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Mary Lou Fulton doctoral candidate hopes to inspire other Native Americans

April 25, 2018

Jameson Lopez will become a tenure-track professor in Tucson in the fall

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

When a teenage boy in his community committed suicide, Jameson Lopez decided he wanted to do something for his tribe.

That something was dedicating his life to higher education and finding opportunities for Native Americans to obtain their degrees.

“Native students often have problems adjusting to college life because of historical forced assimilation and colonization,” said Lopez, a Quechan tribe member from Fort Yuma, California, who is earning a PhD in education policy and evaluation at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “Culturally, our traditions are much different and often undervalued. We are striving to make economic advances using traditional knowledge that was impossible in previous decades because of societal disadvantages.”

The 32-year-old Lopez said he immediately connected with the Native community on campus after a four-year stint in the U.S. Army. Forging friendships and finding mentors is what eventually got him through, said Lopez.

Today, Lopez serves as a mentor to many youth and often travels to Native communities to deliver a message of hope for a better life.

“It all boils down to — if I’m asked to say or do something and I don’t, that opportunity might go to someone who isn’t Native American,” Lopez said. “Then it becomes a lost opportunity for Native youth to hear and experience something positive.”

After Lopez graduates on May 7, he is headed to Tucson where he will become a tenure-track professor at the University of Arizona and continue his research in Indian Country. He expressed that he wants to support tribal nation building by advancing the capacity of tribal nations to collect and analyze data. He hopes that his effort to collect data with tribes will inform tribal decisions and policies that create new opportunities for economic advances for Native people.    

Lopez recently spoke to ASU Now about his positive experiences at the university.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study education?

Answer: There are million “aha” moments. But this is the first one that stuck out when you asked that question. I was attending a wake under a brush arbor on a remote reservation for a young kid who had committed suicide. Something that was common to the community but uncommon to our traditions as Native people. I knew I wanted to give back and help in some way. I saw education as an avenue of hope. But later on I realized that it couldn’t be any education, it had to be an education that could sustain and revitalize Native communities through nation building. So I started focusing on education as a means of nation building in indigenous communities.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU?

A: I remember being taught in elementary school about inventors such as Thomas Edison, Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, etc. You ever wonder why we were mostly taught about white, European-descendant inventors in elementary school? Surely there were inventors from other ethnicities that we could have learned about. In my later years of life, I realized there were actually lots of inventors from various ethnicities and even Native inventors.

A few years ago, I was listening to a lecture from a Native scholar here at ASU. They were talking about assimilation, etc., but the lecturer was making a point about traditional Native marriages and went on to say that it was acceptable (in some tribes) for older Native women to marry young, "wild" native men. Because it was believed that the older woman would "tame" the young wild man. I looked at my friend, looked back at the professor, looked back at my friend, looked back at the professor, and looked back at my friend and said, “Dang, Natives invented cougars!” But in all seriousness, while at ASU, I found out more things that were invented by Natives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I (had) just got home from Iraq. I was accepted into a few other major universities, but just coming home from the war, I wanted to be close to home, family and friends. ASU took a chance on me. I didn’t have the best GRE scores, but I believe my community engagement was what the program was interested in. So in some ways, ASU also chose me. It was a reciprocal choosing.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I started graduate school right after I got out of the Army. I was still a little rigid. Whenever my colleagues would get stressed I would say, “Don’t worry, no one is going to die.” I’ve got a little smarter since then and now say to those who get stressed, “Don’t worry, we’ll all die … eventually.” Keep your life in perspective. You just might fail, which is OK. Get back up and keep going. And honestly if you’re not failing a little bit, you’re probably not doing enough. And remember — worst-case scenario, you fail out of college. To me, that’s not what makes someone a failure, though; not trying is what makes someone a failure. Remember that your heart follows what you treasure. Your treasure doesn’t follow your heart. So face life intently, embrace fear (everyone is afraid), when your heart beats faster take some deep breaths and then face life with open arms, wide eyes and a desire to do good in this world. And quit taking student loans if you can help it!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus?

A: The Center for Indian Education is my favorite spot because of the people. I’ve never been in a place with so many indigenous scholars researching, advocating and strategizing to move indigenous communities forward.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Tenure-track assistant professor of higher education at the University of Arizona.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Start an urban intertribal indigenous college that focuses on educating Native students to address issues concerning; missing and murdered indigenous women, nation building, sustaining and revitalizing cultural traditions, and the self-determination and sovereignty of tribal nations.

Top photo courtesy of Chrissy Blake

ASU students place first, third at Indigenous 3MT competition

March 28, 2018

Students from the Pueblo graduate cohort program at Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation recently placed first and third at the Indigenous 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) competition held at the University of Manitoba.

The University of Manitoba’s Ongomiizwin Research and the University of Winnipeg co-hosted the Pueblo cohort for a field-based course in Winnipeg, Canada, and the culminating event was the Indigenous 3MT. The competition was held at the University of Winnipeg and co-sponsored by its Office of Indigenous Affairs on March 7. Approximately 20 master's degree and doctoral students shared their research. Students from the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, and Arizona State University participated in the competition. Three winners of the Indigenous 3MT competition Winners of the Indigenous 3MT competition: Doreen Bird (third place), Chelsie Parayko (second place), Rachell Tenorio (first place). Download Full Image

As the name of the event implies, students were given three minutes to explain their theses to a panel of judges. In addition to the time constraint, participants had to follow a restrictive list of rules:

• A single static PowerPoint slide is permitted (no slide transitions, animations or “movement” of any kind, the slide is to be presented from the beginning of the presentation). The slide must have minimum 0.5" margins for key information.

