I’ve mentioned a few times my involvement with an awesome organization called College Horizons-a summer program for college bound Native students. I’ve been a part of the College Horizons family for 9 years now, starting in 2002 when I was a student in the program, then I attended the Graduate Horizons program as a college student, served as a faculty member when I worked in Admissions, and have since been and essay specialist and volunteer counselor. This summer was special for me because I served as a small group leader for the first time, and I also was conducting my research for my qualifying paper in my doctoral program. I felt like I had truly come full circle. It’s an incredible feeling to be in a position where I am now able to give back to the organization that I credit will so much of my success. My goal in coming to graduate school was to give voice to high school Native students navigating the college application process, showcasing the strength, resiliency, and promise in our communities, and I always knew that the story of College Horizons was the story I wanted to tell through my research.
This summer I had the absolute privilege to work with nearly 200 students, but worked closely with 22 in my small groups (Group 6 CSU and Group 6 UR forever!!). My second week I was the essay specialist for an amazing group of students, working on draft after draft of their personal statements. As part of the program’s closing ceremony, small group leaders read excerpts from the student essays–creating almost found poems of their powerful words. I wanted to share the words of my students with you, because we always need reminders of power and strength in the face of all the misrepresentations I feature on this blog. These students came from 9 different tribes, 10 different states, some very connected to their heritage, others still learning, but all passionate about their Native identities and going to college. As you read, realize these are the words of our future tribal leaders, doctors, lawyers, artists, teachers, engineers, writers, and musicians. I’d say the future of Indian Country is in good hands. Without further ado, Group 6:
While we dance, we connect it to the spirit world. While we dance, we pray to the spirits and for everyone around us.I have been entrenched in the culture and ways of life of my people and have grown proud of this remarkable place. I have grown to realize the importance of living on our ancestral land that our people have lived on since the beginning.Being able to grow up in Hawaii and being of Hawaiian blood places me in the ideal situation to know and understand the other qualities of the Aloha spirit, starting with my parents’ teachings.The Aloha Spirit exists in the lives of all the keiki (children) of Hawaii.Right then and there I felt as if that mound in the middle of the grassy field wasn’t just where my ancestors once lived, but it was where I belonged. For the first time in my entire life it wasn’t just something someone had told me about, it was actually real.As I arrive to school and exit my vehicle, I take a deep breath of fresh air and smell the sweet aroma of incoming rain, with a little hint of wood smoke from a Hogan nearby. I then know that this will be a great day–living on the land where my Native people have dwelled for hundreds of years.The sky is a deep blue gradually turning lighter, the stars seem right at my fingertips, and the cool air of dawn gently nips my skin. Seeing the beauty of earth while everyone is asleep is magical. It’s peaceful and calming to think of seeing a brand new day emerge. Greeting the sun as she patiently illuminates the rocks and the sand of Sky City.I was born in T’aatsoh, the month of Big Leaves, to a young scared teenager, far away from the Navajo Reservation, far away from Dinetah (the Navajo Homeland).Unlike the neighboring city where I go to school, San Pedro is very loud. But that noise keeps me company, and I often sleep with my window open letting the sounds lull me to sleep.I honor my Nation by teaching the ways of our people, and by connecting others and myself to not only my tribe, but the all the tribes of this country as well.This stagnation, which evolves into transformation, is reflected in the melodies I make as I bang on the keyboard in my room – I move from the bass and drums to the keys and synth…I can hear exactly what harmony I need to reinforce the funk and bring effervescence to the track.In the future, when I stand with my new choir, I will feel grateful for the opportunity and look forward to reaching the new dream of perfection.
For any of you who wondered what I research out here in Boston–this is what I do. I believe that in order to fully engage in self-determination, practice our sovereignty, and continue the process of nation-building in our communities, we need to find a way to reclaim education and find a way for our traditional values to co-exist in a western higher education environment. The magic of College Horizons is that it encourages students to use higher education as a means to give back to their tribal communities, and to find strength in their Native identity that will propel them through the college application process and beyond.
(Thanks College Horizons, and my fantastic small groups–I continue to be humbled and amazed by you!)