody chose a project to encourage and support kids’ readiness to apply and be admitted to post-secondary education, laying out the design for a four-year college-application program to support high schoolers in the Gila River Indian Community, south of Phoenix.  

In AIS 440, students draw on the ASU Libraries’ Labriola National American Indian Data Center and other sources to research the demographics and contemporary issues of Arizona’s 22 sovereign tribes. They then design a community development proposal directly connected to meeting one challenge in one Native nation or tribe beyond their home communities.

“An important U.S. Census statistic for Gila River that stood out in doing my background research was that 1.6 percent of adults indicated bachelor’s degree attainment,” said Cody, who is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation.

She designed an extra-curricular program that would break down the higher-education application process into identifiable steps, mapping out goals and activities for youth from freshman through senior year.

“By first semester of their senior year, students would be ready to apply to at least three different colleges or universities,” Cody explained. “I suggested activities to support students’ not only having a strong application, but becoming a more holistic person by that time as well.”

When she and her AIS 440 classmates showcased their proposals in a poster session in March, Cody’s project, “Gila River’s Life Long Learners,” received this year’s undergraduate “community vote” for the project that symposium guests consider most innovative and practical.

That honor includes an award from the Princeton Review valued at $2,799, for an in-person test-prep course that Cody intends to use in advance of graduate school admissions exams. 

Perhaps most noteworthy, at semester’s end Cody was contacted by a member of the Gila River Indian Community to schedule a meeting to discuss the possibility of implementing her project idea.

ASU student participants in 2017 Creating Visions for Future Nations poster symposium

Undergraduate and graduate student participants in the AIS 440 poster symposium posed with Laura Gonzales-Macias and Miss Indian ASU 2015-2016 Jennifer R. Jones. From left: Nicholet Deschene Parkhurst, Jameson D. Lopez, Ferrin Brown Wolf, Matthew Yatsayte, Kyle Howe, Davis E. Henderson, Summer Kirk, Martisha Clyde, Kendall Cody, Marcene Hoover-Bennett, Kelly Lee, Laura Gonzales-Macis, Jennifer R. Jones, Latifah Pailzote, Sarahna Cooper, and Kayla DeVault.

Creating visions for future nations    

“One of the key pieces of the American Indian Studies paradigm at ASU is strengthening communities, and at the core of this class is the use-inspired research assignment based in helping our families and communities,” said Laura Gonzales-Macias, who regularly teaches the course and also serves as associate director of American Indian Student Support Services in ASU’s University College.

The community development project proposal and the learning experiences that support it are the focus for about two months, she noted.

Students do a literature review, write a full research paper describing their review and project proposal, make an in-class slideshow presentation, and prepare and present at the annual poster symposium, “Creating Visions for Future Nations.”   

The course, she said, was developed seven years ago with American Indian Studies Professors John Tippeconnic III and James Riding In. They designed an experience in which students can explore indigenous perspectives on communication, research and professional and leadership skills.

In addition, students can prepare for what comes next in their journey: building a track record in the kind of research and presentations required in graduate school; fine-tuning their resumes; setting and meeting goals for employment, internships or graduate applications; and beginning to build a professional network across tribal communities.

Over the years, she said, the course has continued to evolve in partnership with the students — and the overlap and connections that have grown between students and community mentors have been especially enriching.

Mentoring extends connections

Some mentors visit the class as presenters; others assist with project ideas, Gonzales-Macias explained.

“Once students decide on a community development project proposal, they’re matched with a research mentor — someone from the community or a graduate student or faculty member with expertise related to the project,” she said.

“We partner with ASU’s American Indian Graduate Student Association to match students with a graduate or professional student,” she continued, “and we are so fortunate to have a host of community mentors who generously engage with students in the course.”

Kendall Cody, for example, was matched with ASU graduate student Dorothy Rhodes, executive intern for the lieutenant governor of the Gila River Indian Community, who could share knowledge and suggest resources. (Rhodes graduated May 8 with a master’s degree in liberal studies.) 

Cody said that Ak-Chin Indian Community Councilwoman Delia Carlyle’s guest presentation in AIS 440 also influenced how she shaped her project proposal.

“In addition to talking about Ak-Chin’s approach to self-governance and some of its exciting business partnerships, Ms. Carlyle shared her story with us. She wasn’t the best student in high school and other barriers popped up along her life journey, and so it was only recently that she earned her associate’s degree,” she said. “Despite all of those things that happened, she still has a very powerful leadership positon and is helping others in her community.

“A lot of students start fixating on whether they might mess up, or they think that if they haven’t finished a degree in four years they’ve failed,” Cody said. “Her remarks were a reminder to make sure that my programming for high school students would dispel those myths that stress a lot of people out and emphasize that working toward some post-secondary training to support what they want to do in life is the main goal.”

Other community leaders who presented to students this semester were LuAnn Leonard, former Arizona Board of Regent and executive director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund, Hopi Tribe; Arizona House Democrats Indigenous Peoples Caucus members Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3) and Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle (District 7); and Robin Enos, human resources director, and Crystal Banuelos, community employment manager, with the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community.  

Banuelos, a 2003 ASU graduate, said she has enjoyed being a community presenter in AIS 440 for five years, sharing insights about preparedness for the job search and professionalism. 

“I try to give students guidance and confidence about how they can be the best potential candidate, in whatever area that interests them, and encourage them to grow those behaviors that will make them the best employee after being hired,” Banuelos said, “focusing on being a team player, being willing to go above and beyond, and being communicative.”

“I also talk with students about where the workforce is going or areas that might have longevity,” she said. “That may spark ideas for some individuals as they make the determination of the path that’s best for them.” 

This spring semester, built into the AIS 440 course, was an opportunity for the students to be mentors themselves and build additional connections. 

“We have a business etiquette dinner as part of the course, and this semester Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) staff and high school students in the START program, a TOCC pre-college outreach program, came up from Sells to join us for the dinner session at Tempe Mission Palms hotel,” said Gonzales-Macias. “Students in my class as well as other ASU Native students enjoyed meeting and giving advice to Tohono O’odham youth.” 

Laying the foundation for a professional career

Three years ago ASU alumna Waynette Taylor took AIS 440 with Gonzales-Macias as a senior and completed a proposal for a community development project titled “Live Well, Be Well: A Holistic Approach to Treating Diabetic and Obese Individuals in the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community.”