• No additional electronic media (e.g., sound and video files) are permitted.

• No additional props (e.g., costumes, musical instruments, laboratory equipment) are permitted.

• Presentations are limited to three minutes maximum and challengers exceeding three minutes are disqualified.

• Presentations are to be spoken word (e.g., no poems, raps, or songs).

• Presentations are considered to have commenced when a presenter starts their presentation through movement or speech.

• For any images, photos, or diagrams used on the slide, if not created by the presenter, the presenter must have explicit written permission to use the image and the source must be credited.

School of Social Transformation student Rachell Tenorio placed first with her thesis, “Deconstructing trauma.”

“The 3MT competition was challenging but the importance of relaying my dissertation to a general audience was my goal,” Tenorio said. “I wanted everyone, from all backgrounds, to be able to understand my dissertation. So, with that in mind, and watching examples of YouTube videos online, I was able to practice and time myself to provide an effective and winning presentation.”

Rachell Tenorio presenting her thesis.

Rachell Tenorio presents her thesis for the 3MT competition, translating her work for a general audience in a tight timeframe.

Doreen Bird, also from the School of Social Transformation, placed third with her dissertation titled, “Pueblo research methodologies.”

“It was a great experience participating in the Indigenous 3MT,” Bird said. She continued, “It gave us a chance to streamline the way we talk about our dissertation research and connect with an audience and judges we had never met before.”

The University of Queensland developed the 3MT research communication competition in 2008 to celebrate the exciting research of PhD students around the world, while challenging those students to present their research in a compelling way to a general audience, within the constraint of three minutes. Today, more than 200 universities host 3MT competitions.

“The Pueblo cohort’s participation in the Indigenous 3MT competition represents an incredible and pivotal moment in both how we as indigenous peoples are doing research and how we talk about that research,” said Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, who leads the Pueblo graduate cohort program at ASU.

“The past generations for indigenous peoples have been marked by exploitative research targeting our communities for something of particular interest to others and for their profit — our natural resources, our cultural practices and spirituality, our very physical being. Our students represent momentum that seeks to unravel this pattern. The 3MT offered us a rare opportunity to see this movement at work.”

Learn more: The School of Social Transformation’s Pueblo graduate cohort program.

Communications specialist, School of Social Transformation


Ak-Chin community makes multi-year pledge to support ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program

March 27, 2018

The Ak-Chin Indian Community has made a philanthropic donation to benefit the Indian Legal Program (ILP) at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

A multi-year commitment running through 2026, the $750,000 endowment will support the ILP, sponsor a national Indian law conference each year, and provide funding for two new scholarships. Kate Rosier, as part of the Pipeline to Law Initiative, visits an elementary school class. Download Full Image

“The Ak-Chin Indian Community has a long history of supporting ASU Law and our Indian Legal Program,” said ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester. “We are thankful for that generous support and honored to continue partnering with the Ak-Chin community on the mission of expanding Native American students’ access to legal education.”

In addition to the scholarships and the annual conference, the Ak-Chin community will also be recognized in the naming of the large event center on the fifth floor of ASU Law’s home, the Beus Center for Law and Society in downtown Phoenix.

Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel credits ASU Law with increasing interest in the legal profession in his community, citing a teen court program and similar activities aimed at the tribe’s youth.

“We recognize the fact that a lot of Native Americans throughout Indian Country are taking an interest in law programs, not just in the state of Arizona, but throughout the country,” Miguel said. “Access to a great legal education is something we want our community members and other Native Americans to take advantage of. We think that’s vital and key to the progression of generating lawyers, judges and other legal professionals in the long run.”

An issue of underrepresentation

According to the American Bar Association, only one percent of active attorneys in the United States in 2017 identified as Native American.

Patty Ferguson-Bohnee is the faculty director of the ILP and former president of the National Native American Bar Association. Along with ILP Director Kate Rosier, she has worked to identify the unique impediments facing Native Americans trying to enter the legal profession.

“We found out that there are challenges in getting Native Americans to think about law as a profession, there are challenges in going to law school, and there are pitfalls in even entering the profession,” Ferguson-Bohnee said. “We figured out that we really need to reach out to the youth and have contact with them at an early age.”

That realization helped lead to the formation of the Pipeline to Law Initiative. Sponsored by the ASU ILP and the Indigenous Law Program at Michigan State University College of Law, the initiative is a collaboration with other schools and Native American organizations.

In addition to helping prospective students with LSAT preparation and law school applications, the Pipeline to Law Initiative focuses on early outreach, visiting elementary, middle and high school students to share information about the legal profession using age-appropriate materials and culturally relevant information.

“This initiative was spearheaded by ASU Law, but we also developed partnerships with other law schools, because not every Native student is going to attend ASU Law, and the intent is not to push students to attend any particular law school,” Ferguson-Bohnee said. “The goal is to have them think about their opportunities and how they can make their dreams happen if they are interested in the legal profession.”

Miguel said the Ak-Chin community, whose population totals just over a thousand people, was inspired by the Pipeline Initiative.

“We support what ASU Law is trying to implement, and that played a large part in our decision to donate,” he said. “There’s growing interest in the law in Indian Country overall, and our community is small compared to other tribes, but when some of our youth see tribes from the surrounding communities take an interest in law careers, I think there’s a sense of ‘If they can do it, I can do it, too.’ Seeing their peers do it can motivate them in that direction.”

