STUDENT HIGHLIGHT JANUARY 2021
I am Erika Yellowhair from the Navajo Nation. I am currently studying Elementary Education and hope to return home to my school district with my PhD in Educational Leadership to become the superintendent and a member of the Navajo Nation Board of Education.
I’m from Sonastee, New Mexico. I lived in a one-bedroom house with seven of my relatives. There wasn’t cell phone service. I didn’t have any drawers and kept my clothes in a tote and drove an hour to get back and forth from school. I always thought this was a normal way of life but I’ve since realized it’s not, but I wouldn’t change how I lived. Money has never been something I’ve had a lot of. Growing up my family and I were comfortable, but we were not well off. My dad worked as a supervisor in a construction company and when the 2008 housing market crashed in Phoenix my family lost our house and we were forced to go home to Sonastee where my parents have struggled with work ever since. My mom eventually took a job as a teacher and has worked as an educator since. We’ve been homeless many times but I looked at it as a normal thing. We’ve lived with family almost all my life and even now my parents and my siblings don’t currently have a place to live.
This may make my parents seem idle, but they are two of the most hard-working people I know. They’ve never been without a job and have always provided for my siblings and I’s needs. It was these obstacles that helped my parents realize that they needed to go back to school. My mom is going to grad school for Special Education and my dad is in his last year of his civil engineering program at the University of Utah.
Money is not the only obstacle I’ve had to face coming to school. When I first started college, I was originally in a major that I was not prepared for. It was hard to do the work that some students had already been doing for a year in high school and I was catching up and learning new material along with them. It soon became apparent that it was not my major not only because my grades did not reflect my work ethic, but it would not lead me to my overall goal of becoming a superintendent.
I left BYU for a year to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and while on my mission I experienced many hard things, one being many health concerns, but I continued to work as hard as my body would allow. I was eventually sent home early due to my increasing health concerns. My first semester back at BYU I had clarity on what I wanted to do and the necessary steps to get there. However, my new health concerns were something I was still learning to manage. I was finally diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis because they had yet to determine the specific type of arthritis I have. This health condition can be very hard to manage when first diagnosed for many people as it was for me. It can also come with other health concerns. There were times throughout the semester I was unable to physically get out of bed and had to have a lot of help from others. Being 20 and having to use a cane to walk everywhere can be a humbling experience and for some it may be detrimental, but I tried as best as I could, but it was not at a level I’m proud of. I had to drop a class and was always late, if I showed up at all, to my morning classes because I’d wake up stiff from my arthritis. I knew I had to change my life as a student to match my new obstacles and by winter semester I had eliminated some of my stressors from my routine such as my job and clubs.
Having all these circumstances may make it seem like I have had a hard life and I wouldn’t argue, but to say I haven’t learned something from each challenge life has brought would be untrue. It is your help and donation that gives me hope in hopeless times. This year will be hard on my family and I without a doubt. Any financial support I receive is truly an honor and I will continue to work as hard as I can to be worthy of it. I thank you for all your support. I will pay it forward to those I help in my future profession and my family as well.
– Erika Yellowhair
Student Highlight October 2020
Our October student highlight is Brandi Nicole Simonson. Brandi is a member of the Navajo tribe with ambitions to become a healthcare administrator. Brandi is a mother of 3 and is working hard to instill her cultural values in her children, including the importance of education.
Ya’at’eeh! Loloma! Hello! My name is Brandi Nicole Simonson. I am 28 years old, a Mother of 3 and a member of the Navajo Tribe. My clans are Rock Gap People, Water Flows Together, Hopi Sand and Chiricahua Apache. I was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in Tuba City, Arizona. It’s not a big city, it’s very rural and only has two stop lights. I am at the end of my Junior year transitioning into my Senior year at Arizona State University. I am also a frequent participant in my Hopi culture from my Grandfather’s side, to this day we continue to hold and practice ceremonial and social dances year-round. Growing up in this culture, I value the teachings that I’ve grown accustomed to that developed me into the person I am today. I also instill these teachings into my children as well. Along with being a Mother, I am also a full-time student at Arizona State University, after receiving an associate degree through a local community college. I’ve applied and been accepted to Arizona State to continue on.
I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Health Entrepreneurship and Innovation. This is similar to having a business degree in Health care. With this degree, I am learning how to develop competence in designing, applying, and testing innovative ways of new ideas. Through the courses I’ve done so far, I’ve developed the importance of applying cultural competency developing documents, visual aids, public speaking to various audiences ranging from everyday people, researchers, administrators and health professionals. With this degree I plan on giving back to my community and doing my part assisting in running the health care system to continue to provide services to our communities, most of all to our Indigenous peoples.
Being a stay-at-home Mother and a Full-time student, I don’t have the funding to fully cover my academic tuition and costs. I am almost to the finish line of getting my degree, and I believe I have what it takes to make a change in healthcare for our Native American people. When completed with Arizona State University, I plan on applying for jobs with Indian Health Services or Native Health, a local clinic for all tribes.
