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: http://bit.ly/N8TVGiving


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 Facebook.com/collegefund.

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 publiced@collegefund.org.



Native Instructor Norma Marshall Shares Importance of a TCU Education

Norma Marshall of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma is a student adviser and instructor of Native American Studies at the College of the Muscogee Nation in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Marshall, who earned her baccalaureate in education with an emphasis in English and physical education from East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma and a master of science in counseling and student personnel, with an emphasis in secondary education, from Oklahoma State University, said she never thought she would end up teaching in higher education.

Marshall is the daughter of a Muscogee who attended boarding schools She emphasized the importance of tribal colleges in an interview in Indian Country This Week, saying they “give our Native American students a tie to their cultural identity.”

Many Natives are just learning about their culture and heritage at a tribal college, because public schools gloss over that, Marshall says. She is also a bilingual educator of the Muscogee language at the College of the Muscogee Nation, an AIHEC associate member school located in Oklahoma.

Marshall says the college’s curriculum is centered on indigenous history, such as Indian land issues, tribal court systems, Native American history and tribal governments, while also giving students exposure to the language.






2012 Flame of Hope Gala Raises $650,000

Dance. Dream. Discover.



The 17th annual American Indian College Fund (the Fund) Flame of Hope Gala raised more than $650,000 to benefit needy American Indian students.

Dwight Carlston (Navajo), a second-year honor student at Navajo Technical College, addressed the crowd, crediting his family with putting him on his path to college and the American Indian College Fund with helping him to achieve his goals as he continues to work towards earning a bachelor’s degree. Dwight was presented with the first-ever Richard B. Williams-Seventh Generation Leadership Endowment scholarship, which was established to honor the Fund’s retired President and CEO.


The Fund, under the leadership of its new President and CEO Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, honored the late Stanley R. Crooks, former Tribal Chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (SMSC), for changing the lives of his people and Indian Country through his strong leadership. Dr. Crazy Bull said, “He saw all Native peoples as his relatives and supported them just as he did his own people. With his leadership, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community became one of the American Indian College Fund’s most valued and generous supporters.” Crooks’ wife Cheryl was in attendance to accept the honor.

Gala2012003_copy.jpgNationally renowned Native artist Bunky Echo-Hawk created a painting live at the event. The piece, a stunning portrait of an American Indian man in traditional dress, was awarded to the SMSC for pledging $50,000 to benefit the Richard B. Williams-Seventh Generation Leadership Endowment.

Pendleton Woolen Mills presented retired President Richard B. Williams with a commemorative blanket, named Tatanka Huhanska (Tall Bull), Mr. Williams’ Lakota name, in his honor. The blanket will be available for purchase in March, with a percentage of proceeds funding American Indian scholarships.

The event also featured performances by Native entertainers, including flutist R. Carlos Nakaí, Native Pride Arts dancers, Southern California Kahweeyah Bird Singers and Dancers, Pipestone Hand Drum Group, and Iron Boy drum group.

The key sponsor for the evening was USA Funds. Other sponsors included San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Coca-Cola Foundation, Nissan North America, Comcast/NBC Universal, Lannan Foundation and local sponsors such as United Health Foundation, Travelers, US Bank, Grotto Foundation and the Northwest Area Foundation.

Please Click Here to View the Gala Slide Show

Advertisers Speak About Need for Diversity and Giving Back

Wieden+Kennedy founder and Advertising Hall of Fame inductee David Kennedy speaks about why his firm is committed to helping the American Indian College Fund and tribal colleges create greater awareness.


Audra Stonefish, Embrey Women’s Leadership Fellow, Shares Her Gratitude After D.C. Retreat

Embrey Women Leadership Group in Washington, D.C. Above, they begin their trip with a photo in front of the embassy of tribal nations.

Spending a few days in D.C. with my fellowship sisters gave us the chance to experience a new city together and an opportunity to meet with some of our nation’s leaders.

American Indian College Fund wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier€” at Arlington National Cemetery.

One experience I will never forget was the laying of the wreath ceremony at the Arlington Cemetery. As we strolled toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I felt sorrow and privilege all intertwined: sorrow for the men and women who lost their lives fighting for this great country and the privilege of being fortunate enough to have been present for this occasion. As I walked towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I recognized that this was a moment I was not supposed to let go. I was about to witness the group representing the American Indian College Fund honoring this soldier.