ASU Law’s ILP students frequently visit area schools as part of the Pipeline Initiative, and Ferguson-Bohnee says that can be a big inspiration to Native American youth.

“I think that’s impactful, especially if you never see a Native person as a lawyer,” she said. “You don’t really understand the positive context of being a lawyer and how important it is for the maintenance of communities and for the protection of sovereignty. It could mean that you have water in your community, or electricity, or the defense of important rights that you don’t really understand as a child.”

The impact of scholarships

Sarah Crawford

Sarah Crawford, second-year law student at ASU Law, benefited from local tribal scholarships.

After getting her undergraduate degree, Sarah Crawford developed an interest in law school while working in Washington, D.C. But Crawford, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, faced a financial challenge.

“I come from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I had always done everything on my own as far as getting my own funding,” she said. “I worked throughout all of undergrad, working 20 to 30-plus hours a week to support myself, but law school does not afford the time to work as much as I did in undergrad. Having financial support throughout law school was very important to me in my search.”

Crawford had several close friends and mentors who had graduated from the Indian Legal Program, so ASU Law was already near the top of her list. And as she researched Indian law programs throughout the country, ASU became her No. 1 choice.

“I discovered that ASU Law had complete support for the ILP program, and I really didn’t see that at other schools, where they put Indian law at the forefront,” she said. “ASU Law is also one of the few law schools in the nation to offer an Indian Law certificate.”

Crawford applied for — and received — the initial scholarship sponsored by another Phoenix-area tribe, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.

“I was completely flabbergasted, amazed and touched by the support,” said Crawford, who is now a second-year student at ASU Law. “It showed that ASU Law believed in me and wanted to make sure that I was able to afford law school, and that really, truly meant a lot to me.”

Crawford says most Native American students face similar financial challenges.

“Looking across Indian Country, I’m not alone in the fact that it’s really hard for Native students to be able to make these big leaps into a world where financial stability is uncertain,” she said. “It is daunting for Native students to take these big financial risks on their own. Having support from tribal communities is really, really important to not only me, but to all Native students.”

Focused on the future

Though she’s far from South Dakota, Crawford has felt at home at ASU Law, in large part because of the support of the surrounding tribal communities.

“A lot of people used to warn me that if you go off the reservation and get an education, there will be lack of support,” she said. “Well, I actually found the complete opposite coming to ASU Law School. The tribes here have all been very, very supportive of Natives going into graduate and undergraduate school.”

After completing law school, Crawford hopes to effect change for Native Americans with a career focused on policy and legislation.

“I really enjoy looking at policy, finding the bigger issues, and trying to break down the barriers, because there are a lot of barriers that are policy-related in Indian Country,” she said. “These issues are both large and small, and it will take continual work to chip away these policy barriers so that tribal nations can best utilize all of their resources and continue to grow.”

Miguel believes the investment the Ak-Chin community has made will pay enormous dividends.

“We’re proud of the donation and the support we’re giving, and we’re looking forward to seeing the outcome in the next couple of years,” he said. “We feel this is going to help grow Native American interest in a much-needed profession, particularly here in Arizona. And we’re always happy to help in any way we can to enhance those types of educational opportunities.”

Executive Director, Marketing and Communications, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law


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Loss of land and culture ties faraway groups who are forging similar paths

Lecture series finds common legacies among Scottish people, American Indians.
March 25, 2018

ASU lecture series connects legacies among Scottish people, American Indians

In most cultures, identity is inextricably tied to the land, and when land is taken, cultures can struggle to survive. But communities can change that narrative, reclaiming land and heritage, according to two professors who represent cultures that are very far apart and yet face similar paths.

The annual Roatch-Haskell lecturesThe John F. Roatch Global Lecture Series on Social Policy and Practice hosts an internationally known scholar to lecture on a topic of global and social significance to the Arizona community. The event was established by John and Mary Roatch. The Linda Haskell Memorial Master Class capitalizes on national and international talent to create an interactive forum for the discussion of current topics of concern to human-services practitioners in Arizona. The event was established by Rose and William Haskell to honor the memory of their daughter Linda Haskell, a social worker who died in 1992., held Friday in Phoenix, addressed issues of land and identity in talks by two professors — Frank Rennie, professor of sustainable rural development at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, and Robert Miller, professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the director of the Rosette LLP American Indian Economic Development Program. The lectures were presented by the School of Social Work at ASU.

The Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland are far away from Indian reservations, but the two cultures share a history that involves losing their land and seeing their heritage face annihilation.

Rennie, who gave the Roatch lecture, said the Scottish Gaelic language reinforces the notion of embeddedness.

“It has a sense of ‘you belong to the land’ rather than ‘the land belongs to you,’ ” he said.

Frank Rennie, professor of sustainable rural development at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, explained how charitable trusts have begun returning privately owned land to the people. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Rennie described the history of the area, going back to 1746, when war wiped out the highland clan culture, with the indigenous language and wearing of tartans banned. Land passed from the family clans into private hands, and many highlanders fled to the coast to become tenant farmers on plots called “crofts.” Many in the clans were hunted down and killed.

“We were not taught this story in school,” Rennie said. “We were taught about the Romans and the American war of independence but not about what happened on our own doorstep.”

Many Scots served in World War I under the promise that they would get land when they returned, but that didn’t happen. The frustrated villagers began “land raids,” grabbing bits of property over time. By the 1990s, Scotland returned its parliament from London to Edinburgh and took on the issue of land reform.

