Siblings in Science: Breaking Boundaries in Indian Country in the Name of Native Pride and Native Science

Growing up in an urban environment was not easy for us. A lot of nights we weren’t sure whether or not we would eat dinner. It was in the Eastside of London Ontario, Canada where the struggle of survival and the knowledge of the “real world” began. We were not exposed to our culture other than at powwows; we were not familiar with our traditional languages, nor did our family participate in ceremony. As adults we understand the power of ceremony, culture and prayer; this is something that we agree is beneficial if it is present every day.

We were labeled “troubled teens” and always seemed to be present where the “trouble” was. Our actions reflected negatively upon us and we were viewed negatively by many people in the community. On multiple occasions we were told, “You are never going to be anything in life.” At that point in our lives we were quick to brush off those statements, but after a period of time that sentiment started to become reality.

It wasn’t until sometime in 2001 when our eyes began to open and realize that our future was not set, but our future was going to be what we made it. Statistically we might never overcome the obstacles of drug abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and violence. Society suggested for so many years that we were failures in this world. This was not the case for either one of us and we sought something better in life.

With constant support from our mother, Nancy Summers, we would face many challenges along the way such as discrimination, direct racism, and the normal economic and academic challenges any student faces. We did however share a common promise: to take care of our mother so she has no worry or conflict of any sort as she grows older. Another common goal we share is to ensure our children all become college graduates in the future, or have knowledge that success is accomplishable in what ever they pursue. The only way for us to keeo this promise was through getting an education.

We feel it is completely necessary to share our story in hopes that other Native people will recognize the possibilities provided by education and create their own reality inspired by dreams. It is our responsibility to directly enhance the development of Indian Country and encourage our youth that there are other Native Americans who grew up underprivileged in tough situations and were able to empower themselves to true independence. Empowerment lies within our degrees. We have dedicated our lives to not only the world of science, but to Higher Education in Indian Country.

Native American Heritage Month is a time for us to share stories, struggles,, and triumphs, and display to one another that we will not be broken and we will persevere. As Native Americans, we are in the perfect position right now to concentrate on the positives and possibilities afforded to us while lifting each other up with support.

We need to learn to congratulate one another for our achievements in a society that once told us that we were not good enough, not smart enough, not intelligent enough, or rich enough to make it in “their world.”

Our success can be measured through what we have overcome and the goals we are still seeking to accomplish. Our current accomplishments have been supported by many individuals, organizations, and role models too numerous to name here, but should equally be recognized that this is an effort and accomplishment of Native American higher education and the people before us who struggled to lay the ground work for us to succeed. In honor of all of the former, we will strive to provide the support to the youth of our families, our heritage, and our people that is owed. We believe that we are living proof that it doesn’t matter where you came from; it only matters where you’re going.

Yaw^ko (Thank you)


Although we are by far not fluent in the Oneida language, we understand and respect the meaning and message that comes with it. Luckily, we have good friends whom we grew up with that do know the language. A big thank you to Sasha Doxtator and Luke Nicholas for the translations.

Tsi’niyukwalihota – “Our children learn the old way”

Yako’nikuliyo’stu – “Good Mind,” a common word used in the Oneida Language. It refers to thinking, living and acting in a positive manner. In every deliberation we are using our good minds for the good of our community.


Dereck and Audra Stonefish are both enrolled members of the Oneida of the Thames First Nations located near London, Ontario, Canada. In 2008, Dereck graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science. Audra graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, both from Sitting Bull College, located on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, North Dakota. In 2010 Dereck began the pursuit of a Ph.D. of Zoology at North Dakota State University, where he is one of only four Native Americans to be awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in its history. Dereck is planning to defend his doctoral research in 2014.


In the fall semester of 2012 Audra began her Ph.D. of Entomology, also at North Dakota State University at the School of Natural Resource Sciences, and is planning to defend her doctoral research in 2017. She is also an Embrey Indian Women in Leadership Fellow through the American Indian College Fund, a four-year, $20,000 fellowship awarded to 20 Native women chosen from across the U.S.




Dera: Think ‘Skin

Dera adorns a hand-made quill medallion at the annual AIHEC student conference in Rapid City.

Growing up on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota was a real experience. I have seen things that people only get to imagine as they read a book. Heck, some people in this country do not even know where South Dakota is.