Ahéhee’, Asquali, Thank You!
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA HASWOOD
AN INTERVIEW WITH SOON TO BE STATE LEGISLATOR, CHRISTINA HASWOOD
Christina Haswood is a member of the Navajo tribe, an AIS scholarship alumni, a public health specialist with an M.S. from the University of Kansas, and at the age of 26 she is running uncontested to represent the Kansas 10th district. Ms. Haswood is soon to be the youngest current member of the Kansas state legislature. We’re so proud of her accomplishments and the way she is utilizing her education to give back to her community. We spoke to Christina about what it was like growing up as an urban Native, her education, and what inspired her to run for the Kansas Legislature. To support students like Ms. Haswood who aspire to careers in public service, please consider donating today.
– What was it like growing up away from the Navajo Nation? I’d imagine it presented some unique challenges.
“A lot of us urban Natives kind of have this identity issue where we don’t look like the standard of beauty in Western society. And being a young female makes it especially hard. I didn’t like the color of my skin and how long my hair is. And I was embarrassed of my culture to the point where I wouldn’t even want to wear turquoise. But that was mostly in the beginning of my childhood.”
– Were there some cultural differences that stood out to you? (Christina has a great sense of humor and she responded with a laugh),
“Kids here would sometimes say things like, ‘Oh, my grandma made me cookies. I’m going to go to her house after school.’ And I’d be thinking, ‘My grandmother never made me cookies! She just tells me to go make bread and do the dishes.’ Like, that’s nice for them, but I have to go butcher a sheep.”
– What helped you come to appreciate and be proud of your culture?
“My parents are both Navajo and English is their second language. They made it crucially important that my younger brother and I learn our Navajo culture and ways. We would go to the reservation at least once a year to stay with my grandparents for about a week or sometimes a whole month, and I got to see and experience the reservation way of life. If we went in the fall, I would help plant corn. And sometimes we would even run back for a three day weekend to help harvest the crops. It would be an entire family effort to help with the livestock and cattle. Our culture is just so rich in history and this special way of life. Growing up now and looking back, I think I found my footing in being a Navajo woman.”
– Something that I’ve heard repeatedly from our students is that even though their families are considered low income, they didn’t feel that burden growing up. It sounds like you felt the same.
“My parents did all the social service programs like WIC, tribal clothing, and we would be on section eight housing assistance. And I never, even in Lawrence, felt like I was poor. My parents just did the best they could, and our culture creates this sense of loving and care in the home that makes up for a lot. On my maternal side my grandparents don’t have electricity and they just got plumbing less than 10 years ago. So when we visited we always prepared our mindset to not shower every day. Because the only way to shower is to go to the chapter house. And I wasn’t embarrassed of it at all because I just knew that’s how the way of life was. And my grandparents seemed happy. They never complained.”
– I know that a lot of Native Americans don’t consider college to be an option because they can’t afford tuition. What helped you feel motivated to get your degree?
“It’s kind of a family tradition to go to Haskell University. Like 10 of my aunts and uncles went there. My mom also went to Haskell when I was about four or five, and she didn’t have enough to afford childcare. This was back in the day where you could still take your kid to class. So she would take me to school with her, and I would bring my coloring book and crayons and I would watch her take notes. She told me that I would copy her in my coloring book, just scribbling as I watched what she was doing. I think my mom is probably one of my biggest inspirations. I just automatically knew that I would go to college.
“I did well at Haskell, I was cum laude, and I felt like I was hot stuff. But I transitioned to Arizona State University and I just fell flat on my face. I ended up failing like three classes. That transition from an inter-tribal university to a public university for a lot of us is not a graceful one. You get to a big state school and you’re just a number in a classroom. The culture is so different, and the speed is tremendously faster, and the structure is more strict. And they didn’t help with the transition then, although things are changing. For example, I paid full price for books. I didn’t know that you can find discounted books online. But now they’re offering discounted books right there in the student store.
“And trying to figure out loans – I did everything wrong. We couldn’t afford the tuition so I had to take federal loans out, and they always offer way more than what you need. I didn’t know that you could cut it down to just what you need. There’s just this federal mess that complicates things. But there’s a lot of good, good hearts and good spirits. Everybody who works there loves the students.
“So I finally went to one of the counselors at the American Indian Student Support Services at ASU. And I just said, ‘I need help financially. You know, I can’t be taking out these student loans.’ And I think it was a time where I was still really low on my GPA. She said, ‘You know, there’s this American Indian Services scholarship that you’re qualified for.’ I was like, ‘Well, no.’ And she said, ‘You just have to come and ask me for help.’ It’s so hard to ask people for help sometimes.