“Even to this day, the imbalance of owning of land by heritage families is so strong within Scotland that if we were to apply for development from the World Bank, they wouldn’t look at us because of the imbalance,” Rennie said.

But now, many villages have formed charitable land trusts to buy back land for their communities. The villagers still pay rent, but to the trust and not a private owner. The trust in Rennie’s village, on the Isle of Lewis, has invested in wind turbines, which produce income that can then be spent locally.

Rennie sees a direct link from that history to the results of recent votes, when Scots narrowly voted against breaking away from the United Kingdom, and voted overwhelming for remaining in the European Union.

“The sense of community is tangible, and that’s led to a drive to be more assertive on the world stage,” he said.

Miller, who is a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, found many parallels between the Scots and American Indians, including the whitewashing of history to conceal the stealing of land.

Robert Miller, a professor in the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU, said that private-sector development is key for Indians to move out of poverty. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“People raised on reservations, they’re pulled back to their homeland and they want to own their homeland. There’s this sense of belonging to the land — that’s what every American Indian says,” said Miller, who delivered the Haskell lecture.

After America broke from England and looked westward toward expansion, the narrative was that the lands were available for the taking. He showed a letter in which George Washington compared Indians to animals, calling them “savage” and “beasts of prey.” But actually, the tribes had a sophisticated culture involving agriculture, trade networks and a system of public and personal property.

“Women would own berry patches that they would pass on to their daughters,” he said. “We’re not taught about that. We want to think the country was empty.”

Miller said that the United States still claims legal title to Indian lands, dating back to 1790.

“Tribes can’t sell or develop their land without permission from the secretary of the interior,” he said.

This history has led some Indians to mistrust capitalism as a way out of poverty, but Miller said that private-sector development is the best way to keep money on the reservation.

“You have to go off of the reservation to go shopping. You have to go off the reservation to find a house you would want to live in, to find food or a movie theater,” he said.

Miller works with the Navajo Nation, which has about 200,000 citizens on its reservation. Demographically, there should be nearly 2,800 privately owned businesses. In reality, there are 305.

“I worked for the Northern Cheyenne, and the only thing you could buy on their reservation was gas, so you could drive somewhere to spend your money,” he said.

Sovereignty and culture are crucial. Tribes must decide for themselves what kinds of businesses they want and separate that from politics, he said.

Miller said that there’s a “buy Indian” act from 1910 that allows the secretary of the interior to buy goods and services for Indians from Indians. Not only does he think the act should be mandatory, he thinks each tribe should enact its own “buy Indian” rule.

“I tell tribes to talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Rennie said that when communities have an independent income and are no longer dependent on government aid, it gives them flexibility to find new solutions.

“It reverses that colonial mentality,” he said. “You’re not just allowed to do things. You have a right to do things.”

The concept of identity is timely, according to Jonathan Koppell, dean of ASU's College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“In 2018 America, identity is so much a part of our politics and we think of identity in largely negative terms. It’s been used by many to divide us.

“We mostly think of identity as being fixed — built off of racial or ethnic identity. I would argue that identity in the social sense can be constructed and built to achieve some of the same positives.”

Top photo: When the Scots were driven from the highlands to the coast, they lost their land and their culture was threatened, not unlike the history of American Indians. The Roatch-Haskell lectures, held Friday in Phoenix and spsonsored by the School of Social Work at ASU, addressed land and identity. Photo by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Telling stories from inside the tipi

Annual Simon Ortiz Indigenous Speaker Series now part of RED INK initiative

March 20, 2018

The Juste family church tipialso tepee or teepee has been in service, helping heal the Salt River Gila community, for over 25 years.

“This tipi has a real history. A lot of people have received a lot of help,” said Henry Quintero, assistant professor in the Department of English. “Its scars tell a story of this community and what it’s been through, and our perseverance.” Henry Quintero ASU assistant professor Henry Quintero Download Full Image

That history will make its way to Arizona State University this week, where the church tipi will be set up on the Tempe campus by church roadman Glen Juste himself for the 10th annual Simon Ortiz RED INK Indigenous Speaker Series, formerly known as the Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community.

The new name follows its new director, Quintero, the editor of RED INK, an International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts & Humanities. The journal is just one part of a larger initiative by the same name to enhance access to higher education for Indigenous communities, as well as global access to Indigenous creative and intellectual expression and discourse among native and non-native communities on indigenous issues.

“RED INK is great, and it’s here to stay,” said Quintero, who is affiliated with American Indian Studies. “Part of what’s here to stay is sharing a kind of creative beauty that is intrinsically woven into indigenous people’s lives.”

How we understand our stories and the relationships around us underscores this year's speaker series, set to begin Thursday with a demonstration and talk on Indigenous Epistemologies of Sustainable Geometries: Stories of the Cradleboard and Tipi, and to conclude with Friday’s discussion of the development of the Native American Church and the tipi's evolution alongside.

Storytellers will include Juste (Gila River Tohono O'odham), Sarita and Mac Nosie (White Mountain Apache), and Ksaws Brooks (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation).

The annual series, now a decade old and sponsored by ASU Library’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center — home to thousands of books, journals, Native Nation newspapers and primary source materials, such as photographs, oral histories and manuscript collections — "seeks to create and celebrate knowledge that evolves from an inclusive indigenous worldview and is applicable to all walks of life."

It has featured such speakers as Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Peterson Zah (Navajo), Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee) and last year’s Myron Dewey (Newe-Numah/Paiute-Shoshone).

