“I am concerned for our Native community”: Ways to support Native college students facing societal fears
By: Amanda R. Tachine & Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy
For many Native communities, political and social unrest has magnified over the past 18 months. This is not new. History shows us that Native communities have faced, dealt with, and continue to overcome educational, social, political, and legal challenges. Situations such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, and more recently Bears Ears, have impacted this generation, partly due to the widespread use of social media platforms. More specifically in Arizona, local movements (including, but not limited to Oak Flats, South Mountain Freeway, and “the wall” bordering tribal lands) have also placed the sovereign rights of tribal nations at risk and in an uncomfortable spotlight.
With all these societal turbulences, many Native students are expressing distress, fear, frustration, and an overwhelming sense of wanting to be directly involved in addressing the challenges. Some are contemplating leaving college and joining in these movements. Others are feeling “guilty” for not being able to “be there for my community.” While most university faculty, administrators, and staff may not take a position on electoral and political issues, we do have a responsibility to support Native students as they engage and wrestle with issues tied to policy-making in Indian Country. The policies have real-life implications for students’ lives.
The Arizona Tri-University of Indian Education (ATUIE) network (a statewide coalition comprised of faculty and staff from the three state universities, community colleges, and Tribal colleges) advocates for programs and services that support Native American student success in the state of Arizona. At a quarterly meeting, members discussed what our campus community could do to support Native American students as they grapple with current sociopolitical conditions. We thank the writers of the article, “10 ways to support students facing Immigration crises” for sparking this model of engagement, and we want to offer our own guidance for how to support Native students facing crises impacting Indigenous communities. We offer the following suggestions for college campus communities:
Listen to Native students and support dialogue.
Native American students are assets to our vibrant and diverse campus communities. We encourage campuses to provide places and opportunities to engage in dialogue on the issues that may distract and stress Native students. We find these issues revolve around a sense of belonging and loss, water rights, land rights, tribal sovereignty, to name a few. Creating and supporting facilitated dialogue encourages Native students to voice their fears and concerns, process with others, and offer avenues to engage in ways to help. These conversations should be organized with and for students, and NOT solely the work of students. Institutions need to do the heavy lifting around logistics and planning such as providing space and funding. If institutions do not have the intellectual resources, this is an indication that there are larger, significant conversations to have.
Be informed of local issues impacting Native Americans.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, and more recently Bears Ears National Monument, garnered international public interest and political advocacy. Locally, there are various issues occurring right now in tribal communities. Often national and even state news outlets do not report on such issues. If they are providing information, the perspectives are frequently from a non-Native perspective, negating the tribal significance and impact. Tribal news outlets are a source of information. Being informed of the sociopolitical factors facing Native people and communities is a great opportunity to educate yourself and connect to Indigenous issues. Below are a few suggested news sources.
Gila River Indian News: http://www.gricnews.org/
Native America Calling: http://www.nativeamericacalling.com/
Native American Journalists Association: http://www.naja.com/
Navajo Times: http://navajotimes.com/
Navajo-Hopi Observer: http://www.nhonews.com/
The Runner: http://oodhamrunner.com/
Trahant Reports: https://trahantreports.com/
Turtle Talk: https://turtletalk.wordpress.com/
Arizona State University’s AIPI program produces a monthly national and AZ legislative and administrative update: https://aipi.clas.asu.edu/Legislative.
Acknowledge Place: College campuses are located on ancestral lands of Native peoples.
All of our institutions are on the ancestral lands of Native people. It is imperative that institutions embrace an acknowledgement that their campus is rooted in a long history of relationships with Native people, the first inhabitants of this land. This acknowledgement is connected to understanding the importance of tribal sovereignty of Native Nations. With consultation and support from the local tribe(s), campuses can make such acknowledgements in their mission statements, diversity plans, public speeches, marketing materials, etc. Overall, campus communities should be aware of, name, and be guided by these connections. One of the ways ASU has acknowledged this is by creating the following video:
and a Native student-centered magazine, Turning Points: A Native Guide to Native Student Success:
Increase campus wide awareness: Educate the larger community on issues facing Native students.
Teach-ins, panel discussions, and speaker series are great opportunities to engage the greater public on Native issues. Encourage collaboration across academic disciplines and with the local communities (including K-12 schools and tribal communities) to raise awareness. While we celebrate the contributions of Native people during Native American Heritage Month, these types of events must occur throughout the year.
All students should enroll in an indigenous-centered course(s). ASU houses a stellar American Indian Studies program (https://americanindian.clas.asu.edu/. Their program is committed to educating students about Native nation sovereignty for the betterment of Native Nation Building. These programs and courses are excellent ways for students to engage in deeper conversations surrounding self-determination and Native cultures, languages, traditions, and knowledge.
There are many other academic disciplines at our institutions that address social justice concerns. Students who enroll in these courses are equipped to put a name to the experiences that they are facing and can develop tools to make a difference for their communities on a short-term and long-term level. Higher education institutions must continue to foster critical thinking about social and political issues.
Be familiar with Native-centered support services on your campus.
Arizona universities have Native-centered student support services. Each has a dedicated space/building for programs. Students are invited to gather, study, and connect with others in a “home away from home” environment. At community colleges, there are student support services available for Native students. Encourage students to utilize these resources. Often, many Native students are not aware of the Native support services that are available to them while in college. We encourage our colleagues to visit with the staff at these centers so that they can support students to utilize these services. However, Native centers or Native professional staff on campus should not be a panacea for all Native issues. To truly support Native students, it takes a collective responsibility. Below is a link to the cultural centers and support services at ASU.
Arizona State University’s American Indian Student Support Services: https://aisss.asu.edu/
In addition, students should be made aware of counseling services available to them both on and off campus.
Be intentional: Instill in Native students that they come from a people of strength and resilience.
It means a lot to any student to reach out to them and let them know you care about them. For example, sending them an email during difficult times to express your support goes a long way. In your course syllabi, explain how you will accommodate emergencies in terms of attendance, late work, extensions, and incompletes for students who are impacted by societal conditions. Often, emergencies are already included in course syllabi, but do they address societal concerns? Recognizing and providing space for these emergencies demonstrates to students that you support them. Consider having a non-judgmental discussion on how to work through negotiating being a student while real issues and concerns are happening in our society.
Native students are often the invisible population on our college campuses. Invisibility may intensify with heightened societal affairs that impact Native communities. Native students then may feel even more marginalized. We hope that with your help, you will remind students that they come from a people of strength and resilience and that they belong on our college campuses. By creating an environment where staff and administrators uplift Native students’ sense of empowerment to persevere in college, we build a stronger nation for all.
We would like to thank the following people and organizations for the conversation and for providing feedback to this piece: Arizona Tri-University for Indian Education (ATUIE), ASU Office of American Indian Initiatives, ASU Center for Indian Education, Dr. Chad Stephen Hamill (Northern Arizona University), Karen Francis-Begay (University of Arizona), Naomi Tom (Tohono O’odham Community College), Dr. Tsianina K. Lomawaima (Arizona State University), Winona Thirion (Maricopa Community Colleges).