“A lot of my scholarships came from Native focused organizations. That’s pretty much how I survived in grad school and undergrad. That Native focus helps when you do essay writing. I felt like when I submitted my application, the people who were reading my essays were Native and understood where I was coming from. And maybe they sympathize with my struggles of coming from Haskell to ASU and almost pretty much failing out my first semester. A lot of these issues that I went through during my undergrad are not uncommon. But, we don’t want to share that with just anyone. And maybe that’s a cultural barrier from us where we’re always taught to not overshare about our lives because you don’t want someone to be jealous of your life, or have someone out there that can hold that information against you. We’re taught to be strong indigenous peoples out in the real world.”
– What made you want to pursue an education in public health?
“I did an internship on the Navajo nation, the summer research enhancement program. And I had my externship site at the epidemiology center. I woke up every day completely energized and felt like the work that I was putting in worked for a bigger purpose. Luckily, they didn’t ask for my GPA because I was at my lowest point in my academic career. Because doing that internship for my tribe really lit a fire underneath me. I was like, “Oh, so this is what a passion feels like. Even if I get paid minimum wage, this is what I want to do.’ I’ve done a lot of things in public health from teaching adults how to properly cut vegetables, all the way to giving presentations and speaking at conferences to other academic professionals, and I’ve loved it all.”
– What inspired you to transition from public health to being a politician?
“I did an internship in DC last summer with the native American political leadership program. I‘ve done like 10 internships to make up for my GPA. It really opened my eyes to the gap between national public policy and tribal sovereignty. Once we leave reservation borders, there are so few services for Native Americans. You know, everyone talks about how we need to be at the table. And I was finally at the table a couple of times, meeting with congressmen and women. It’s quite intimidating and uncomfortable for a lot of people to do this interactive advocacy. I know a lot of Natives that go to D.C. and say, this is not for me. I completely understand because it’s kind of a toxic environment. But I was fairly comfortable, I think because I grew up in a Caucasian town.
“I heard a quote once saying, if you want to create change, the federal level isn’t always the way to go. Your local level politics make the decisions of your everyday life. So I started to attend the forums of the county commission for the city of Lawrence. They did a coffee talk on Saturdays that I would attend, and I would be the only person of color, and most of the time the youngest person in the room. So I would ask, ‘What about us? What are you doing for the Native Indigenous communities?’ Because we have tribal sovereignty and treaty rights that need to be upheld. And they wouldn’t have an answer. So I got involved and started volunteering to help get people to vote. Finally the thought occurred to me, maybe I could do this one day.
“I didn’t think it would be this early. I thought, maybe when I’m 30 or 40. But there was an open seat and I asked my community leaders in the district what they thought about me being the representative. And they thought I’d be great because I was born and raised here. A lot of people saw me grow up here, and I was a big basketball and volleyball girl, playing varsity sports and all that. So I was the third candidate to file for election, and I won the primary.”
– How do you think your background in public health, and what we’re seeing in Native communities as COVID hits them so hard, will affect your policy making?
“I’ve been trained to look at evidence based practices and to look upstream for problem solving. I think that will come in handy in the state legislature here in Kansas. This is one of the hot spots still for COVID-19 and my family has been personally impacted. We’ve lost a couple of loved ones to the virus. Some of my family still has anxiety going out in public, but they’re handling it okay. Just going day by day. And there are nonprofits that are helping. My grandparents received food from one, and they helped pay for a hotel stay when we had to go down for a funeral. The Navajo people are incredibly resilient.”
– Do you have any words of wisdom for young people like you who are trying to create change and do good in the world, to help them be brave and push past the difficulties?
“What I did was find a social media group that have the same ideologies as me, and kind of built that safe sense of community where you can truly be who you are.
“When I was running on my campaign things would sometimes be rocky. But my mom always told me to pray. So a lot of times in my primary we would get up before the sun, and then we would take our tádídíín and pray to the rising sun. And then I started getting back into running, just getting back to the basics of our cultural teachings really helped me with the discomfort I felt as a result of the culture of politics. And all my mentors would tell me to always take care of yourself. You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself.
“Being that voice of change in a room, sometimes I still get uncomfortable. Oh my heart will race. I remember last summer I had a question for Congressman Tom Cole and I was so nervous to ask him this question that my Apple watch told me that my heart rate was too high. It was like, you need to take a breath girl. So even if your voice is shaky, as long as you get that out, it gets more comfortable along the way.
“It’s hard, but remember you’re an indigenous person. Our ancestors survived genocide for us to be here today, and we all have a purpose here on mother earth. You have your rightful path and purpose. It might not look like mine. It might not look like the textbook definition, but you do have a purpose in this world to create positive change in your own way. And I encourage everyone to vote and get involved with your local issues. For a lot of us, we’re kind of dual citizens of the United States and our tribal nations. Try to keep up with as much of that as possible because your voice matters. A lot of people will try to suppress your voice and suppress your vote. And that just shows how important your voice is.