Quintero sees the series as an act of decolonization, passed down to him by his predecessor and mentor Simon J. Ortiz, an ASU Regents' Professor, who donated his personal papers to the Labriola Center in 2013.

“It’s a testament to the Labriolas' family commitment to indigenous people and the understanding that indigenous people have a philosophy and voice as well as the ability to share and integrate our incredibly valuable knowledge,” he said. 

Ortiz encouraged Quintero to share his knowledge about indigenous plant medicine and the Native American Church back when Quintero was a graduate student at ASU. 

“He said, ‘You've got to write about this,’” recalled Quintero, who now researches Native American Church music, better known as “peyote music.”

“Peyote music is a philosophical, musical and literary system that dates back older than any of the Abrahamic traditions, and belongs to a larger tradition of indigenous plant medicines that we utilize to navigate the human experience,” said Quintero. “It’s like any other glorious representation of everything in our human experience. It’s a way of understanding interrelations with what’s around us — our earth, our families, other human beings.”

In peyote ceremonies, the tipi plays a foundational role, from the way it's constructed to the stories that are embedded and the relationships interwoven.

“Anyone can take a pill, anyone can take a drug,” Quintero said. “When it truly becomes a medicine, from an indigenous perspective, is when it integrates with your life, beliefs and culture. In this way, the tipi is a kind of ‘cultural container,’ a way of utilizing time, place and space with plant medicines to facilitate the best outcome."

Traditional teachings around indigenous culture, the tipi and the cradleboard, a protective baby carrier, will be part of this week's events that are open to the public. 

Through these valuable teachings and new avenues of scholarship, Quintero said we begin to understand this time and space we’re living in now, differently.

"ASU is the place for RED INK and for indigenous studies," he said. "Many indigenous scholars see President Crow's commitment to the 2020 initiative as active decolonization for the benefit of the ASU and international community, but also, in a larger sense, as being the innovation that changes everything in that gentle, good way."

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

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ASU professor lauds new Navajo Nation law on cyberbullying

March 14, 2018

Law criminalizes electronic activity that aids in stalking or harassment; intent is to reduce violence and suicide

Social media is indiscriminately ruthless and knows no boundaries — even in remote places such as Indian country.

Last month the Navajo Nation signed legislation to include cyberbullying into the tribe’s criminal code. In short, the bill criminalizes electronic activity or communication that aids in stalking or harassment, or contributes to death. The intention is to reduce violence and suicide rate on the vast reservation, a territory that occupies portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.

ASU Now enlisted Angela Gonzales, a professor of justice and social inquiry in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, to shed light on this new development. Her research integrates the fields of sociology, American Indian/indigenous studies and community health. She said poor connectivity notwithstanding, “internet and mobile technology is an omnipresent reality in reservation communities.”

Woman in purple scarve

Angela Gonzalez

Question: How prevalent is cyberbullying in Indian country?

Answer: I'm not aware of any statistics about the amount of cyberbullying experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth. This, however, is less about access to the internet or mobile phones and likely more about the underrepresentation of native people in nationwide studies on the issue. Infrastructural issues that limit broadband access in the home has created a communication void that mobile phones have filled. The availability and widespread use of mobile phones on reservations has certainly opened up the possibility for cyberbullying among native youth. In a recent study, I surveyed native parents about issues of concern for their children. Cyberbullying and sexting were among the top three concerns reported.

Q: Are reservations usually slow to respond to technology as it impacts its clients, and is the Navajo Nation being forward-thinking about this particular issue?

A: I don't think it’s a matter of tribes being slow to respond to the negative ramifications of technology such as cyberbullying, but more a matter of limited human, technical and financial resources to address such issues. This is particularly true for rural reservation communities that rely on federal funds to develop, update and replace basic community infrastructure that most Americans take for granted. When it comes to communication technology, the low population density on many rural reservations makes internet companies reluctant to invest in upgrading their equipment to provide better connectivity. But poor connectivity notwithstanding, internet and mobile technology are an omnipresent reality in reservation communities. The Navajo Nation's new law updating the tribe's criminal code by adding cyberbullying to sections that address harassment, stalking and manslaughter, is an important move that I hope other tribes will follow. Cyberbullying, like other forms of harassment, affect not only native youth, but adults as well and having this codified into law sends a powerful message to offenders and empowers the community to intervene when this type of behavior takes place.

Q: One of the components of the bill is a public education outreach, including the schools. How vital is this aspect of the bill?

A: Public education outreach is critically important, both in the schools but also in the broader community. Cyberbullying, like domestic violence, doesn't just affect the victim, but it affects the entire community.  A thoughtful, culturally responsive outreach and education program grounded in cultural values of respect for self and others and the power of words — whether spoken or texted — to both harm and health may help to reinforce traditional norms beyond the issue of cyberbullying.    

Top photo courtesy of

ASU School of Social Transformation professor selected as AERA Fellow

February 21, 2018

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) has selected Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor of Indigenous Education and Justice in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, as a 2018 AERA Fellow.

Brayboy is among 10 other new fellows announced by AERA on Feb. 21. Bryan Brayboy Professor Bryan Brayboy Download Full Image

AERA, the largest national research organization specifically focused on the scientific study of education and learning, established its fellowship program in 2007 to recognize and honor scholars who make substantial research achievements. The 2018 fellows were nominated by their peers, selected by the AERA Fellows Committee, and approved by AERA’s elected governing body.