She proposed a holistic, culturally sensitive approach to educating newly diagnosed diabetic and obese patients and put her central emphasis on an effective treatment plan developed by a comprehensive health-care team.

Taylor sees the course and that project proposal as laying a foundation for her career. 

“I knew Laura’s class was going to be great, but I didn’t realize the full impact it would have on my life,” she said.

“I decided eight years ago that I wanted to become a physician assistant, the first in my extended family to ever pursue a medical career, but I didn’t have any idea about how I’d become a medical provider.”

At ASU she fell in love with her major — biological sciences — and she became a leader in the student organization PANAL (Pre-Health Association of Native American Leaders).

“In completing the community development proposal in AIS 440, I discovered how I could make an impact in a community. The project only intensified the amount of passion I had for diabetes-related work,” said Taylor, whose mother and several other family members cope with the disease.

She credits AIS 440, and all the commitment that she put into the class, for her securing an internship with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the summer after she graduated, and for her ability to perform at a competitive level in the position.

“I was more confident in my research and was more familiar with how to summarize my work to NIH scientists,” said Taylor, who asked as an intern that she be allowed to focus on diabetes.

“My individual project focused on identifying the genetic determinants of Type 2 diabetes among the Pima Indians,” she said. “In the genetic laboratory of the NIDDK, a branch of the NIH, I helped to identify variants predicted to be deleterious in biological candidate genes, validated those sequences, genotyped, then submitted them for analysis to determine if these variants could affect risk for T2D. I would not have been as confident as I was in the delivery of my research if it were not for the experience I had gained in AIS 440.”  

Since earning her degree in 2014 she became a patient-care assistant at Banner Desert Medical Center and cared for diabetic patients, to learn more about the real-life complications and co-morbidities associated with the disease. Taylor now works for Indian Health Services in a behavioral health facility as a counselor aide to at-risk adolescents, helping them to rebuild their lives. 

“I still keep in touch with some of the community leaders who served as mentors and guest speakers in the course,” she said, “and when I read or hear the names of others in the news or in my work I’ll have that feeling of connection.”  

Taylor said the AIS 440 poster symposium has become an event around which alumni of the course and current students, faculty and staff coalesce.

“I attended the AIS 440 poster symposium last year and was very impressed with the students’ work. Now as an alum I’m totally supportive of the students and want to be a part of the symposiums in the future, letting students know it’s possible for them to implement their work in Native communities.” 

She has accepted a place in Northern Arizona University’s physician assistant professional graduate program for fall. Taylor said she used the Princeton Review scholarship she earned as the “community vote” winner in the 2014 AIS 440 poster session to help prepare for the GRE. 

“Dr. Gonzales-Macias is a remarkable individual. I have a lot of appreciation for her because of how much of an impact she has made on my life,” Taylor said of her mentor and former teacher. “My career aspirations are to return home to the Navajo and Hopi reservations as a physician assistant to care for individuals who are affected by diabetes. I believe that a program like the one I proposed in AIS 440 could make a real difference in any community, and it is my personal goal to see it come to life.”

Inspiring new passions 

When the spring 2017 AIS 440 students made their final class presentation as a group, gathering with community leaders for an end-of-semester celebration and formal dinner at Tempe Mission Palms on May 2, undergraduate Ferrin Brown Wolf reflected on the transformation he felt in himself over the semester.

“Are you a person who looks down the road, or do you look at the here and now? I’m transforming to where I’m looking down the road,” he said, as students took stock of all they’d learned from the readings, assignments and community mentors.

Brown Wolf said that closely following the protests at Standing Rock this year, where his grandmother’s people are, had energized him.

“Eric Descheenie, when he visited our class, said to us: ‘Your passion finds you.’ It has me thinking I need to get into law school. I’m going for an IT degree, but will I be happy if I’m punching in code, not doing things for my people?” 

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU American Indian Studies program trains advocates for indigenous communities

May 22, 2017

Exclusively made up of indigenous professors, the American Indian Studies program at Arizona State University motivates the next generation of scholars to advocate for Indigenous nations and communities.

“We’re striving to make American Indian Studies not only important and relevant to Native nations, organizations and peoples, but also to society as a whole,” said James Riding In (Pawnee), professor and interim director of the program. Professor presents the Dean’s Medal to American Indian Studies graduate Professor Myla Vicenti-Carpio presents the Dean’s Medal to American Indian Studies and filming graduate Cameron Mundo during the American Indian Convocation in spring 2016. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now Download Full Image

The curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students focuses on American Indian experiences, human rights and social justice, giving students a practical and theoretical understanding of complex issues facing American Indian communities across the U.S. and Indigenous communities around the world. 

The value of an American Indian Studies degree

“There are several values to our degree,” said Riding In. “It provides students with critical thinking and academic skills as well as knowledge of American Indian nations in both a historical and contemporary context.”

According to Riding In, American Indian Studies is broadly concerned with aspects of the human experience. As such, a student pursuing a degree, minor or certificate in American Indian Studies would gain an education rooted in humanistic ideals and social sciences methods. This dual structure helps students acquire analytical and critical-thinking skills, cultural expertise in American Indian affairs and a broad skillset applicable to a range of careers — especially in fields working with Indian nations or underprivileged/marginalized communities.

Graduates have gone to law school and doctoral programs all over the country. Given the academic nature of the subject, many pursue careers within Indian communities to help find solutions for the complex challenges facing these nations. Recent graduates have launched careers with the International Treaty Council, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and the local government. 

For example, alumna Madison Fulton (Navajo), who works for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, said her education in American Indian Studies was instrumental in getting her to where she is now. She said exposure to caring and influential professors, American Indian Studies theory and thought, and engagement through discussion prepared her to work with tribes.

“The American Indian Studies paradigm and canon are the most important aspect of my education,” she said. “The canon has given me the knowledge to be an advocate for Indian rights in terms of sexual assault advocacy, ethical research, and health and wellbeing of Indian communities and people.” 

American Indian Studies scholarship and impact

The American Indian Studies faculty at ASU have produced scholarship that is shaping the discourse on Indigenous issues today. Their research and publications range from the sacred histories of various Indigenous peoples to the contemporary problems faced by American Indian communities, such as: American Indian child and adolescent issues, graves protection, decolonization and spiritual beliefs.