The beauty of my homeland and the rich history of my culture always held me tightly close to the area. As a child growing up I thought I had it rough, I thought for sure I was the only one in the whole world who was living without electricity or who had to eat commodities. Little did I know I was one of the many who has thus far survived the reservation experience. I am proud of the hard road I have traveled to get to the good life: a life that isn’t filled with money or extravagant objects, one in which allows me to know who I am and where I come from and enables me to make the most of the present and the legacy I will leave behind.

I grew up in a rather large household. My family was comprised of my mother, her mother, and about six to eight other cousin/brothers and sisters whom my grandma and mother took care of, as well as me. We lived in a two-story housing house in a little village called Horse Creek. It was told to me that it was a great place to water your horses and camp back in the days when we were still a free people. The area was often visited by our hero Tasunke Witko or Crazy Horse.

I am fortunate enough to have been raised in a house that spoke Lakota all day and every day. I also had extended family, all of whom were very knowledgeable in not only our Lakota ways, but in our history. They were a family of story tellers and of elders who still tried to maintain their old way of life. The treaties that so many of our people signed with the U.S. government were also a topic of discussion in our family. I believe it is this way of life that has carried me so well into the future.

The stories that my grandmother and grandfathers told me were not the same the stories that I read in the history books at school. The stories in the books said my grandmothers were blood-thirsty savages, not the sweet old ladies who taught me songs and stories and my beautiful language so we could converse and communicate. This is one of the major reasons that I chose cultural resources management (CRM) as my major. I could not bear to read something else inaccurate. CRM ties me into a bigger picture that preserves and maintains ties that will keep us going.

There have been many anthropologists who went to numerous Indian reservations, stayed for a short period of time, then went home to write volumes on their perception of the people, but they were merely outsiders. Their studies usually aren’t very useful and are often untrue.

My choice to work in the anthropology/archaeology field was an important decision. As an “insider” I can get access to have more stories told and I believe that by knowing our language, history, and culture, and being a child who grew up with family who respected and honored one another and the treaties that our ancestors signed to make sure we as the seventh generation could be properly taken care of, I can preserve and protect what our ancestors fought for. They did not shed blood and sweat and tears for us to just ignore.

As long as we have languages and traditions and culture, we are the true inhabitants of the lands we walk on. The longevity of the Native nations who depend on us as young and educated Natives to keep the fight going is looking quite promising. I am confident that we will all make our ancestors proud and they will dance for us in the stars.

The Natives of this land now have the advantage of an education. Before we were only taught skills to help us work for other people. Now we are in a position to make moves for our respective Nations and for our families. The day has come and we need to stand up just as our ancestors did before us. Let us proclaim the land as ours once again and bring ourselves back into the ball court as a fierce competitor driven by the souls and spirits of those who fought and died while trying to protect us.

I would like to remind my peers to learn your language, pay attention to your elders, and study your treaties.  Knowledge is valuable and powerful, just as we are.

Toksa ake, lila Wopila Tanka Iciciye ksto.


Dera is a senior cultural resource management major at Sinte Gleska University from Swift Bear, SD. She plans to further her higher education with a masters and PhD to support her work in the anthropology field.  With a focus on cultural preservation, Native languages and gaining knowledge on treaties, she believes this will give back not only to her people on Sicangu lands, but to all Native America.

Always In Transit

 Not too long ago a friend told me I was like the wind – fierce, always in motion, and uncatchable.

For me, this time of year means travel. It means recruiting for a program I care deeply about – the University of Colorado Upward Bound Program. My trips begin with a flight to a small town like Durango, Colorado or Fayetteville, North Carolina or in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sometimes I fly all day just to end up on a little commuter plane with two-seats on each side of the aisle, and fly through turbulence to land in a different place in a new state.

There I rent an economy-sized ride not designed for the rez and drive through different communities to visit schools in the Navajo Nation, Ute reservations, and Lumbee lands. The hours can be long, GPS signals don’t always hold out, cell service is a luxury, and dust is all around. I used to feel timid driving so many hours alone, but thankfully friends or family in those areas would accompany me as co-pilots on my recruitment on the rez tours, as I call them. But by now I’ve traveled those roads enough times to know where I’m going. I appreciate being on the go. The road gives me the necessary time and solitude to reflect on where I’ve been.