Brayboy’s research focuses on the role of race and diversity in higher education, and the experiences of indigenous students, staff, and faculty in institutions of higher education. He has been a visiting and noted scholar in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. His work has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education; the National Science Foundation; the Ford, Mellon, Kellogg and Spencer Foundations; and several other private and public foundations and organizations. He and his team have, over the past 17 years, prepared over 155 Native teachers to work in American Indian communities and over 15 American Indian PhDs.

At ASU, Brayboy is senior adviser to the president, director of the Center for Indian Education, associate director of the School of Social Transformation, and co-editor of the Journal of American Indian Education. From 2007 to 2012, he was a visiting President’s Professor of Indigenous Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Brayboy will be inducted along with the other 2018 fellows on Saturday, April 14, at the 2018 AERA Annual Meeting in New York City.

Communications specialist, School of Social Transformation


ASU scholar focuses on Native leadership, advocacy in the US South

Novel use of archival sources earns professor Denise E. Bates coveted research grant

February 6, 2018

For Arizona State University professor and historian Denise E. Bates, primary sources such as original archival documents and oral interviews form the bedrock for her scholarship in indigenous leadership.

So for Bates, the news that she was one of 30 scholars chosen to receive a 2017–18 Princeton University Library Research Grant — supporting travel and living expenses for up to a month’s work in the archives — felt something like winning a historian’s version of the lotto. ASU professor and historian Denise E. Bates outdoors at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus ASU professor Denise E. Bates, a scholar of American Indian studies and leadership studies in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, has been awarded a prestigious Princeton University Library Research Grant. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now Download Full Image

“I plan to spend much of April immersed in the Mudd Manuscript Library’s public policy papers and records of the Association on American Indian Affairs,” said Bates, assistant professor of leadership and interdisciplinary studies in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

“The not-for-profit association is one of the oldest Native American legal advocacy groups in the U.S., but the role that the organization’s collaborations played in the development of the Southern Indian Rights Movement remains largely an untold story,” she said.

“I’ll be looking at the relationship-building and reciprocal learning that happened between the AAIAAssociation on American Indian Affairs and Southern Indian communities from 1953 and 1980,” Bates said, “a time of intense activism and political strategizing and maneuvering by Native leaders, and a time when the AAIA was regularly approached to help meet diverse tribal needs on a national-level.”

How did Southern tribal communities communicate and strategize with the AAIA as they pursued their goals toward further developing their tribal nations? How did the organization decide which communities to work with, given they couldn’t serve all that contacted them for support?

These are a few of the questions she will focus on as she studies the collection, which contains all of the AAIA’s administrative records, meeting minutes and internal correspondence between staff members and their legal consultants. Recently, the papers of the late William Byler, who served as executive director of the AAIA from 1963 to 1981, were turned over to the Mudd collection, which further expands the resources Bates will have available in her pursuit.  

Working with some of the collection from afar through photocopy requests, Bates has already glimpsed some of the challenges the organization’s staff and legal partners faced.

“For example, the AIAA non-Indian lawyers, who were based in New York City and had worked primarily with tribes in the West, were well versed in federal Indian law but knew nothing about tribal politics in the South,” she said. “As they started to dip their toe in the Southeast region they were in a persistent state of discovery and learning from tribes they worked with, to better understand the nuances of the region’s politics, how each Southern state handled Indian affairs, and the unique characteristics of each community.”  

The intellectual adrenaline Bates finds in archival work is enormous. 

“There’s nothing like having access to archival documents, like meeting transcripts, that provide a largely unfiltered narrative,” she said, “letting the words bring out the story, finding where the voices are, witnessing an unfolding of people’s assumptions, perceptions and revelations and understanding what shaped them.” 

Building collaborations, launch-points for public history

An advocate and practitioner of community-based history, Bates has focused her scholarship on opening up greater conversation and understanding of the complex history of Native communities in the U.S. South by bringing Native voices, experiences and influences to the forefront.

Interested in a career in history since she was a child, Bates earned a master’s degree in American Indian studies and a doctorate in history at the University of Arizona before joining ASU’s faculty of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies in 2007, first as a lecturer and, since 2015, as the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts’ first tenure-track professor of leadership and interdisciplinary studies.

She is part of a small but growing community of scholars focused on the Native U.S. South, and looks forward to seeing the sub-field grow even more at professional academic conferences in the coming years.

“In the 20th century, leaders of Native communities of the South were forced to navigate political and social barriers constructed primarily along lines of race and class — all while confronting inconsistent and politicized federal Indian policies and practices,” Bates said.

“With nearly 100 tribal communities located in the region — 10 federally recognized, 45 state recognized, and dozens of others with no formal political status — there is a rich array of organizational structures and leadership approaches that warrant exploration for insights into scholarly and applied arenas,” she said.

In doing extensive archival and oral history work over more than a decade, she has built a network of collaborators among tribal communities across the South, and each project has led organically into the next.

Her collaborations with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana have grown into an especially strong partnership, foundational to her first two books: “The Other Movement: Indian Rights and Civil Rights in the Deep South” and “We Will Always Be Here: Native Peoples on Living and Thriving in the South.”

The first book highlighted Southern Native activist work toward tribal sovereignty and nation-building during the civil rights era, and the second shared more than 40 personal narratives and essays that Bates compiled working closely with Native leaders throughout the region, she said, “to document their historic and contemporary successes and struggles in areas that range from cultural preservation to economic development.”  

The work for those books led to a third, “Basket Diplomacy,” which is a study of a century of Coushatta tribal leadership and is now under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.  