Furthermore, the program is home to a peer-reviewed journal that publishes work by American Indian scholars from around the country.

Wíčazo Ša Review is an interdisciplinary academic journal devoted to publishing American Indian scholarship. The journal was started in 1985 by founding editors Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Beatrice Medicine, Roger Buffalohead and William Willard. Professor James Riding In (Pawnee) has been the editor-in-chief of Wíčazo Ša Review since 2005. 

The Review fits well within the paradigm of the American Indian Studies program, which states: “American Indian Studies faculty must view their teaching, research and service as a ‘sacred’ responsibility to Indian nations undertaken for the sake of cultural survival.”

“Most of the journals were those that come from the fields of history, anthropology and others,” Riding In said. “And it was very difficult oftentimes for indigenous scholars to get their work published because oftentimes their work fell outside of the realm of what many of those gatekeepers who were in charge of those disciplines thought was pertinent scholarship.”

Riding In said the journal’s most important function today is to provide an outlet for indigenous scholars to get their work published. He emphasized how valuable such an outlet is for young native faculty working in universities across the country.

With Arizona having the second largest Native American population of any state, Indian affairs is an area in demand from both the U.S. federal government and the Indian tribes themselves. The American Indian Studies program strives to partner with Indian nations, communities and organizations to seek solutions for the unique challenges faced by American Indian nations.

“ASU continues to develop an impressive cohort of scholars engaged in American Indian cultural, social, educational, legal and economic issues. We have built world-class programs in American Indian Studies, American Indian legal Studies and Indigenous conceptions of justice,” said President Michael Crow in a 2015 statement on the university’s commitment to American Indian tribes. “Our work, however, is not complete. We must further … integrate Indigenous knowledge and engage Indigenous issues globally.” 

Parker Shea

Student Writer and Reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Native American student wins prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship in Tribal Policy

May 3, 2017

Megan Tom sees working in education research, policy and tribal law in her future.

“I want to do a lot of things; professor, researcher, policy advocate, administrator, university president. Over all I want to support tribal colleges and their missions,” said Tom, a junior in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University majoring in English literature and minoring in public policy. Megan Tom Megan Tom, an ASU junior majoring in English literature and minoring in public policy, has won a 2017 Udall Undergraduate Scholarship in Tribal Policy. Download Full Image

“My particular interest is in tribal education,” she said, adding that in the coming five years, she would like to complete a graduate degree at University of Oxford and a doctorate at ASU and then work on education policy and student achievement at universities and tribal colleges starting in the Northwestern United States.

Tom is Ts’inaajinii (Black-Streaked Wood Clan) born for Naakai Dine’e (Mexican-Navajo Clan). Her maternal clan is Tsenjikini (Cliff Dwellers Clan).

As a Navajo first-generation college student from Cameron, Arizona, she already is immersed in Native American higher education research and policy. Since last July, she has served as a junior research scholar at the ASU Center for Indian Education. She also was a campus coordinator at Teach for America-Phoenix.

Her honors thesis will focus on the effects of higher education policy, campus climate, and student leadership on American Indian students. As President of the American Indian Council, she led a campaign to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on all of ASU’s campuses, and assisted with the city of Phoenix campaign.

“ASU sits on the ancestral homelands of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh people, and it’s important for our future leaders and universities to continuously honor and acknowledge indigenous people, because our indigenous people make up socioeconomic diversity and need to be included in the decision making process,” she said.

Tom explained that these experiences, as well as her observations about education issues on the Navajo Nation and within tribal communities, have given her a multi-faceted perception of education policy. And these experiences will continue, as she will be interning this summer at the College Board National headquarters in New York City.

“Sometimes people think of education as separate from other types of policy, but that’s not always the case. For example, on the Navajo Nation there was a mine that was shut down because of environmental concerns, but that mine funded a very important scholarship for Navajo students,” she said.

“There’s also an environmental aspect to education; when you don’t have access to clean water you can’t be concerned about not having a bachelor’s degree. Or, when you can’t get to school because the roads are flooded, that’s a problem,” she added.

“I want to work on education policy that addresses how people access education when they are not having their basic needs met and how Native students can prepare themselves to succeed in their tribal colleges or major universities.”

Tom’s commitment to Native American policy issues has been recognized with a 2017 Udall Undergraduate Scholarship in Tribal Policy.

The scholarship, worth $7,000, is given by the Tucson, Arizona-based Udall Foundation to college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service, and interest in issues related to Native American nations or to the environment.

The scholarship honors the legacies of Morris K. Udall, who represented Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years, and his brother Stewart Udall, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Their careers had a significant impact on Native American self-governance, health care, and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources.

This year, 50 students from 42 colleges and universities throughout the United States have been selected as 2017 Udall Scholars. A 15-member independent review committee selected this year’s group on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, Native health care, or tribal public policy, leadership potential, record of public service, and academic achievement. This class of Udall Scholars was selected from 494 candidates nominated by 224 colleges and universities.

The 2017 Udall Scholars will gather in Tucson on August 8–13 to meet one another and program alumni, learn more about the Udall legacy of public service, and interact with community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care, and governance.

“I am really honored, grateful, and reflective on what I had to do to get the scholarship. It took a lot of work to go through the process,” Tom said.

That process included completing an extensive application with several essay-type questions, submitting letters of recommendation as well as grade transcripts, and writing an 800-word essay.

Tom credits her colleagues and mentors at the ASU Center for Indian Education (CIE) with helping her complete the application. Colin Ben, CIE postdoctoral research fellow, boosted her confidence and helped her refine the essay. “I also have to thank my recommenders, Dr. Jessica Solyom, Dr. Erik Johnston and Charlinda Haudley, because they also serve as my mentors.” Tom said.

She also received assistance with the application process from the Office of National Scholarship Advisement housed at Barrett Honors College in Tempe. 

 “The Udall Scholarship is of special significance to ASU, not only because it is named in honor of native Arizonans Morris and Stewart Udall, but because it recognizes two of our points of pride: a commitment to sustainability and a concern for Native American issues,” said Kyle Mox, ONSA director.