AIS Provides COVID Relief On the Navajo Nation
COVID-19 Hits the Navajo Nation
COVID-19 was comparatively slow to come to the Navajo Nation. The first case was recorded over two months after the virus first appeared in the United States. But after it arrived the disease traveled with the speed and destruction of a forest fire. On May 27th it was announced that the Navajo Nation had surpassed New York to become the area with the highest per-capita infection rate in the U.S. The rapidity of the spread and the high rate of death were due mainly to a lack of infrastructure in this remote part of the country. There are also high rates of pre-existing conditions among citizens and lack of access to healthcare. About 40% of homes lack the running water necessary to follow the basic guidelines set forth by the CDC, and many homes are multigenerational. Both are factors that are believed to contribute to spread.
Curfews Contain Spread but Contribute to Difficulty
To combat the rising total of cases, this great nation initiated a mandatory weekend curfew. It was initially active for 8 weeks and has been recently reinstated due to a sharp increase in cases. Residents are required to stay at home starting Friday evening through Monday morning. There is also a strict weekday curfew between 8pm and 5am.
Many living within the Navajo Nation are hours away from the closest grocery store, something most people take for granted. We have been informed that cleaning supplies are nearly impossible to find at grocery stores on the reservation. This means that people have to travel even farther to find what they need in order to keep their families safe. These curfews and long distance to stores have made it extremely difficult for citizens to get supplies. It is especially difficult for elders who are dependent on family to get essentials. And for the households in quarantine – which number in the hundreds on any given day – getting what they need is made that much harder.
The reports we are hearing from those living on the Navajo Nation are dire. In a community where 1 in 3 children live in poverty, many children depend on school attendance in order to receive regular meals. As schools have been shut down for months, the food insecurity of low income families on the reservation has only deepened. Many low income children are only getting 1 meal a day. Many workers are losing their jobs after being exposed and going into quarantine, or as a result of the recession. Elders who live on roads only accessible by four wheel drive are close to starving because they aren’t able to get supplies.
Our main focus at AIS is providing educational scholarships and programs to Native American students. However, we often create special projects to meet the needs of our constituents. Due to the extreme challenges the Navajo Nation is facing, we opened up a project to provide food and supplies. On May 4th, 6th and 7th four semitruck trailers delivered 160,000 pounds of nonperishable goods to a meeting house. With the help of 45 missionaries from The Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints, Tribal Agencies, and surrounding communities, the goods were unloaded and divided into approximately 1,200 family boxes.
Each of these family boxes had enough provisions to provide for a family of 5 for four weeks. Once the boxes were ready, they were loaded into volunteer’s trucks and taken to cities throughout the Navajo Nation. These cities included Kayenta-New Mexico, Chinle-Arizona, Fort Defiance-Arizona, Tuba City-Arizona, and Monument Valley-Utah. Our goal was for the boxes to be delivered to the families most in need of them. We have made more deliveries since then, and will continue to provide supplies as the crisis persists.
How You Can Help
To help us in these efforts, please consider sponsoring a family box to be delivered this month by donating here. $15 will feed an individual for 1 week. $50 will feed an individual for 4 weeks. $250 will feed a family of 5 for a month. We appreciate your support as we work to provide relief to our constituents.
April 2020 Newsletter Student Highlights
Navajo, Hunkpapa Lakota, and Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota
Science, Technology, and Society – Stanford
Jade comes from Window Rock, Arizona, and is minoring in Medical Anthropology on the Pre-Med track. She is the Co-Chair for the Stanford Powwow and is the Vice President of the Stanford AISES Chapter. Jade is also a research assistant in the OB/GYN Department at the Stanford Hospital under the Winn Research Lab. Recently she did a service trip to Nepal and is a trained EMT. After she obtains her OBGYN or Family Medicine license, Jade wants to go back and work on Native reservations in order to help her community.
Biology – University of New Mexico
Andrew grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is minoring in sociology and chemistry. He maintains a high GPA and is on the Dean’s List. He is pursuing a biology degree with the hopes of applying to and entering medical school sometime in the near future in order study and practice neurosurgery. He knows this is a lofty goal because so few Native Americans attend medical school, but he is confident that his academic abilities and work ethic will carry him toward his goal, as are we.
Life In the Wake of a Pandemic – Shandiin’s Story
I’m a student here at Brigham Young University Hawaii. This was my last semester and on April 18th, I finally graduated with my Business Management – Finance Bachelor’s.
In the middle of the semester classes were canceled on campus. The following week we resumed with all of our classes being online. For myself it was it was extremely hard to focus on assignments the rest of that week. BYU Hawaii was one of the first colleges to cancel classes and cancel graduation in the same day. My family had already planned to fly out to Hawaii to celebrate my graduation. It was extremely hard for me to continue to stay focused in my last semester. I was able to get through it and finish out this past semester strong.
But it’s been difficult not to worry about my family. All I can do is watch from afar. Even if I could go home, I wouldn’t be able to visit them because they have a lot of underlying health conditions or they are much older. Distancing right now is really important so that our people are not spreading the virus. Many are being sent to the hospital and others lose their lives. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of my family and when I can see them again.