Back when I was an undergraduate at Stanford University, my friends and I used to joke that being Native added an extra five units onto your class schedule. We didn’t mean this in the sense that we had actual additional courses, but when you’re strongly tied to your family, community or reservation, something was always happening to make you miss home, and that missing or yearning for the place you grew up in took time and focus away from your studies. It was like taking a class on homesickness all on its own. We worried or felt disappointed when we couldn’t attend ceremonies or celebrations back at home. Some subjects weren’t always so light–relatives were ill, or there were deaths and funerals of leaders or people you grew up with. Attending college far away on limited funds always made it difficult to go home.

That period in my life taught me lessons about being Native. To me, our heritage means perseverance. However you persevere when life, history, challenges, successes, and all that you encounter in between comes at you defines you. Change and challenge can happen to you anywhere. I experienced the greatest growth in my life during those college years as I encountered fears of not belonging, not making the grade, and not wanting to disappoint my family and community back at home.

For each of us the answer to, “How do you deal with your brick walls?” is different. Some people dealt with stereotypes based on appearance by starting a successful blog discussing it. People who have dealt with health issues on their reservation, such as diabetes, have become doctors. People who did not have the strongest sense of community growing up became community organizers or ran for tribal council. People who couldn’t attend college without scholarships became advocates for organizations that to fund education. For someone like myself, I’ve tried to combine all that I am and all that I feel I can contribute to my people. For me, it means being like the wind – always on the move.

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The drive is always the same each time. I take the same routes, the same path, and generally try to set up the same presentation times at each school. I even usually stop at the same gas stations to fuel up. While I purposefully make so much of it a fixed, familiar routine, the journey is always a different one. I’m met with new faces at each school, students ready to hear about our program. Some come because they’ve heard about the program and are eager to learn more, others I can tell just want to get out of class.

Either way, I feel they’re there for a reason. Everything happens for a reason and I always say a little prayer before each presentation. I pray that their hearts and minds are open to the possibilities of what I have to say. I pray that whoever needs to hear my words that day will hear them. As a former student of this Upward Bound program I have a lot to say: it changes lives, you meet lifelong friends, you get prepared for what’s coming not only your next school year but in college, and it goes on and on and on. I can say all I want to try to further inspire the already impassioned or try to motivate the ones who lack the drive, but it doesn’t always work. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not as young as I once was; in fact, to many of the students I might be on the border of being relatable. But my favorite part of these trips is not hearing my own words, but those of our current students who share their own experiences about how our program impacted them.

This year I was surprised by the leadership amongst our students. I arrived at high schools where our current students already printed out applications, rallied students to attend the presentation, and even had informational sheets on Upward Bound. This moved me. I was seeing young Natives in action as leaders. I know our program can’t take full credit–their parents, schools, community, family, and other experiences have helped mold them into the strong, dedicated, and driven students they are today, but I’d like to think we played a part in it.

I was and am proud of all my students. The first summer they always show up shy and even quiet, but by the end of the summer and by the time they complete our program three years later they are loud, outgoing, and charismatic. I think this is partly because some of their greatest growth occurred during the summers where we modeled a college life for them, taking classes, living in dorms, learning new things, and meeting new people. You learn how to survive away from home at Upward Bound and the program teaches you–you can create and make family anywhere.

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Tanaya Winder, a Cafe Cultura Collective member, performs at their November 2012 open mic: spoken word, music, art, vendors, & community gathering Denver Inner City Parish/La Academia. Café Cultura promotes unity and healing among Indigenous peoples through creative expression while empowering youth to find their voice, reclaim oral and written traditions, and become leaders in their communities.

Part of why I love working for Upward Bound is it allows me to wear many hats–I can program activities, implement new ideas, and I get to teach. Each summer I’ve taught a course whether it was Native American Literature, creative writing, or advanced creative writing. Most people don’t know that I came to the program in grief having lost a dear friend to suicide. But the program and the students saved me by giving me purpose, one that I’ve never let go of and try to work daily to see come to pass–teaching, writing, and sharing that joy and passion for words.