“Megan is a remarkable young leader who has had and will continue to have a major impact. The Udall Scholarship will be a ‘force multiplier’ and accelerate her professional development,” Mox said, adding that only 10 awards were made to Native American candidates this year, further underscoring the significance of Tom’s accomplishment. 

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


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ASU partnership helps to re-energize the teaching of Pima culture, language

Unique ASU student group works to preserve Native language, culture.
Studies show Native students do better academically with sense of identity.
April 21, 2017

Gila River cohort trains Native American teachers on their home reservation

Native American communities across the U.S. face pressures most of mainstream society never considers, but a unique group of ASU students is helping solve two of the most pressing issues on their reservation: the preservation of identity and language.

Studies have shown that Native students who have a strong sense of their culture and language from an early age do better in school. Still, indigenous languages in North America are disappearing as tribes grapple with how to integrate while maintaining a sense of identity.

To that end, the Gila River Culture and Language Teacher Cohort has emerged from a partnership between the Arizona State University Center for Indian Education and the Gila River Indian Community Tribal Education Department, a first-of-its-kind program that trains future teachers on their home reservation with a focus on tribal history and keeping alive the Akimel O’otham language.

After the group’s eight members graduate from ASU next month, they will be uniquely poised to help young members of the Gila River Indian Community maintain “a sense of being and who they are,” said Deborah Chadwick, project director of the Center for Indian Education and head of the cohortThe Gila River Culture & Language Teacher Cohort is also supported through the collaborative work of New College, the Gila River Tribal Education Office, Gila River Culture Coordinator Anthony Gray and Gila River Indian Student Support..

Here’s a look at the group, what they’ve done and what they hope comes next. 

Coursework and capstones

student discusses with teacher

Starleen Somegustava reviews her group's capstone project, which focuses on traditional language proficiency, with instructor Deborah Chadwick during the cohort's Tuesday evening class.

The three-year program for Gila River Indian Community teachers offers standard courses, including science, philosophy, sustainability, gender roles and border politics. It also features curriculum that covers career development, eco-community ethics, tribal history and culture, history of American Indian Education, basic and conversational communication, reading, writing and speaking.

The capstone is separated into two projects:

O'otham Culture and Language Materials — Students have collected and curated materials for use in Pima culture classes. They have also created a database for the resources, which any teacher on the reservation about a half-hour south of Phoenix can access.

Compilation/Evaluation of Parent Language Surveys — Students are analyzing data on parents' language knowledge. They'll create a plan for future Akimel O'otham language classes for the community.

After graduation, five members of the cohort will continue on another year to earn their master’s degrees at ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

The players

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Gila River cohort members work on their capstone project with project director Deborah Chadwick at Casa Blanca Community School.

Nina Allison (BA/MA) — Teacher for Gila River Indian Community's Early Education. "I'm the first in my family to go to a university, and I'm happy with what I've accomplished. I want to teach students what I know, extend their language and establish a classroom where my students are totally immersive."

Hudunigsihbani Antone (BA) — Teaching assistant at St. Peter Indian Mission School, Bapchule, Arizona. "I thought once I was a mom, that was it. This degree is really for my kids. It's also a big stepping-stone for other single moms. It means I have more opportunities, and I will help create more opportunities for others."

Priscilla Espinoza (BA/MA) — Parent educator for Family and Child Education in the Bureau of Indian Education, Casa Blanca Community School. "I heard about the program and thought, 'It's my turn.' I spent many years raising my family and felt it was time to do something for myself. The degree will allow me to continue to help my community and my people. I have the gift of gab, and I'll use it to motivate others."

Marcella Hoover (BA/MA) — Culture teacher at Sacaton Middle School, Sacaton, Arizona. "When the program was initially offered, my first thought was, 'I can't believe I'm actually going to a university!' Once I get the degree, my plans won't really change much. I will continue to be there for my students and the children of our community."

Arlanna Jackson (BA) — Administrative assistant for Gila River Indian Community Tribal Education Department. "Teaching is something I've always wanted to do, and I have the passion for it. I want to help revitalize through songs. Our language is important because it identifies who we are as a people."

Donovan Kyyitan (BA) — Teaching assistant at St. Peter Indian Mission School, Bapchule, Arizona. "My initial reaction to this offering was, 'Finally! Do it now and jump on board.' I want to see our language prosper in the classroom where it's fully in our native tongue with no English."

Starleen Somegustava (BA/MA) — Culture specialist with the Gila River Indian Community's Head Start Program. "Once I get my master's, I would like to teach culture and language in high schools because it's not currently being taught at that level."

Edwardine Thomas (BA/MA) — Parent educator for Family and Child Education in the Bureau of Indian Education. "I'm going to continue to work with both students and parents because a lot of them are not fluent. My ultimate wish is to open a day care with full immersion."


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, said that “one of the most pressing issues for tribal nations and communities today is the protection, reclamation and strengthening of their tribal languages and concomitant cultures.”

He added that ASU President Michael Crow wants the university to “support tribal nations in achieving futures of their own making.”

With this in mind, the cohort that came together three years ago is working their plan to help preserve the culture and language in their Native community of about 20,000.

Anthony Gray, cultural coordinator for the Gila River Indian Community, said he has seen an uptick from Native youth who want to know more about their history and language.

"They recognize that culture and language grounds them and gives them roots," Gray said. "As long as those roots are strong, we'll stay resilient and always be here."

He called the Akimel O’otham language "a gift."


mentoring at gila river

Mentor Samuel Catanach (right) discusses the group's capstone project with students (from left) Priscilla Espinoza, Hudunigsihbani Antone and Arlanna Jackson during their Tuesday evening course at Casa Blanca Community School.

Samuel Catanach, a graduate student with ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and one of two academic mentors serving the cohort, said interacting with the group has also been a gift.

"There's a broad age range of the cohort members, and it's really been cool to see how everybody is working together and seeing the older ones do particularly well," Catanach said. "I learn just as much from them as they do from me."

The mentors are ASU graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. They meet weekly with the eight students. They tutor them in writing and organizational skills, and they work with course instructors in providing additional student support on major assignments.


students talking

Edwardine Thomas (left) couldn't be happier to show off her graduation robe Tuesday evening at Casa Blanca Community School.

