Virtual conference

Virtual Conference Centers Indigenous Student Success, Culture

The American Indian College Fund supports Native American and Alaska Native scholars including (left to right): Chance Begay, Navajo; Jerald Red Buffalo, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate; Samantha Maltais, Wampanoag of Aquinnah; and Trey Blackhawk, Winnebago of NebraskaAmerican Indian College fondsThe American Indian College Fund hosted a free virtual conference last Wednesday and Thursday for Native American high school, college, transfer, and graduate students as well as education professionals who serve Native students.

The multi-day event, called the Summer of Success virtual conference, brought together educators, employers and students to share resources. The sessions covered a range of topics, from navigating college as a first-generation student to understanding financial aid, all centered on Indigenous students.

“We recognize that so many institutions, especially institutions of higher learning outside of tribal colleges, were never meant for us,” said speaker Verónica Hirsch, a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe and founder of Colibrí Connections, a consulting firm focused on career coaching in Indian Country. “That’s why we value opportunities like this conference as a way to connect with each other, uplift each other, and help each other fulfill our individual passions with community impact in mind. .”

The American Indian College Fund is a non-profit organization that helps Native students in higher education. In 2020-21, the nonprofit provided $15.5 million in scholarships and other direct aid to Native American students. The College Fund also supports various programs at the 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities nationwide.

“Connecting our traditional cultures to our educational journeys has been imperative for me,” said speaker Jerald Red Buffalo, College Fund Student Ambassador and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe. “We have two energies that make up our life: our physical energy, which is our physical life, and our spiritual energy, which is our soul. We must maintain a balance between the two to feed ourselves.

In one session of the conference, two former tribal college students spoke about their career paths and how they discovered their passions. Panelist Sina Bear Eagle, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, went to Oglala Lakota College for her associate degree, then earned her bachelor’s degree from Fort Lewis College and her master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. Bear Eagle works as a park ranger, where she educates the public about the long-ignored stories of native tribes in national parks.

“I realized I was the happiest in my life when I was able to teach our history to visitors or school groups,” Bear Eagle said, referring to his first job as a ranger at the national park. of Wind Cave, where she organized site visits. role in the history of the emergence of the Lakota. “It seemed so important to me.”

Another panelist, Melinda Adams, shared her journey to becoming a doctoral student in the Department of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). She went to Haskell Indian Nations University, a tribal college, and is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Adams earned his master’s degree in ecology and environmental science at Purdue University before attending UC Davis.

“One of the reasons I’m on this doctoral path is that I didn’t see myself in STEM disciplines when I was studying environmental science, and I didn’t see a lot of indigenous women at the academy” , Adams said. “My dream with my work is to join environmental studies with Native American studies, especially reclaiming our cultural and spiritual uses of fire.”

Adams noted that the transition from studying at a tribal university to a predominantly white institution was difficult. Purdue’s graduate school, she said, “was not just tough academically, but tough in my mind and my cultural grounding.” Still, meeting other Indigenous students on campus has helped Adams along the way.

“My advice for Indigenous students includes forming a support system: find your people,” Adams said. “And practice professionalism. Indian country is so small that you might meet the same people over and over again, so put on your best. Also, practice generosity. The best leaders among our people have been defined by what they gave, not by what they took. Operate from a place of abundance, not scarcity.

Another session also highlighted the importance of community. Panelists Julio Barron and Dr. Terence Gipson, both first-generation college students, shared how they navigate higher education with the help of others.

“There’s nothing in life more important than the relationships we build with people,” said Gipson, now an assistant professor of public health at St. John Fisher College. “I wouldn’t be here today if not for the relationships I’ve built.”

Barron, a college success coach at the College Fund, agreed. He offered encouragement to his first-generation comrades who might be struggling with impostor syndrome, as he once did.

“The only advice I would give to my younger self is don’t doubt yourself,” Barron said. “Trust in yourself to succeed in whatever form that means to you.”

Rebecca Kelliher can be reached at [email protected]