Watching my sisters marching in unison towards the monument, escorted by the Guard of Honor, was truly unique to anything I’ve ever observed before. The pride they carried in their eyes was noble, and we all knew that we were there to represent more than just ourselves. We were representing our friends, family, children, and Indian Country. The sound of Taps was performed by an officer off to the side and I could feel my emotions run high. I watched spectators take pictures of these women, and then take pictures again afterwards of our entire group. I felt proud to be there. I felt security in knowing that these women would be my support group to lean on for the rest of my life, and that we would all reminisce and converse about this experience together down the road.

This Embrey Indian Women in Leadership program is certainly a prestigious opportunity for me. I have gained experience and met people I might otherwise not have had without this opportunity. The support I receive from the American Indian College Fund has been a key benefactor to my success as a graduate student. I am completely confident in completing my education and providing a positive role model to others who need support. There’s a quote that my late grandmother, Audrey Stonefish, always used to tell me throughout my undergraduate years: “Your children will become in the future what you make of yourself today.”

Our Vote is Our Voice

The Ritchie Center debate hall at the University of Denver hosted the first 2012 presidential debate, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.

Being in the same room as the nominees for President of the United States, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Many of us have traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit Congress and federal agencies and never get to see the President.  Many of us attend rallies for one of the candidates but rarely get to see the two nominees in the same room.

When the nominees entered the Ritchie Center at the University of Denver campus, everyone in the audience stood and clapped.  In honor of the sacrifices of our ancestors to protect our homelands and because these men need our prayers, I did the lillili during this time. It was a poignant moment for me because in my heart, I am still a girl from St. Francis and Rosebud and I know how the decisions of these men will affect each of us in our daily lives.  I prayed for guidance for both of them.  I wore my eagle plume that my adopted mother, Doris Leader Charge, had given me, and a nice Northwest Coast shawl.

Every election for President affects us as Native people. The President and Congress are the enactors of the trust responsibility inherent in our Nation-to-Nation relationships and retained in our treaty relationships.  As all of you who follow our Native columnists like Mark Trahant (www.marktrahant.org) or the writers at The Last Real Indians (www.lastrealindians.com) know – we are a small constituency for the President – but how we are treated is a reflection of the integrity and commitment of the President as the leader of a country built on the dreams and blood of our ancestors.

The American Indian College Fund joins other national, regional, and local Indian organizations in our support of Native Vote (www.nativevote.org).  It is very important for all tribal college students to register to vote, check to see if their friends and family are registered, and to get out and vote on Election Day, November 6. Each candidate for office, whether local or national, will make decisions that affect our daily lives. The President of the United States and the members of Congress decide how much PELL grants are. They create the charitable and tax environment that supports the scholarships that so many of our students depend upon.

Presidential candidates have positions on issues that affect us such as the environment, energy development, and government regulation of financial corporations, trade, transportation, and wars. These candidates are starkly different on issues such as health care, militarization, and taxation.  We only need to look around our own reservation communities to see if enough resources are being allocated for our housing, health, education, and infrastructure needs as we decide who to vote for and what our expectations are of our elected leaders.

Presidential debates are an exclusive experience for those who are able to attend in person – the election of the President, however, is a shared experience for all of us. We are in this together and our vote counts.

I want to share my appreciation with the people from Anheuser Busch , especially Margarita Flores, who was gracious enough to invite me as a community partner through the Fund.  They were generous and friendly hosts.  Anheuser Busch is a long-time sponsor of the Commission on Presidential Debates. I learned more about them as a multinational corporation and about the Commission as a result of this invitation.

A few fun things about the experience:

  1.  It was dark in the hall and we were instructed on penalty of public humiliation to not clap, boo, or otherwise make noise during the debate.
  2. All the pre-debate discussion included admonitions not to use our cell phones and when someone took a picture from my side of the room during the debate everyone turned and stared at him.
  3. The nominees are much taller in person then they look on TV.
  4. It was warm in the afternoon, windy during the hospitality time prior to the session, and very cold when we came out.
  5. The secret service agents really do wear ear phones with curly wire attachments.