Two celebrations are better than one, and the Gila River Culture and Language Teacher Cohort will be recognized twice.

The first graduation ceremony will be take place on May 4 on the Gila River Indian Reservation. In addition to Brayboy, dignitaries will include Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Lt. Gov. Monica Antone and Marlene Tromp, dean of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Students will receive their diplomas at ASU's American Indian Convocation on May 10 at ASU Gammage on the Tempe campus.

Top photo: Cohort leader Deborah Chadwick and Donovan Kyyitan are getting ready for graduation next month. Kyyitan says he wants to lead classes in his native language with no English. Photos and video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Indian nations face social, spiritual challenges from unhealed trauma

ASU professor to discuss wounds of genocide among American Indian communities.
Killsback among 8 ASU faculty to speak at Genocide Awareness Week event at SCC.
April 13, 2017

ASU expert to talk about 'Broken Treaties, Broken Pipelines' at Genocide Awareness Week at Scottsdale Community College

Genocide has been a thread through humanity, stretching back centuries and into modern times.

Several Arizona State University experts will talk about mass killings at "Genocide Awareness Week: Not On Our Watch" at Scottsdale Community College. The event runs April 17–24.

This will be Scottsdale Community College's fifth Genocide Awareness Week, which gathers survivors, scholars, politicians, activists, law enforcement and artists to delve into the history and ramifications when one group of people tries to destroy another.

Leo Killsback, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at ASU, will give a lecture titled “Broken Treaties, Broken Pipelines: The Fight For American Indian and Indigenous Rights in the 21st Century.”

KillsbackKillsback culturally and spiritually identifies as a Cheyenne person as he is a practitioner of traditional ceremonies and a member of traditional Cheyenne ceremonial societies and guilds. He is an author, scholar and student of American Indian culture, history, spirituality, traditional law and decolonization. Killsback teaches a graduate course, American Indian and Indigenous Rights, and an undergraduate course, Human Rights and Cultural Resource Law. answered questions for ASU Now:

ASU Assistant Professor Leo Killsback

Leo Killsback is an assistant professor at ASU. Photo by Cheryl Bennett

Question: What will your lecture be about?

Answer: My lecture, as with my research, connects the historical injustices that the U.S. committed against Plains Indians with the current injustices related to social inequality, threats to American Indian sovereignty, and the fights to protect treaty rights and indigenous rights.

Q: How does your talk relate to the theme of genocide awareness?

A: Throughout the colonization of western Native America, the U.S. committed horrendous acts of genocide against Plains Indian peoples through violence and later through assimilation-based policies. Today, many of these same Indian nations continue to face social and spiritual challenges stemming from the unhealed wounds of trauma. Meanwhile, their lands, water sources and air are under constant threat from exploitation and pollution. For a lot of Plains Indian nations, the wars against imperialism never ended.

Q: Your talk is titled, “Broken Treaties, Broken Pipelines.” Do you believe that the recent attention on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests has changed attitudes towards Native Americans’ rights?

A: The attention of the Dakota Access Pipeline has certainly brought American Indian and indigenous rights to the forefront in a manner that the world has never seen before. I think that the attitudes of the non-Indian public towards American Indian and indigenous rights will continue to change for the better. Some people, however, in some parts of the country have become more aggressive in their negative treatment towards Indian peoples in response to the #NoDAPL movement. Nonetheless the movement is strong, resilient and will continue with peace and prayer as core principles.

Q: Did the protests renew enthusiasm among Natives themselves for pursuing justice?

A: American Indians have resisted colonialism and injustice for years, but the current movement has quickly become part of a much larger global community. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation, its citizens and the water protectors who defied the Dakota Access Pipeline represent a 500-year effort to protect Mother Earth.

Killsback will speak at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Other ASU experts and their lectures are:

  • “Violence and State Repression in the Midst of Refugee Crises,” by Thorin Wright, assistant professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, at 1:30 p.m. Monday
  • “Mass Atrocities and International Justice,” by Clint Williamson, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues and now a professor of practice in the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and senior director for Law and National Security at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
  • “Genocide in the Renaissance: A New and Terrible World,” by Sharonah Frederick, assistant director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU, 9 a.m. Wednesday.
  • “Genocide: Problems with Comparison,” by Volker Benkert, assistant professor of history, and Jason Bruner, assistant professor of religious studies, at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
  • “Building the Rule of War: Accountability after Violence,” by Milli Lake, assistant professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, at noon Wednesday.
  • “Anti-Jewish violence in Postwar Poland, 1945–46,” by Anna Cichopek-Gajraj, assistant professor of history, at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Genocide Awareness Week also will include a talk by a survivor of the Holocaust, lectures about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, a presentation on current hate crimes by the Phoenix Police Department and a memorial service. Find details here.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Q&A: Native American, ASU poetry professor writes about sustainability

ASU English professor Natalie Diaz "can't not talk about sustainability."
Natalie Diaz's work described by NY Times as 'ambitious' and 'beautiful.'
April 6, 2017

Renowned poet Natalie Diaz says life in the Fort Mojave Indian Village informs her work

Arizona State University has long been a leader in conservation, offering the first comprehensive degree on the concept through its School of Sustainability. The university has worked to engage indigenous communities, with a groundbreaking doctoral program for Native scholars and mentoring and college readiness programs for high school students who grow up on reservations. And it’s become known for cross-disciplinary studies, with faculty and students receiving encouragement and opportunity to merge subjects in search of new ideas.

To those ends, ASU has hired a nationally renowned poet who grew up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village near the California-Arizona-Nevada borders and now teaches about sustainability on Native American reservations through her poetry.

“I can’t not talk about sustainability,” said Natalie Diaz, an assistant professor in ASU’s Department of English. “I grew up on the Colorado River, and our tribal name means ‘the water runs through our body and land.’”

Diaz became an academic after life as an athlete, which she says continues to inform her thinking and writing process. She attended Old Dominion University, playing point guard on the women’s basketball team, reaching the NCAA Final Four as a freshman and the Sweet Sixteen her other three years. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia, she returned to Old Dominion, and completed an MFA in poetry and fiction in 2007. Five years later she penned her first book of poems, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” which The New York Times described as an “ambitious … beautiful book.”