Also being here at BYU Hawaii, I was seeing how it was affecting students from so many other countries. I had a lot of friends who had to leave within a week to get home to their countries before they closed. Many of them didn’t make it home because their countries had already closed for entry. It was affecting their ability to be able to finish school at the same time. Many are stuck here still in Hawaii until further notice.
Looking back on this last semester, if I did not receive the American Indian services scholarship it would have been hard for me to sustain myself till the end of the semester. This one scholarship was able to give me peace of mind that I would have a roof over my head until graduation. I think that it is important to know that this scholarship program has helped me this semester. That going into the next semester I want others to continue on with their education and graduate from college. It is the best feeling knowing that you accomplished your goals and nothing can stand in the way of our educational pursuits.
– Shandiin White, Navajo
An influx of students need funding, AIS is providing it
In times of crisis, the vulnerable are always the hardest hit. Unfortunately, the remote parts of our country where many Native Americans live aren’t immune to the reach of COVID-19. As of this writing on April 20th, the Navajo Nation has an infection rate per capita that is higher than all but 2 U.S. states. Tribal elders, who serve as community knowledge keepers, are more likely to die of the virus because of high rates of heart disease and diabetes among elderly Native Americans. Only 51.3% of Native American households have health insurance, and on remote tribal lands adequate health care is hard to find. On some reservations it’s estimated that only 40% of homes have running water, making the necessary hygiene to combat the virus difficult.
This is a bleak picture but the Native people are doing everything they can to protect their communities. The Lummi Tribe acted quickly and opened up a pioneering field hospital to help treat the sick in their area, and they called for social distancing measures well before the rest of the nation. The Navajo Nation has ordered rapid test kits to help contain the virus. The Yurok Tribe created an Incident Command Team to navigate the needs of their people. Many tribes declared a state of emergency early on in order to secure funding and prepare their healthcare facilities, and health clinics have devoted extra resources to COVID-19 patients.
Most helpful of all, the tribes negotiated $10 billion in aid from the CARES stimulus package, $8 billion of which will go toward reimbursing tribes for coronavirus expenses already incurred. The remainder will go toward better equipping tribal health services, improving emergency response times on tribal lands, providing economic relief for tribal members, and food delivery to the elderly and low-income families. But this leaves our scholarship recipients who are facing unique challenges to navigate the social effects of this virus themselves.
Universities have closed campuses and moved their courses online. Many students have been forced out of their dorms, where computers and high speed internet access were readily available, to go back to their family homes on remote tribal lands where 47% of homes lack these essential resources to finish their courses. This means that students who can’t afford to buy a computer and an internet connection will have to either attempt to complete their coursework on their smart phones, or drop out.
In order to prevent students from dropping out and to address the larger than usual amount of applications we are receiving, we have extended our spring and summer scholarship deadlines to May 1st. When students have tuition funding it frees them up to purchase necessary things like books and computers in order to be successful in their studies – not to mention the basics like food, clothing, and housing. American Indian Services is well situated to weather this storm and we will do everything in our power to continue providing this aid to Native American students.
We have been able to transition our office staff to working from home without any interruption in our scholarship distribution schedule. Our gala gave us a highly successful start to our fundraising this year. We raised $880,362, which is 31% of our scholarship program’s expenses for the year, and we have secured several other grants and donations. This means that the scholarship program will be able to stay robust in the face of these trying times. We are resilient and we will continue to adapt as needed. You can count on us to keep serving Native Americans at a time when they need us most.
Student Highlight April 2020
Being born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico and participating in my Pueblo traditions in Cochiti, New Mexico, I am thankful that I am apart of these two very distinct communities. I am pursuing an education that will create positive change in both communities. As an American Indian, I am a part of the Pueblo of Cochiti, Pueblo of Jemez, and Diné. As a first-generation student I call the University of New Mexico my home in earning a Bachelor of Science in Population Health and a minor in Psychology. I am proud to be a part of the 2nd of its kind, College of Population Health in the United States.
I first became interested in Population Health my sophomore year of college when I discovered that a majority of healthcare is reactive, and I wanted to learn how to take a more proactive approach to prevent illnesses and diseases. Population Health consists of the multidisciplinary study of health, illness, and disability. We learn about the societal, behavioral, and organizational causes of health and disease and explore the ways to reduce health disparities. In my classes I examine policies, health systems, and public health practices that can curb health risks in communities and large populations.
My motivations to earn an undergraduate degree in Population Health began with my professional aspirations to better my American Indian community. I intend to conduct research and help develop preventive programs to reduce diabetes with the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center (AASTEC) as my senior capstone project in the Spring of 2020. After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school to earn an MPH and/or Master of Social Work with an American Indian Concentration. Schools I am interested in applying to are the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis which develops the knowledge and skills to serve Native American communities by understanding the extent, effects, and causes of issues facing Native peoples then evaluating and implementing the best practices with cultural competencies in mind. Other schools I intend on applying to are North Dakota State University with the American Indian Concentration and the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.
