Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For Indians, By Indians

My good professor, Dr. Pepion, the one I earned my American Indian Studies minor from at NMSU, is heading a research study. The research will identify sources of strength that Native students use to get them through college. Read the story here.
Seeing as how I was one of the older, and probably the only former student at the first meeting on Monday, I’m a special case, he said. I’m taking part in the study and it makes me feel good.
We’re trying to figure out how universities can keep Native American students enrolled. And to all of our knowledge, this is the first ever study of its kind that will be shared with other universities when it’s ready in a few months.
Most of the researchers are Native and all of the “subjects” are Native.  Maybe this will actually make a change in the system because all other studies that were done have made no particular impact because they can only tell us is what’s wrong so people can throw more money at some program or other. We are trying to figure out what we’re doing, or did, right.
Each student will share their college experience through a series of questions and meetings. Mine happened like this:

My family had a medicine man do a protection ceremony for me. Then I started my freshman year at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. I cried pretty hard when my parents dropped me off at my dormitory and left. I knew I was the only one along with one friend from Crownpoint.
Coming from the reservation where 99 percent of my peers are Navajo made Las Vegas very strange and cold. It wasn’t my home and it wasn’t comfortable. Everyone was so different, like the TV came to life and swallowed me.
The Native American Club saved us. There, we could visit other Natives, build relationships with each other and find so much comedy in all the little things we did together. We even went to the San Felipe Casino for a Navajo comedy show by James and Ernie and the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque together.
I later found journalism through the American Indian Journalism Institute – and it was a life changer. I transferred to NMSU for the journalism major and my sister’s network of Native friends and peers became mine. The American Indian Program will never be as friendly and laid back as the Native American Club in Las Vegas though – there was such an awesome family feel in Las Vegas that NMSU can’t grasp behind all the bureaucracy.
I started to see New Mexico as my home, not just the reservation anymore. I’ve been to so many places and talked to so many people as a journalist and it has changed my mind about the world.
I also had a very strong personal drive to finish college and be the first in my family to graduate from college. I’ve always wanted to make my parents proud and be a good representative for my tribe whenever I found myself being the “only Native,” which is often. I don’t know what my parents did right – I asked them and they don’t know what they did right either, but they did a good job.
Now I am the first Native writer on the Sun-News staff in 25 years, according to Judy, the HR person. And here is my blog (I will try to post a new blog every week if not more).
So it looks like my sources of strength are first my family, my parents. Second; wanting to set a good example for my tribe and be a good representative, especially after receiving scholarships, it made me want to make their money worth it. Third; finding a Native community at my schools and eventually branching out. Then there are friends and the experiences of living life independently and how much better it can be once I achieve my goals.
Then there are so many reasons why Natives don’t finish school and get their diplomas and that is what we talked about during our first meeting of this project. Through four years as a college student I have seen my Native peers drop out because they became pregnant, too involved in the party scene, their school work became too much, they missed home or ran out of money.
Well, like I said, I’m happy to be a part of this research study because I want to see another research study done someday on why 99 percent of Native students are finishing college.


  1. That would be the day...reading an article about the jump how many Native American students are graduating from college.
    I like this research and I am glad that everyone and anyone who is participating is getting involved. For Natives, by Natives. For Indians, by Indians!! Good blog!

  2. What a great way to help our Native students! Hope this research goes well! Thank you Andi for getting involved. You're Journalism experience is just the thing for this kind of research!