Diaz is finishing her first semester at ASU and recently spoke to ASU Now about poetry, language, sustainability, the Dakota Access Pipeline and how her days on the basketball court continue to inspire her.

Question: You’re a person who has always had a foot in both societies. Reflecting back, what was it like for you growing up on the Fort Mojave Reservation?

Answer: Most modern Natives have a foot in both worlds. The reservation is a paradox. It’s a place where we weren’t supposed to survive. But many of us did survive, and it’s one of the reasons why our traditions have been protected.

I think there’s a certain honesty that I have with my work and myself. It feels complicated sometimes to make certain negotiations in the business world and even in academia. That has a lot to do with being in the desert, which is in your face and wide open. A lot of people see this as resiliency and strength — yes, that’s true — but the other side that people don’t often see is that there are certain things I’m vulnerable about and that has actually helped me.

The fact that I can be vulnerable means that I’m willing to look at things or that I’m willing to ask myself questions where I don’t have the answers a lot of the time.

Q: The NCAA tournament just wrapped in Phoenix on Monday. Did it evoke memories of your playing days?

A: My little sister is a high school coach and she and her husband both went to the tournament. She texted from the championship game and wrote, “I can’t believe you were here. This is crazy. I can’t even hear myself.” When she said that, I felt it in my body, and there was a flood or charge in my chest when I thought about being there.

What I miss the most about basketball is the way you can trust the body in ways in other worlds I move in like literature and academia, those systems of trust aren’t there. There’s a different gauge.

In basketball, you always know if you’re doing well. You know if you’re winning or losing. There’s no BS'ing. Basketball makes you honest.

I miss the physicality of it but in a lot of ways, that’s how I do my best writing. As soon as my heart rate gets moving, that’s when I have a lot of my best ideas. It’s really the way my body works — it still works as an athlete’s body.

Q: Your work as a poet is interesting in that there’s a big focus on sustainability.

A: I can’t not talk about sustainability. I grew up on the Colorado River and our tribal name means “The Water Runs Through Our Body and Land.” It’s an awful and strange consideration when the river is gone. What will our name even be?

It’s strange to me that there’s so much tension surrounding Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline because what’s happening there is happening in so many different places around the country.

What’s become more visible is the fact that natives have been fighting to keep their lands — many of our lands are the last wildernesses. Look at the Colorado River. It’s got 19 different dams and doesn’t reach the gulf anymore. At some point it will just be agricultural runoff.

What non-Native Americans will learn from all this is how to fight for your land. How to fight for your existence in a way that finally feels urgent. It has always felt urgent to indigenous people. It’s always been there for us. We were born into this constant struggle to not just exist or survive, but to live and to flourish. Natives have done this in many ways.

What we’re starting to see is just a small ripple but it will continue to build momentum. And it’s going to take all of us — every citizen of the United States — to fight for these things in a way that we’ve never had to do that. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

Q: Your work with language revitalization is also well noted, but are you seeing signs of success?

A: One of the signs of success is do people want to know more about it? One of the toughest things with young natives is they do have a foot in both societies and they live in a modern world where it’s not always encouraged or embraced there. It’s tough to engage a teen in a language they feel doesn’t work on the outside. It has to be able to evolve. For example, if you see a teen texting in their native language, that’s a sign of success.

Time is an interesting accordion in language work. I have a teacher named Hubert who I’m now able to have a conversation with in our native language, and one day I was really keen on myself and said, “Isn’t it amazing that in a short period of time we’re able to hold this conversation?” He said, “You’re looking the wrong way. Look at how much you don’t know.” And then, the accordion got smaller (laughs).

Q: April is National Poetry Month. What does it mean to you?

A: To be honest, it doesn’t mean a lot. I know for everybody else it means we should be listening to poets right now. And for the most part, I do think our country has been listening to poets more as thought leaders and resistors.

This shows that language is what determines who you are, what you're against, what you’re for and language has a real energy to it. The American language is very violent and has an awful track record, but it also has the power to do positive things. It can bring people together, it can heal, it’s also how we get all of our ideas.

People are looking for places to feel and that’s really what poetry is. It operates under a different time frame, a different power structure. The power of a poem is that for the duration someone reads it, they’re willing to feel something. It doesn’t mean what you’re going to feel is always comfortable but that's how I live. It’s in me and with me all of the time. I don’t need National Poetry Month to tell me I’m a poet.

It’s the same reason why I don’t participate in Native American History Month. I’m a Native American 12 months a year.

Navajo veteran explores engineering pathways, mentors Native students at ASU

March 23, 2017

Every student takes his or her own route to a college education. Some have more twists and turns — and, frankly, years — than others, but every journey is enhanced with mentorship.

Navajo doctoral student Marcus Denetdale grew up in Farmington, New Mexico. He wasn’t an overly motivated teenager, and didn’t see himself pursuing the typical high school to college route. Marcus Denetdale poses next to blossoming bushes on the Tempe campus. A veteran, student organization leader and new program manager for Construction in Indian Country, doctoral student Marcus Denetdale has done it all in pursuit of his third degree from Arizona State University. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU Download Full Image

After high school he joined the United States Air Force and served for four years as an avionics technician working on F-15s.

When he ended his service, he embarked on his “odd jobs phase”: waiting tables, working at a natural gas plant, assisting in a funeral home and locksmithing.

But one night in Farmington, 30-year-old Denetdale bumped into Peterson Zah who asked him a question that changed his course: “Have you considered applying to Arizona State University?”

For a Navajo, there’s no one better to have a conversation with about attending college than Peterson Zah, the first president of the Navajo Nation, who has led numerous efforts to bring more Navajos to college. He served as special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow on American Indian affairs and earned an honorary doctorate from ASU, his alma mater, in 2005.

Since that conversation in 2009, Denetdale has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ASU, enrolled in a doctoral program, held ASU staff positions in ASU’s Graduate College and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and has been an active member and president of ASU’s Tempe-based Student Veterans Association.

To say he’s merely “gotten involved” is a clear understatement.

Currently pursuing a doctorate in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering, his research focuses on identifying the motivations, catalysts and barriers that Native American students face in their pursuit of an engineering education.

He works closely with tribes to sort and analyze their data concerning students and potential students and the pipeline in which they reach engineering fields.