That first summer I worked with the first-year students on a poetry project called Many Hearts, One People: A Celebration of Poetry in Native America. Some students discovered healing through poetry, and others finally were able to find poetry accessible. I may have felt the impulse before, but it was then that I truly knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write the words that not only these youth would need, but words that people would need to read to realize they aren’t alone in the world.

One other teaching experience that always stands out in my mind is one I had with a student named Joe. I’d known Joe since the summer of 2009 when he first strolled into class wearing a black heavy-metal t-shirt, buzzed-cut hair, and sunglasses covered his eyes. I’ll admit I gave in to stereotypes and judged him when he tried to keep his iPod on during class. I thought he was going to be difficult to handle. Maybe he was at first, but since then I’d like to think he and I have bonded in some way since that first summer he walked into my classroom.

Three years later in my advanced creative writing class as we went over poetry, Joe refused to say the word love. He still offered to read aloud the poem I handed out in class that day, but only if he didn’t have to say the word. I complied. So, whenever Joe got to the word love he’d pause, look at me, and wait for me to say it – love – before he continued on.

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Working for my people in this way, working with the youth for an ongoing seven summers at this program has taught me the meaning of that word love more than anything. One cannot persevere in anything in life without love or support. Part of how you create the love for yourself is by pursuing your goals like applying to college, scholarships, internships, jobs, or other opportunities that will help shape who you are destined to become. But part of being Native means thinking of the bigger picture. It’s never just about you. You have to think about all those who came before you who made it possible for you to be where you are now and you have to think about who will follow you because of you.

Once you are able to grasp that self-love by honoring the gifts you’ve been given, you help others fill in their blanks. You help them find the love and support they need in their lives. For some, their greater calling may seem as uncatchable as the wind, always moving, but each of us is capable of making an impact greater than ourselves. Once we realize that, we should all embrace the wind in each of us; that inner knowing that blows us from one experience to the next. You never know whose life you were meant to make a difference in, or whose life was meant to affect yours.

Tanaya Winder is a poet, writer, artist, and educator from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. A winner of the 2010 A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando prize in poetry, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cutthroat magazine, Adobe Walls, Superstition Review, Kweli, and Drunkenboat among others. More recently, her poems from her manuscript “Love in a Time of Blood Quantum” were produced and performed by the Poetic Theater Productions Presents Company in NYC. Tanaya has taught writing courses at Stanford University, UC-Boulder, and the University of New Mexico. She has a BA in English from Stanford University and a MFA in creative writing (poetry) from UNM. Tanaya currently works as the Assistant Director for the University of Colorado-Boulder Upward Bound Program. She is also co-founder and editor-in-chief of As/Us: an Indigenous women’s literary journal. Tanaya guest lectures and teaches creative writing workshops at high schools and universities internationally. To read more of her writing or to book Tanaya for a class visit or talk please visit her personal blog

Food for Thought: Stories from Sky’s Stomach

“You are what you eat” is a food saying I have already used on my blog, but for this particular post I felt I should use it again to jump into the thought. November is Native American Heritage Month and I felt I should do the term some justice in this blog to show my pride. I am Tohono O’odham and I have a rich heritage.

Food is tied into my heritage, including the future, the past, and present. I can still taste the same variety of squash the ancestors planted centuries ago. The taste connects me, but there is something more to it than the taste that makes me feels nostalgic.

My first major writing work that got published was about traditional foods. I was attending Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) and I had a space to plant a small garden. I had never planted before and wanted to try to grow traditional crops. Since I was attending TOCC, I had the resources to help me expand an idea that became the article I wrote and published in the college’s newsletter.

Traditionally the Tohono O’odham were farmers, although agriculture is not as prevalent as it was back in the day. The history of food is still vital to discussing culture. It’s what feeds us.  There are specific seeds that grow well in the region, but there are stories behind those seeds that influence the culture. There are seeds that are indigenous to the land, but there are also seeds that were introduced to the Tohono O’odham through the contact of outside cultures. These particular seeds grow extremely well in the climate. Seeds like the tepary bean actually thrive on lack of irrigation. Planting was more than source of food for the Tohono O’odham. It was an obligation. It was survival.

Many Native American tribes have a creation or emergence story explaining how things came to be, some which include guidelines to maintain a balance. The state of well-being all entangled in responsibilities with the earth is the objective of these stories.