In the future, I am eager to develop a healthcare system that increases the access of healthcare services on Southwestern reservations. According to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service (NAIHS), the department delivers health services to over 244,000 American Indians on the largest Indian reservation in the U.S. The Navajo Nation covers more than 25,000 contiguous square miles where NAIHS has a total of 222 inpatient hospital beds at only four hospitals. The issue of lack of healthcare access for Native Americans has geared me towards an educational plan to pursue a career in public community health. The societal problem I am planning to address is the health disparities of American Indians by first working with the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board by becoming a project director after I finish my graduate program. Then, I intend pursing a more significant role in regional planning and public service. I believe in advocating and serving disadvantaged Indigenous people using a holistic framework consisting of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Working in public service I would be the voice representing our people on director boards and on large scale government committees.
I am passionate that I will be able to take what I learn in my degree now, capstone project and graduate program in the future, and apply it in regional Indigenous and American Indian communities to reduce health disparities and increase access to healthcare services. I am proud to state that I am a 2019 Udall Scholar for Native American Heath care. I have taken the initiative to prepare for my future educational plans and career goals by taking on two internships currently to begin addressing issues that face American Indians and public health. I am the first intern for the College Horizons Scholars Program to develop student success programming for Native students on campus and help retention rates and set them up for their future and lead them to graduate programs. Secondly, I have become a Future Community Leader for the Center for Social Sustainable Systems Leadership Institute. I have currently taken a proactive role in my community to prepare and execute an action plan aimed at addressing and understanding water, land, health disparities, and social justice issues affecting New Mexican Communities. As part of my project publication I am focusing on legislation and policy development to sustain our local farmers, acequias, and to ensure that water is available to our Pueblos south of Albuquerque.
Receiving financial aid has equipped me to focus on my plans and goals for graduate school and my career which I am eager to begin. I have a focused plan to assist Indigenous communities in the future, and I am determined to reduce health disparities and increase access on reservations while preserving our cultural traditions. This funding is helping provide me the education to support my community and pave the way for me to give back to future generations, so they have the same amazing opportunities as me.
Facts and Figures About the Tribes That AIS Helps
To help you get a sense of the people we serve, we’ve created a list of the top ten tribes who have received the most AIS scholarships so far in 2019, with a brief summary of their histories and cultures. We are only halfway through our 2019 award cycle, so these amounts will nearly double by the end of the cycle.
799 AIS scholarships distributed
$805,250 – combined award amount
332,129 enrolled members
Navajo is the second largest federally recognized tribe and they have the largest reservation in the country. The reservation straddles the Four Corners region and covers more than 27,000 square miles of land in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Navajo is a name given to them by the Spanish, but they’ve always called themselves Diné, or The People.
In an attempt at relocation, the U.S. army forced 2,000 men, women, and children to walk 300 miles to New Mexico, many of whom died either on the way or in the internment camps afterward. The Navajo leader Chief Manuelito led a resistance to the relocation that proved successful and the Navajo were allowed to return to a reduced portion of their homeland. Chief Manuelito was an inspiring leader who strongly believed in education and our Navajo scholarship recipients often cite his quote, “Education is the ladder. Tell our people to take it.”
The Diné society is based primarily upon kinship arising from clan affiliation, and all Navajo have four clans. In the creation myth the original four clans were given to the Navajo by the Changing Woman. Often when our Navajo students introduce themselves they also recite their clans, which is a traditional formal introduction and shows how important this system is to their culture.
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
57 AIS scholarships distributed
$45,500 – combined award amount
30,000 enrolled members
The Turtle Mountain reservation headquarters is located in Belcourt, North Dakota. The name Chippewa, like many other tribes on this list, was given to them by Europeans. Their autonym is Ojibway. Before the fur trade came to their land and forced the Chippewa to adopt a life of pursuing buffalo on the Great Plains, they were a wood-land oriented people whose main diet subsisted of wild rice. After being forced to sign treaties that left them without land and the fur trade left them without resources, they were finally given two townships in 1892 and an agreement in 1904 that they could create homesteads on any U.S. owned land without charge. Due to multigenerational distress and geographical isolation the Chippewa poverty rate is 44% and the unemployment rate is 69.25%. Despite these dire circumstances the Chippewa have made several strides toward establishing industry on their reservation, including the Turtle Mountain Community College where many of our Chippewa students attend.
The Chippewa use the drum at social and spiritual ceremonies and they believe the drum to be the heart of the people. Their religious beliefs are based on the ethics of the Midewewin, their medicine healers. Members of the Midewewin believe that Mother Earth is a living thing, and that all plants and animals contain a spirit that is part of the Divine Creator. The Chippewa respect and live as one with all life. Respect is a value that they honor.