“We want to identify what factors play a role in Native American students completing a bachelor’s degree and, from there, what propels them to attend graduate school or decide what career route they’ll pursue,” he said.

In the end, the goal of his research is to know how to create a program that successfully mentors these students and helps them reach their goals.

Denetdale was recently appointed program manager of the Del E. Webb School of Construction’s Construction in Indian Country program, housed within the Fulton Schools. The program helps attract, retain and financially support Native American students studying construction management at ASU, and provides a great platform for Denetdale to engage in mentorship and to enhance his research studies.

The program also organizes design-build projects for students to obtain on-the-job construction management leadership experience on Arizona reservations.

“For me to move forward academically, it took mentors checking in during every step of the way,” Denetdal esaid. “I had mentors say, ‘Have you considered a master’s degree?’ ‘Have you looked into undergraduate research?’ ‘Have you thought about harnessing this passion toward a doctoral dissertation?’”

Within Construction in Indian Country, Denetdale said, “Advisory board members and I are constantly talking to and encouraging our students. We want them to know we have jobs for them, that their community needs them and that we will do everything we can to financially support them.”

The program is currently gearing up for the Construction in Indian Country National Conference on April 17–19, which brings together students, tribal officials, representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the construction industry.

“Students meet internship providers; tribal leaders meet subcontractors who can support their community; and all the funds raised from our golf tournament provide scholarships for our construction students,” Denetdale said.  

Denetdale is currently helping to manage discussions with Chapter House officials in Tuba City, Arizona, regarding the possibility of Construction in Indian Country taking on a handful of new design-build projects for the local community.

Amidst all this, Denetdale decided to step down from his position as president of ASU’s Student Veterans Association on the Tempe campus to focus more fully on his work with Construction in Indian Country.

But he feels indebted to the network and support the veteran community provided to him when he enrolled as an older, non-traditional undergraduate student, and he will continue his involvement as a co-advisor and as a member of ASU’s Alumni Veterans Chapter.

Looking to the future, Denetdale plans to stay involved with student affairs and the administrative side of higher education.

“I want to help that student who has the motivation and aspiration to attend college to overcome the barriers they face, and I want to influence policies and provide solutions to help the student experience go well for all students, regardless of where they come from and how they got there,” he said.

Though he’s taken a lot of different steps in his journey to become a doctoral student at ASU — from service in the Air Force to odd jobs to staff positions — he said, “My story at ASU can be anyone’s story.”

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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New ASU study shows that mentors matter

March 1, 2017

Center for Indian Education finds hardships and opportunities can be offset by holistic and culturally responsive mentoring

Arizona State University has hit upon a new solution to help Native American men and boys overcome the host of obstacles that block the path to socioeconomic success for so many: Get outside the classroom to encourage education.

The answer comes from a recent ASU study funded by RISE for Men and Boys of ColorAn advocacy group associated with the University of Pennsylvania. that found rampant generational hardships and lack of opportunity could potentially be offset by holistic and culturally responsive mentoring in all areas of life.

The study prepared by the Center for Indian Education could encourage the creation or expansion of the types of mentoring programs that ASU has implemented for years.

"Mentorship is important because it grounds both mentor and mentee, and makes them matter to one another," said Bryan McKinley Jones BrayboyBrayboy is also Borderlands Professor of Indigenous Education and Justice in the School of Social Transformation, associate director of the School of Social Transformation and affiliate faculty with the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, American Indian Studies and the Department of English., director of the Center for Indian Education and co-lead on the study. "This ties the present to the future. Part of our work is not to lament the past but to think about what's possible."

ASU development programs aimed at Native communities include the SPIRIT orientation program, which helps Native students adjust to college life; INSPIRE, a youth camp at ASU’s Polytechnic campus; and RECHARGE, a college-readiness conference. Aside from teaching classroom skills, the programs highlight overall health and well-being and help students connect with people who support them on the path to success.

Through these efforts, ASU has a growing American Indian student body. About 2,600 Native students attend ASU, which in May saw its largest graduating class of about 360 — a number that is expected to grow.

The study found confirmed often-grim statistics that show overrepresentation in school arrests and referrals to law enforcement along with a dramatic underrepresentation in higher education. Indigenous communities also face the highest unemployment rates across the nation — as high as 90 percent on some reservations — as well as elevated rates of poverty.

But rather than stop there, the study actively sought solutions.

“Rather than ask why they aren’t successful in school, the question needs to be, ‘How can schools be more successful and beneficial to our Native boys and men?’” said Jessica Solyom, an assistant research professor in the School of Social Transformation and co-lead on the study.

The study’s conclusion calls on academic institutions and researchers to be more conscious that Native American men and boys are in turmoil and to engage in capacity-building work. Specifically, schools and researchers should seek to understand Native communities, acknowledge specific traumas, instill a greater sense of self-confidence and engage early and often. It also asks for authors, journal editors, conference reviewers and presses to be “mindful and intentional” in seeking, cultivating and encouraging submissions on ways to assist young American Indian males.

The conclusion also says community groups should develop mentoring and culturally specific development programs that engage family and mentors, strengthen students’ motivation to go to college, and build self-esteem.

Brayboy said the findings will be used by policy organizations and foundations to help guide them in their philanthropic goals.

“We’re not defining the field, but we’ve definitely outlined it,” Brayboy said. “We’re setting the table for creating better opportunities for Native peoples in the future.”

Top photo: From left: JD PhD in justice studies Nicholas Bustamante, doctoral student Colin Ben and JD PhD in justice studies Jeremiah Chin assign tasks for the group during a weekly meeting at the Center for Indian Education on Feb. 1. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

ASU incubator boosts Native American entrepreneurs

Inno-NATIONS supports business owners and enterprises from indigenous communities across Arizona

February 28, 2017

Looking to create opportunity, the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI) in collaboration with ASU’s Entrepreneurship + Innovation has developed an inter-tribal initiative called Inno-NATIONS, which champions indigenous entrepreneurship and economic development across Arizona.