There are wild foods growing everywhere on the planet that can be harvested by anyone willing. What if it was the only food available? Humans need food and there is a nostalgic feeling to feeding yourself straight from the earth without paying a grocery attendant or a waiter at Chili’s. The concept of eating has changed in the past century. We’re not starving, but we’re not hungry, either. There is an experience lost when we pay money to feed ourselves. Maybe there is a difference between being fed and trying to survive. Knowing the history of our food might just be enough to fulfill that experience. In our stories there is usually a reference to the people needing to live off of the land and survive. Food is a part of who we are. All of us.

The seasons on earth change the plants and the availability of certain fruits and other food items that can be found outside the grocery store and force people to stay connected to “mother nature.” I remember as a kid taking the sap from the mesquite tree bark. It has a sweetness resembling a molasses flavor but with an earthy twist. In Tohono O’odham it’s call u:sp, but in popular terms it is the sap that trees produce to protect themselves. But as kids we would collect u:sp and I saw it as a treat, like it was candy from the desert. Our parents wouldn’t let us eat sweets, but they forgot about the candy that grew on the mesquite trees. It wasn’t an everyday activity and that’s the important thing to know about harvesting wild vegetation: location of the plant and knowing when is the best time to harvest.

Harvesting is a rite of passage because the person harvesting is connecting to the plant, but also with the past while sustaining the future. The knowledge is being passed down, not through any written forms, but by practicing the traditions of the ancestors while we maintain a close relationship to the earth.

The times are changing so fast I believe that some of these practices, such as planting a small garden or harvesting ciolim (cholla buds), is important to stay grounded in our ongoing relationship with the earth. “You are what you eat” applies to the situation perfectly because the food that is being harvested is the same food that kept the people from going hungry centuries ago. If this food didn’t exist would I exist? If I no longer harvest and eat it, do I exist?

Food is also the element that has been a way for people to connect and relate. The sharing of flavors and stories all poured out on the dinner table, creating closeness for the people. This Native American Heritage Month it is important to remember that we must share knowledge with the people. It helps us bond while simply eating a meal while enjoying the taste of home.

Agriculture in America has been commercialized over the centuries. The self-sufficient farms run by the community or a large family declined when men joined the military and left their fields to wither, or left their own fields because they got paid in dollars, or grew a commercial crop  like cotton. As America grew, business fell into lock-step with agriculture. Today the source of our produce is really unknown after it gets to a grocery store.

The commodities program implemented into the United States really shifted Native communities because there were new ingredients and unfamiliar commodities. The influence of American culture produced the famous Popover or Fry-bread. Lard, grease, flour, and salt are the ingredients. Fry-bread is the taste of making do with government commodities, but doing it deliciously.

Sky is a senior creative writing major at the University of Arizona. He has lived in Arizona his entire life, on and off the Tohono O’odham Rez. His started his academic career at the Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, AZ.

“I feel it’s important to learn where you come from and to know your culture. However I also am just a poor college kid trying to be successful. My perspectives are all over the grid.” To read more of his thoughts on food and culture, visit his “Stories From My Stomach” WordPress Blog at

Leaving Home to Fulfill a Destiny

Iva, presenting the results from the Blackfeet Community College during the convening of tribal colleges participating in the Woksape Oyate, Wisdom of the People grant last year in Denver, Colo.

I went to work for the Blackfeet Tribe fresh out of high school.  I planned to work for just a year, and then go to college. That year turned into 22 years.  I went to college for the first time in my life just short of my 44th birthday. Had it not been for the Blackfeet Community College, I might not have ever gone to college. True, I had to start commuting 50 miles round trip again, but the upside was that my husband agreed to join me. He hadn’t ever gone to college either.

I learned a great deal by attending my tribal college, and it wasn’t just about the history and the language – both incredibly important to me. I started to learn more about myself. I graduated in 2011 with two associate’s degrees: one in Blackfeet studies, and one in Blackfeet language. Much to my surprise, I was the class salutatorian. I passed my exam for the Montana Class Seven Special License, which gave me the opportunity to assistant-teach the Blackfeet language in public schools if I choose to do so. I really want to do that, and at first that was my ultimate goal. However, the wonderful people at the college’s Academic Enrichment Services Department did their job perfectly and encouraged me to continue with my higher education.