45 AIS scholarships distributed
$59,750 – combined award amount
120,000 enrolled members
Alaskan Natives are actually a diverse group of tribes, but they are generally grouped together due to their interactions with the U.S. government occurring in a different historic period than indigenous groups in the colonies. The tribes can be divided into five major groupings: Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, and the Tlingit and Haida. While each Alaskan tribe has unique cultures and histories, there are several similarities that they share.
They each developed sophisticated ways to deal with the challenging climate of Alaska. Legends and customs evolved in harmony with the specific part of Alaska where they settled. To survive the harsh climate, a deep awareness and unity with the flora and fauna is a necessity, as is respect and cooperation among their village members.
They are bold hunters and skilled gatherers. When the Russians came to the region they exploited these skills by enslaving the Natives, or by heavily taxing them in the form of furs. Land disputes with the U.S. government continued late into the 20th century. Alaska Natives have small villages rather than large reservations. Their aboriginal hunting and fishing rights have been extinguished, but they are still allowed to harvest whales and other marine mammals, and this hunting continues to be an important part of their cultures.
Nooksack Indian Tribe
17 AIS scholarships distributed
$12,750 – combined award amount
1,800 enrolled members
The Nooksack live in the northwest region of Washington state along the Nooksack River. Historically they relied on fishing, hunting, clam digging, and root gathering, and the name Nooksack actually translates to “always bracken fern roots.” The Nooksack were overlooked by the federal government and weren’t given a treaty in time to offer them protection from losing their land to white settlers. In 1971 they were finally granted 1 acre of land to establish a reservation. Since then the tribe’s holdings have expanded to 2,500 acres. The Nooksack territory originally extended from Skagit County into British Columbia.
At the turn of the 20th century, Nooksack and other Native children across the nation were taken from their families to attend boarding schools in order to undergo forced assimilation where they were brutalized and stripped of their cultural identity. To fight this identity loss and preserve their language the Nooksack have established a language reclamation project. Students who participate in the project are immersed in the language and work on special projects where language is a vital aspect. At the end of four years they are fully qualified language teachers with a certificate that is the equivalent of a B.A., and they are then able to teach the language and culture to tribal youth.
Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation
16 AIS scholarships distributed
$17,000 – combined award amount
16,457 enrolled members
The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation compose the Three Affiliated Tribes. The reservation is located on the Missouri River spanning 6 counties in central North Dakota. The reservation is governed by the MHA Nation Tribal Business Council and employs over 1,100 people.
At the height of the historic culture of the Mandan, they were prosperous and peaceful farmers and traders, noted for their excellent maize cultivation and crafting of Knife River flint. The Mandan banded together with the Hidatsa for survival after a smallpox epidemic left the Mandan with only 125 survivors. It is estimated that 90% of the indigenous people of the Americas were killed by European diseases such as smallpox. The Arikara later settled with the Hidatsa and Mandan and the three tribes formed a confederacy. Out of this confederacy homogenous societies evolved and the Three Affiliated Tribes were able to survive.
13 AIS scholarships distributed
$10,000 – combined award amount
4,483 enrolled members
The Lummi Nation is located in western Washington only 20 miles south of the Canadian border. They are also known as the Lhaq’temish or People of the Sea. They hunted, fished, and gathered near the sea and mountain areas and returned seasonally to their longhouses situated in Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands. They developed a fishing technique known as reef netting, and it is recognized by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as the best technique for selective fishing.
Tribes in this region held gift-giving feasts called potlatches. The Canadian government rigorously banned the events and the tradition fell out of practice. In 2007 the Lummi revived the tradition and hosted their first potlatch since the 1930’s. 68 families paddled hand-made canoes to the reservation from different parts of the state as part of the celebration.
12 AIS scholarships distributed
$15,000 – combined award amount
19,338 enrolled members
The Hopi reservation is located in northeastern Arizona. The Hopi are known for their constructions of large apartment-house complexes and an advanced culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region. It is one of the oldest living cultures in the world, beginning in approximately 500 CE.
The name Hopi is short for Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, which translates to Peaceful Little Ones. The Hopi religion is very complex, with a highly developed belief system that continues to guide much of their life. Hopi is a concept, and to be Hopi is to strive toward total reverence, respect, and peace toward all things. The Hopi observe their traditional ceremonies for the benefit of the entire world. Perhaps the widest known aspect of the religion is kachina dolls, which are a representation of the Katsina guardian spirits, and are given to the daughters of the village during ceremonies. The Katsina act as intermediaries between the spirit world and the people.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
11 AIS scholarships distributed
$10,500 – combined award amount
15,568 enrolled members
The Standing Rock Reservation is located in the Dakotas, and is the 6th largest reservation at 3,571.9 square miles. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is part of what was once known as the Great Sioux Nation. Their original treaty included the Black Hills, which were sacred to them. But when General Custer found gold there, the government wanted to buy back or rent the hills. The Sioux refused and the Great Sioux War began, which included the Battle of Little Bighorn. Eventually the U.S. won and they took the hills from the Sioux in violation of their treaty. A further violation came when they again reduced Sioux land and divided it into smaller groups. The Sioux were forced to farm rather than continue their nomadic horse culture. Farming proved difficult in that region and the people faced starvation. Their difficulties continue today, with one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the country.