“The goal is to support up-and-coming Native American entrepreneurs and ignite enterprises to fuel sustainable tribal economies by rejuvenating and modernizing traditional trade networks,” said Traci Morris, AIPI director and Inno-NATIONS founder. scarf print Detail of a scarf print from the Beyond Buckskin Boutique. Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

Morris said by spearheading innovative partnerships and leveraging resources from ASU, tribes and community organizations, she hopes that Inno-NATIONS will create a “collision community,” causing a ripple effect of economic change in tribal communities.

The first collision takes place with the inaugural learning lab series, “Beyond Buckskin: Beyond Online” on March 1 followed by “Protection in All Directions: A Fashion & Resistance Awareness Event” on March 4. The latter will include discussions, multi-media discussions and a fashion show highlighting local Native American designers including Jared Yazzie of OxDX.

Both events are free and take place at The Department in downtown Phoenix.

Inno-NATIONS will also launch a three-day pilot cohort with approximately 20 Native American businesses starting in June.

“Beyond Buckskin” features Jessica Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Dartmouth graduate and entrepreneur, who grew a small online store into a successful boutique on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

The store promotes and sells Native American-made couture, streetwear, jewelry, and accessories from more than 40 Native American and First Nations artist, employing tribe members from the Turtle Mountain community.

ASU Now spoke to Metcalfe to discuss her work.

Head shot of

Jessica Metcalfe

Question: We’ve seen Native American fashion emerge and evolve. How did you get into the business?

Answer: I was writing my master’s thesis in 2005 and my advisor at the time had told me about some research she had done, which looked at Native American fashion in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. She had wondered if I was interested in picking up where her research left off. I looked into it and found that there were these breadcrumbs, little bits here in there, that something had been going on in the past 60-70 years, but hadn’t been looked at as a collective movement.

Through my doctoral dissertation, what I discovered was that Native American fashion has gone through waves of acknowledgements by the broader public, but what we’re experiencing now is perhaps the biggest wave yet.

You have designers like Patricia Michaels out at New York’s Style Fashion Week and the Native Fashion Now traveling exhibit touring the country, so there’s really a lot of exciting things happening lately. It’s coming from a collective movement. Designers basically grouping together to share costs but also to put together more events to cause a bigger ruckus.

Q: How did you build your online store into a brick-and-mortar business?

A: I first launched a blog in 2009 as an outlet for my dissertation research, and wanted to share it with more people and to also get more stories and experiences. My readers kept asking where could they see and buy these clothes? At that time, there wasn’t an easy way to access functions like a Native American Pow Wow or market in order to do that.

I had established a rapport with designers through my research and writing. They saw what I was doing through the blog and then a question popped into my head. “How would you feel about creating a business together?” There were 11 initial designers who said they needed the space, and I worked with them to sell their goods online. We just now opened our design lab on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. We are creating a system where we can meet demand and maximize a need in Indian Country.

We employ Native Americans from ages 15 to 22. There aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for people that age on the reservation. They either work at the grocery store or the gas station. One of them is interested in film and photography and so they run our photo shoots. Another person is interested in business entrepreneurship, and they get to see how an idea goes from concept to execution.

Q: The subtext is that this isn’t just about fashion but, history, representation and cultural appropriation?

A: Our clothing is just more than just objects. It’s about how the material was gathered, what the colors represent, what stories are being told and how does that tie into our value system. One of the things I often discuss is the Native American headdress. Our leaders wear them as a symbol of their leadership and the dedication to their communities. These stories are a way to share our culture with non-Natives and protect our legacy for future generations.

Q: Why is it important for Native American businesses to branch out into other cultures?

A: Native American people desperately need to diversify their economic opportunities on and off the reservations. Up until recently, people haven’t thought of fashion or art as a viable career path.

A recent study conducted by First Peoples Fund that found a third of all Native American people are practicing or are potential artists. That is a huge resource we already have in Indian Country and we need to tap it and develop it, and push for Natives in various fields to look at themselves as entrepreneurs and launching businesses.

Now, Native American people have an opportunity to make a positive impact in their local communities by reaching people through their art and sharing our culture with the rest of the world.

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU American Indian Policy Institute launches Inno-NATIONS initiative to support Native American businesses

January 31, 2017

The American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI) at Arizona State University, in collaboration with ASU’s Entrepreneurship + Innovation, The Department co-working space, Maricopa County Small Business Development Center and The Visionary Magazine, announces the Inno-NATIONS Tribal Business Collision Community — an inter-tribal initiative championing tribal entrepreneurship and economic development across Arizona.

“This community we are building is really needed in Arizona and in the country. There are no other spaces like it,” said Dr. Traci Morris, AIPI director and Inno-NATIONS founder. “In fact, there are few tribal incubators in the country. We see the need, and the Phoenix Valley has a very large urban Indian population with a strong commitment to tribal business owners and is surrounded by tribes with tribal enterprises. Now is the time and this is the place.” Native American businesspeople The Inno-NATIONS Tribal Business Collision Community promotes entrepreneurship for Native American businesses. Download Full Image

By spearheading innovative partnerships and leveraging resources from ASU, tribes and community organizations, game-changers at Inno-NATIONS hope the “collision community” will cause a ripple effect of change in tribal communities. The goal is to support up-and-coming Native American entrepreneurs and ignite enterprises to fuel sustainable tribal economies by rejuvenating and modernizing traditional trade networks.

“One of our biggest priorities at ASU is to help diverse entrepreneurs succeed through culturally relevant programming,” said Ji Mi Choi, ASU associate vice president for strategic partnerships and programs. “Inno-NATIONS will support Native entrepreneurs to foster solutions that meet the needs of their communities and create economic impact.”

The inaugural Inno-NATIONS cohort will be housed at startup coworking hot spot The Department in downtown Phoenix on March 1 and 4, with the three-day pilot cohort starting in June.

“This is such an exciting and unique endeavor for Indian Country,” said Nathan Pryor, chair of the AIPI Advisory Board. “Native people have always been entrepreneurs; Inno-NATIONS will provide the means to grow more formalized tribal businesses through dynamic and contemporary means. We are overwhelmed from the positive support that Inno-NATIONS has received from ASU as we launch this new economic opportunity.”

Within a year after launch, plans are in place to expand and relocate the “collision community” to a culturally relevant space housing several anchor tribal businesses, a “maker” space, business incubator and coworking space.

For more information on the Inno-NATIONS program, steps to apply or become a partner, visit, email or call 480-965-1055.