I got geared up to transfer to the University of Montana after graduation, but my youngest daughter was expecting her first baby that August, so I delayed my transfer for a year. But, my educational experience didn’t stop during that year off. I was recruited by the co-coordinators of the LEAP Grant, Wisdom of the People Initiative at Blackfeet Community College as an intern for one year. My main job duties were mostly clerical, but the mentorship furthered my learning experiences. I learned more about Blackfeet history and discovered more and more about the truth of Native American history. On top of that, I was selected by a faculty member to be his research assistant under the Mellon Fellowship Grant. I enjoyed more learning, more mentorship, more guidance, and more self-discovery.

In retrospect, I feel like I was really destined to go to college later in life. I truly believe that had I gone immediately after high school I might not have had the rewarding experience that I did at BCC. I might not have even gone to my tribal college. By attending Blackfeet Community College, I received a great education that was very much in contrast to the non-Native public school I graduated from. I felt an incredible sense of community and kinship in my time at the tribal college, and I became familiar with the tribal college movement.  It so inspiring to learn about how much those who made the “movement” happen had sacrificed for Indian people to have a chance at a college education.

I am now a student at the University of Montana in Missoula. My major is Native American studies, with a minor in sociology. It was difficult to leave my home where I have lived most of my life and move to the city. It was also difficult to leave my family and extended family, but I couldn’t fight destiny. I am enjoying my new beginnings here as I bump into many Blackfeet and other Native students doing the same as I am – empowering ourselves, our children, and our people, and continuing to break down the stereotypes about Indian people. And living away from home for the first time, I have noticed the solidarity and friendliness amongst the people of color and Native communities as we attempt to do so.

Like I said earlier, at this point in my life the stars have really aligned for me, and I am truly happy. Aside from when I became a mother, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been in my life. That might not have ever happened had it not been for the tribal college movement, Blackfeet Community College, and of course, the American Indian College Fund and their donors.

Oral Tradition: A Tool for Knowing Who We Are

I spent summers with family in Kaibab. When my aunt would speak Paiute to me, I did not understand at the time that she was trying to teach me the language. I did not know what she was saying to me and I would ask my cousin to translate. Her reply was that I needed to ask my aunt what she was saying to me.

Although I did not know what was being said, I did not perceive her intent as mean or negative. She spoke slowly and enunciated each word. I loved listening to her talk. I always felt very close to my aunt and closer to her daughter because she spoke English and could speak to me at my level.

I think that my mother did not teach me the language because of her experience with the language. You see, each Native is truly an individual, as are their experiences are. My mother’s mother passed when my mother was a very young child, and my mother grew up in the care of family members, went to boarding schools, and attended Indian schools. She did not share many of her experiences with me, and my impression is that they were not very positive. What she did express to me was the importance of education.

At the age of five, I wanted to be the first female American Indian/Mexican President of the United States of America.  My mother had just begun to talk to me about walking in two worlds. She said we were different in many ways, but society was going to force us to be another. Her perspective at the time did not seem to matter to me; I felt that I was going to change the world. Little did I know that the president only has so much power. I also thought that I wanted to join the Marine Corps. I was a senior in high school when the war began. I admire many service members, but I could not bring myself to contribute to destroying another’s culture as was done to mine. Not only were recruiters pushing for me to join, their masculine egos were often challenged by my drive to succeed. My gender played a pivotal role in this, the way that the men spoke of women and the ongoing struggles to define myself by my standards. I had no idea what I was going to do. I decided to enroll in college, thinking I wanted to be a lawyer and would change the system from the inside.

I had the opportunity to work with my cousin on a project that she had been working on for many years. I went to training with her in San Francisco at the Cultural Conservancy. There I learned how to record and edit audio visual documentation of ethnography.  It was not until that following semester that I took my first anthropology class.

Many Natives are skeptical of anthropology, but the way the professor taught it with a “do no harm” approach I felt as though I finally found where I could fit in. I maintained my drive to finish my bachelor’s degree in anthropology, not to study people, but to help with language programs that my tribe and others may have difficulties with. After having a child myself, I know I need to know my Native language and my child needs to know who she is, not just what society says about whom she should be.

There are times that I am still discouraged in the anthropology department at school because of many of the different views of my peers. It is unfortunate that I feel that the time has come to have a written language as our ways are oral. I think that the constant pressure from the dominant paradigm that forces Natives to alter their ways. Traditions only last for so long.