“It grew out of two years of intensive research and 300 hours of interviews on Coushatta agency between 1884 and 1985. It is a history of tribal political and business leaders making really savvy decisions and alliances, with the intent to establish cultural and economic stability for future generations,” Bates said. “I’m especially interested in taking a longitudinal approach, identifying areas of continuity across multiple generations and capturing a cultural and historical understanding of leadership.”

On Feb. 8, Coushatta tribal leader and activist Ernest Sickey, who served as tribal chairman from 1973 to 1985, is presenting a public lecture at ASU titled “Tribal Nation-Building in the U.S. South.” His visit, which Bates coordinated with sponsorship from a number of ASU units, also includes a luncheon discussion hosted by the Indian Legal Program of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. 

“Mr. Sickey is a superstar in the evolution of Indian affairs and the movement promoting Indigenous rights in the Southeast,” Bates said. “Under his strategic leadership the community was the first to be recognized by the state of Louisiana and the tribe was reinstated to a federally acknowledged status after being terminated in 1953. The state’s Inter-tribal Council and Office of Indian Affairs are a direct result of his work. And today the Coushatta Tribe is one of Louisiana’s top private employers.”

She is collaborating with Sickey and other tribal leaders on a number of projects to transform the academic scholarship, governing documents and oral histories into instructional and public history materials that can be readily accessed and used.   

“With the Coushatta Tribe, for example, we’re developing a digital learning platform to encourage civic engagement and leadership among tribal youth,” Bates said.

“I feel very strongly that history belongs to the community,” she reflected. “It’s important that this knowledge not just go in scholarly journals and books. Young people are hungry for access to their own history.

“It’s a joy to help pull it together and make it accessible for all to connect with,” she added, “but I’m just a facilitator.”

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Code Talker 101: ASU professor, storyteller offers insight on history

November 30, 2017

Once sworn to secrecy about their cryptic contributions to U.S. military battle, some former hidden heroes are now decoding the details of their efforts for historical posterity.

The last living members of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers are calling for the creation of a national museum to honor the memory of their elite band of brothers. It’s a recognition many, including Arizona State University Professor Laura ToheTohe is a professor in ASU's Department of English and the author of several books, songs and plays. In 2015, she was honored as the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate in celebration of her work as a poet and writer. , say is long overdue.

“Outside of the tribal community, Navajo Code Talkers are deeply admired,” said Tohe, whose father was himself a Code Talker. “People are curious about their contributions and how they used the Navajo language to save many lives.”

Under special classification by the military, Code Talkers were forbidden to talk about their covert service in the first and second world wars until the program was declassified in 1968. However, even after declassification, it still took years before the Code Talkers began to find their place among retold stories of American patriotism.

Tohe shed some light on that history in her 2012 book “Code Talker Stories,” which details the war experiences of these soldiers. And, with the recent honoring of a group of Code Talkers at a White House ceremony where the petition was made for a new museum, Tohe shared more background with ASU Now on the history that has elevated recognition for Code Talkers in recent years. 

Laura Tohe

Question: Who are the Code Talkers?

Answer: The Code Talkers were Marines from several tribal nations who used their native languages to devise a military code during WWI and II. Among them are the Hopi, Comanche, Choctaw, Creek, Chippewa, Meskwaki and Lakota Code Talkers. The Navajo Code Talkers are the most well-known. They used the Navajo language to devise a secret code during WWII to send sensitive messages over the radio waves that was never deciphered by the Japanese. It was quick, accurate and saved many lives in the South Pacific where they fought in many battles.   

Q: Describe the life of a Native American man during WWI and WWII. What would be the incentive or motivation to serve in those wars when they were not considered citizens of the United States during those years?

A: Life on the indigenous homelands were difficult. Based on my grandmother’s stories, disease was rampant in the schools on the Navajo reservation during part of WWI. She saw many of her classmates succumb to the disease in school. During this time, Native peoples still spoke their native languages and may have learned English in school, if they attended. Because of poverty, lack of economic sustainability on the homelands, continuance of warrior traditions, patriotism and an enduring belief in protecting America, indigenous men enlisted or were drafted. 

I was surprised to find in my research for my oral history book that admiration for the military uniform also led some to enlist when the recruiters came to their schools. While indigenous peoples enlisted in the military in great numbers, and still do, they were not given citizenship until after they returned from military service. The Navajo Code Talkers did not have voting rights in Arizona until 1948, after WWII ended. 

Q: How were Code Talkers received inside their tribal communities after their service?

A: Native people have always honored their warriors since before contact. A warrior’s role was to protect, guard and engage in battle with the enemy when it was needed. The Code Talkers took on these responsibilities that earned them all the recognition they receive for their bravery and courage. They returned home as honorable soldiers to their families who were happy and grateful to have them home. The Navajo Nation honors them every year during Navajo Code Talker Day in August and at tribal gatherings throughout the year. They are regarded as the heroes of the Navajo Nation.

Q: Thanks to books like your “Code Talker Stories” and movies like 2002's “Windtalkers,” we are finally getting a more in-depth look at the contributions of the Code Talkers. What other stories would you like to see told about Native Americans in relation to their contributions to American war efforts?

A: I would like to see a film made about the Code Talkers told from their perspective and not Hollywoodized. It should be told with a genuine and truthful sense, acted by Navajo characters and written by a Navajo screenwriter. I’d like to see this film with English subtitles and told with the Navajo sense of storytelling. This film should be made with cultural sensitivity and one that is Navajo-centered. I think this film would appeal to a tribal and mainstream audience.  