White Mountain Apache Tribe
10 AIS scholarships distributed
$10,000 – combined award amount
15,000 enrolled members
The tribe is located in eastern Arizona, 194 miles north of Phoenix, where they have lived for thousands of years. They believe they belong to the Earth and that their home was given to them by their Creator. The elevation of their reservation starts at about 2,600’ above sea level on the southwest side, and ranges all the way up to 11,400’ on the peak of Mt. Baldy on the eastern border. It is considered their most sacred mountain, and there are clear views of it from the Sunrise Ski Resort, which is owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache. They were originally nomadic but eventually became farmers. When the U.S. army first came to their chief’s village they hoisted white flags from every home and immediately fed corn to the soldier’s horses and warmly welcomed the men. This welcome, as well as an agreement to allow the army to build a military post on their uniquely beautiful land, assured peace during a time when the U.S. was in conflict with other Apache nations.
9 AIS scholarships distributed
$12,750 – combined award amount
370,000 enrolled members
The Cherokee Nation is the largest of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, and is the largest tribe in the U.S. It is located in Oklahoma and employs over 11,000 people. The Cherokee originally lived in the Appalachian Mountains, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. At the time of European colonization they were one of the largest politically integrated tribes in America. Between 1800 and 1830 the Cherokee made rapid strides toward assimilation. They created a syllabary which helped almost the entire tribe to become literate, and they adopted colonial methods of farming and home building. But due to gold being found in Georgia and a general desire for expansion, agitation to remove the tribe increased. In the winter of 1838 16,000 members of the tribe were forced at gunpoint to march 1,000 miles on foot to Oklahoma. One quarter of them died on the way. This trek is known as The Trial of Tears.
Much of the Cherokee spiritual and ceremonial practices are kept private, but local communities strive to keep their cultural practices alive today.
Native Americans are a beautifully diverse group, and this is just a small sampling of the over 300 tribes that we serve. Our goal is to help as many Native American students as we can, and we are working daily to spread the word about our programs. To help us expand our reach please find us on Facebook and share our page with your followers.
November 2019 Student Highlight
Despite serving over 300 tribes all across the country, the vast majority of the applications we get are from Navajo students, and we never tire of reading their bios. We feel honored when they introduce themselves to us in Diné and recite their clans, giving us a beautiful glimpse into their culture. Our November Student Highlight is an incredibly resilient Navajo woman and we feel so proud to serve her as she works to lift herself up through education.
Shí éí Bridgett Abeyta yinishyé. Kinłichíí’nii nishłį́, Ta’neeszahnii bashishchiin, Mą ’íí deeshgíízhíníí dashicheii, Naakai dashinalí. Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́. Colorado Springs kééhasht’į́. Canyon Diablo déé’ naashá.
My name is Bridgett Abeyta. I am of the Red House Clan, born for the Tangle Clan. The Coyote Pass Clan are my maternal grandfathers and Mexican are my paternal grandfathers. That is what makes me a Navajo woman. Colorado Springs is where I reside. Canyon Diablo is where I am from.
I am originally from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where I attended boarding school as a child. I dropped out of high school and received my GED in the spring of 2004, one month after having my first child. After my brother was KIA in Iraq while serving for the Army I went through a prolonged depression. I lost custody of my children and found myself homeless. During this time, I also lost my mother. I was in a terrible situation, but I kept hearing my grandparent’s words coming back to me. They would reiterate the importance of education. They emphasized that it was the only way to a better life.
In the spring of 2017, I enrolled in classes at Pikes Peak Community College. I was still homeless and living out of my car, but I was more determined than ever. I proved my determination when I made the President’s list that same semester. I had a cumulative GPA of 3.75 and completed 60 credits before transferring to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in the Fall of 2019. My goal is to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree and graduate with honors. Another goal is to apply for law school. I would like to study Indigenous Law. My personal experience with the lack of application is what interested me. I am also considering adding a business minor to my Psychology major. I was also recently elected as the secretary for the Psi Chi Honor Society, a leadership opportunity I’m excited to partake in.
This scholarship will help me overcome some of the financial burden of tuition, textbooks, and housing. By ensuring that my education is financially secure, I will be able to focus on maintaining a high GPA. This scholarship will also allow me to take advantage of the leadership opportunity as the Psi Chi Honor Society secretary. As a non-traditional student, I understand that I must work twice as hard for the same academic success as my peers. The challenges that I’ve had to overcome have left me with an unwavering sense of resilience and determination.