I think that because of colonization and forced assimilation that we as Native people often fight change, not realizing how it may hold us back. When people talk about historical trauma, I think that it is very real, but it is also time to heal. We have control over our lives and letting the dominant culture tell us who we are has passed.  The more we know, the more tools we can acquire and use to help our children grow and thrive in a world that is often cruel and unjust.

Together we can change the world and help one another for the better.  We must educate one another in ways without discouraging each other, and inform the dominant society of who we are, rather than conforming to who they want us to be.

Melanie is currently an administrative assistant at First Nations Development Institute, headquartered in Longmont, CO. Melanie is an enrolled member of the Kaibab Paiute tribe. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she and her daughter, Elyse, reside. As a part-time student at the University of Colorado Denver, Melanie working towards a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

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Think Indian? Think Government

In 1961, during his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy delivered the memorable line in which he emphasized, “Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country.” While he meant to apply this statement to the United States and the world at large, I feel that it also applies to Indian Country and my personal philosophy of “Think Indian.”

For me, to “Think Indian” is to work in the family business of working for Natives everywhere.
My paternal grandfather worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, serving not only his own tribe but also all tribes in the United States. My maternal grandfather was a tribal council member for the Jicarilla Apache Nation for many years, served as the tribal president and vice president, and was on the founding Board of Regents for the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. My parents both worked for the Indian Health Service and my father retired as a captain in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps after 20 years of service. He worked for the White Mountain Apache and the Isleta Pueblo, and still occasionally works for the clinic at the pueblo. My family provided such a strong influence in my life that I knew working for all of Native America is how I can make a difference.

I am currently a student in the masters of public administration program at Arizona State University. While it is interesting to learn about the necessary applications of bureaucracy, vertical intergovernmental relations, and the continual resonance of federalism, I find myself wondering how the American Indian thought process fits into this. To put it more simply, how does learning about government help me to “Think Indian”?

In addition to public affairs classes, I am simultaneously taking a Contemporary Issues in Native Nations class to give perspective to my degree plan. We learn about the contemporary struggle of Natives everywhere and how the problems are being met head on. I see Natives working to progress their people in all levels of government and all branches of government, from the local Arizona legislature to Native legal scholars working to demand that a new precedent be put forward in the Supreme Court of the United States for federal Indian policy. The takeaway from this class is that the fight is ongoing and best way to go about working for Native rights is to know the system in order to find how it can work for Native America. Once I finish my degree, I am hoping to apply what I have learned from my Contemporary Issues class, synthesize it with my public administration education, and apply it toward working for Indian Country.

Overall, to “Think Indian” to me is not to just think Diné, Apache, or Lakota, but to think for all Native nations. I want to work for all American Indians to ensure that we all progress together. I am not looking to ask what Indian Country can do for me, but rather, to ask what I can do for it.

Cole is a first-year master of public administration student at the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University.

Join Us in Celebrating, Donating in November

Native American Heritage Month is a great time to show your support for Native American students in higher education.  We invite you to share in the celebration and learn more about Indian Country with the fun articles, activities and blogs we have planned this month.  We hope that you will visit our blog regularly to hear from our guest writers who all bring their unique Native perspective for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

This month we celebrate the diverse and rich cultures of the hundreds of unique Native Nations.  The Native American population is growing at an astonishing rate.  In the last U.S. Census report from 2010, the Native population, including those of mixed heritage, grew more than 26% to just over 5.2 million.  In contrast, the total population in the United States grew by less than 10%. 

It’s interesting to think that the Native population has grown so much in the last decade.  After centuries of termination policies meant to “kill the Indian, save the man,” Native People are thriving in today’s world. There has been a resurgence of Indigenous knowledge and the tribal colleges and universities have been at the forefront of the battle to retain cultural knowledge and revive Native America’s teachings.  Today, we have language immersion schools and colleges based in reservation communities supporting and educating the next generation of Native leaders.

But there is still much work to be done.  Over the last three decades the number of Natives with college degrees has doubled, while still half that of the U.S. population as a whole, it is encouraging to see the progress. The American Indian College Fund (the Fund) holds an important place in securing the future for our Native youth by ensuring they are educated for tomorrow’s world. 