Relaying tactical information in their native languages by radio and telegraph, Native American Code Talkers were on the front lines of battles in World War I and helped the U.S. to victory during World War II. They were awarded a Certificate of Recognition by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2001. 

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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ASU alum bolsters Native American health research in nation's capital

November 29, 2017

Native Americans have distinct health-care needs.

And now they have a new leader in health research who aspires to usher tribal nations across the country into a new era of medical discovery, treatment and support.

David R. Wilson, an Arizona State University doctoral graduate and a Native American, is the first director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which was established in 2015.

In addition to overseeing a current research budget of $130 million and several hundred health initiatives for Native Americans, one of his first collaborative efforts is helping to support an ambitious national health initiative designed to develop more tailored prevention strategies and treatments based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology.

“It’s precision medicine and precise treatments for individuals across America,” Wilson said, who is referring to the All of Us Research Program, the largest medical research program on precision medicine.

The historic effort’s goal is to gather data over many years from 1 million people in the United States with the ultimate goal of accelerating research and improving health.

Under Wilson's guidance, his office is working with the All of Us Research Program to increase their efficacy when conducting outreach to tribal communities nationwide.

Wilson said getting tribal communities to engage in an initiative like this takes a nuanced and sensitive approach. As a member of the Navajo Nation, he is acutely aware of historical issues involving research and tribal communities.

“We have to be cognizant that when we do this type of work, we recognize the different cultures, traditions and governments of individual tribal nations,” Wilson said. “We also have to be able to incorporate their ways, their thinking into this approach and provide to them the benefits of high-level research.”

Two men at table

David R. Wilson (right) introduces the Tribal Health Research Office to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in Window Rock, Arizona, in June. Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

Wilson says he has always been curious by nature, growing up in Manuelito, New Mexico, near the Four Corners region.

“The thing about growing up in a remote area is that you can’t always buy something new when something breaks down, so we were always encouraged to fix things,” Wilson said. “I’d pull something apart to see how it worked and then put it back together again. I’ve learned that I like many others learns best by hands-on experience.”

Working under his father, who was a master mechanic, Wilson fixed brakes and transmissions when he was a teen working for a car dealership in nearby Gallup, New Mexico, where he applied that same philosophy.

He originally started his academic career as an engineer. He said he struggled financially, academically and personally.

“A lot of Native American students have trouble identifying who they are because they’re usually the only indigenous people in those programs,” Wilson said. “It’s only natural to ask, ‘Am I in the right place? Do I deserve to be here? Am I an imposter?’ ”

He says that feeling never wore off, but he was able to better understand what he was feeling through emerging research in the area of STEM and diversity. At the end of a long and grueling sophomore year, Wilson signed up for an internship opportunity at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. There Wilson studied the Colorado Silvery Blue Butterfly and why their eggs are laid singly on flower buds and young leaves of the host plants. 

“The experience of chasing butterflies for eight weeks was like the flick of a switch,” he said. “After that, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Wilson graduated in May 2007 with a doctoral degree in molecular and cellular biology from ASU, drawing parallels to “a unicorn” by one faculty member.

“Dr. David Wilson is a Native man, with a PhD in a heavy-duty science field, leading a national organization to create positive health futures for Native communities, and leading by example,” 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. “In many ways, he’s a unicorn — a mythical creature of unparalleled wisdom. ASU should be very proud to have played a role in his intellectual and professional development. He’s doing amazing work in an important arena. That he remains humble and grounded makes him even more special.”

Despite the accolades, Wilson said his academic experience wasn’t without its challenges. He said the new concepts of things you couldn’t see with the naked eye were often hard to grasp, the workload was heavy and the constructive criticism was emotionally rough.

“It’s hard to receive constructive criticism when you’re young and developing, and you don’t understand the overall goal of its purpose,” Wilson said. “Through time and experience, you begin to understand your instructors and mentors are trying to help you become a better writer, scientist and problem solver.”

One of the instructors who continually challenged Wilson was his doctoral mentor, Yung Chang, a professor and immunologist in ASU’s School of Life Sciences. Wilson credits her with preparing him for the rigors of a career in research.

“David was a very special student in that he quickly assumed a leadership role in the lab, a very hands-on learner,” Chang said. “He was persistent and goal-oriented and had aspirations to do big things. He was a dreamer, but he never gave up. He was a great problem solver.”

Since then he has been solving problems on behalf of Native American health: as a senior research scientist at the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore, Maryland; as a public health adviser in the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services; as a legislative analyst in the office of the director at the Indian Health Service; as an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s Center for American Indian Health; and in January 2017, the first named director of the Office of Tribal Health Research.

Wilson credits his meteoric career rise to his doctorate degree from ASU.

“My PhD gave me a whole new perspective on my career moving forward,” Wilson said. “There were no more expectations of me. I had surpassed everyone’s expectations of me, so whatever I did from that time forward was going to be fun.”

Fun, in this instance, means coordinating more than 250 health initiatives — ranging from substance misuse to mental health to workforce development to diabetes — on behalf of Native Americans throughout the country.

He said his biggest goals in his new position are to take a systematic and scientific approach to problem solving, to offer up effective research to tribal communities and to be a father, mentor and role model for Native peoples to the best of his abilities.

“That is a priority of this office, and we have the capacity to do this,” Wilson said.

Top photo: David R. Wilson is the first director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He credits his success to Arizona State University, where he received his doctoral degree in molecular and cellular biology in May 2007. Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

Reporter , ASU Now