By helping Native scholars get a hand up with finances for college, the Fund supports and encourages Native youth to follow their dreams by earning a college degree that they otherwise might not be able to afford.  The Fund works closely with institutions of higher education to promote and award more than 4,000 scholarships annually.  With your help, this number will continue to grow.

This November, we  at the Fund challenge you to learn more about the unique and special Native Nations that have enriched our lives, celebrate Native ways and enjoy the rich and diverse cultural spectrum from the Seminoles of Florida to the Pomo of California and everyone in between!

DOUBLE YOUR DONATION! In honor of Native American Heritage Month, one of our supporters has offered to match ALL gifts up to $5,000! That could be $10,000 more towards our goal of $35,000… Please do what you can to help us. DONATE HERE:


Mod zi gidaz (Thank you in Arikara)

MeeGwitch, Neige (Thank you, friend in Ojibwe),


Michael Johnson (Hidatsa, Arikara and Ojibwe)

Manager of Annual Giving


Carrying on the Teachings

Yá’át’ééh, Shí éí Tó’aheedliinii nishłí, Persian éí báshíschíín. Kinyaa’áánii dashícheii dóó Persain dashshínálí. Lukachukai dę́ę́ íyisíí naashá, áádóó University of Kansas di ííníshta’. Shí éí Ashley Tso yinishyé.

My mother is of the Water-Flows-Together Clan and I am born for the Persian People. My maternal grandfather is Towering-House Clan and my paternal grandfather is Persian. My family is originally from Lukachukai, Arizona, but I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am a currently enrolled in the Higher Education Administration Educational Leadership & Policy Studies Master Program at the University of Utah. I represent the Diné Nation and the Persian people. My name is Ashley Tso.

I began my introduction the Diné way. A person’s introduction is not only about you and what you have achieved or what you have earned. It also tells a story about your family, about where you come from, and whom you are related to by clans and name. It is about your mother’s family, because the Diné are a matrilineal society. It is about your family’s origins; where they come from within our four sacred mountains. It is about your ancestors; who who you are related to. This is our way.

An introduction begins with knowing who you are, where you come from, and if you do not know, you take the time to find out. You surround yourself with the history and culture, the words, and the teachings of our elders. It is also about how you pray, when you pray, and who you pray to by learning about how you are linked to all your relations. It is not a single entity; it is Mother Earth, Father Sky, the four directions, and our ancestors. You pray to everything all around you. You are humble and strong in your words with no one single idea, but multiple ideas and you are thankful.

In this sense it means knowing “all your relations,” which is an ensemble of your clanship, your connectedness with your family (given or made), and your ability to bond with others. You connect on a happy or sour note with individuals of the same tribe, nation, or nationality. You build bridges linking yourself and your family to one another allowing communication and cooperation to flow.

However, an introduction is not a single idea of learning about whom you are and where you come from. It is about taking pride in your history and culture, and embracing and respecting your ancestors, your family, your relatives, and lastly, yourself. This is because without your ancestor’s perseverance your family would not be here, your relatives would be scarce, and you would not be able to strive and empower others and yourself.

Your heritage is a gift given to you by those who came before you. There is no being Native. You are not an act, a costume, a fashion statement, a fictional character, or extinct. You cannot be Native; it is a part of who you are. Embrace, empower, and educate yourself. Once an appreciation is achieved embrace, empower, and educate others because you are Native, you are Indigenous, and you are the First Nation.

Join Us in Celebrating Native Heritage Month


November 1 marks the start of National American Indian Heritage Month. All month long we will we celebrate the contributions of First Americans to our great nation and providing you with information on the traditions and cultures of the students we serve.

In a web portal developed by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the celebration was proclaimed as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations were made under variations on the name (including ‘Native American Heritage Month’ and ‘National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month’).

This November, visit our website and social media outlets, where we will share links and resources on Native culture, art, stories, photos, videos, recipes, events, and causes, shared by our Native scholars, to help you celebrate. We welcome your participation and encourage you to comment and submit blog postings (of any medium) for consideration and share with your friends.

Join our celebration on Twitter (@collegefund) and join the conversation with the Hashtag #nahm, and on

Want to share a story or post on our blog or web site as part National American Indian Heritage Month? Please contact the Public Education team at the American Indian College Fund at