“To my Brothers of Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, Inc., I don’t even know where to start to say thank you. Since my freshman year, I found more than just support from you. To my older Brothers, you gave me guidance in how to navigate college. You all were the light that got me through many dark tunnels. It was our stories and ruggedness that inspired me to pursue this research to bring other stories to light. To my younger Brothers, let this be a testament to the power that each of you have; each and every one of you have the power and potential to create far greater change in this world than you know. Your stories and your voices are unique and strong, use them to go change the world. Your older Brothers will always have your back.”
I wrote these words as part of my dissertation acknowledgement. For many, this is the portion where people highlight their loved ones and those that supported them through a journey that not many people, and even fewer Natives, undertake. For me, it was the same, but I never would have thought that I would write those words about a fraternity. Going into college, I held a very stereotypical viewpoint of fraternity and sorority life, albeit that viewpoint was heavily based on their portrayal in mainstream media. I told myself that I wasn’t going to join a frat, and that that life wasn’t something that was meant for me. I didn’t want to make myself a token brown person to mark the proverbial diversity checkbox.
I often felt that fraternity and sorority life never reflected the values that I held as a Native person or an organization that represented my community. At least that was the perception that I held as I entered my first year at the University of Oklahoma. I had friends that tried to get me to sign up for Rush, but I didn’t find an organization that was a fit for me as a Native man. That was until I met a group of guys that talked to me about Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma. Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, Inc., or the Society of Native American Gentlemen, is one of eight Historically Native American Fraternities and Sororities (HNAFS).
Now you may be sitting there reading this thinking, “what in the world are HNAFS?” Well let’s talk about that. Historically Native American Fraternities and Sororities have been around for almost 30 years. While this is relatively short when compared to our Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic and National Panhellenic counterparts, the reality is HNAFS have been doing the work of creating space within fraternity and sorority life for Native and Indigenous people. These organizations were brought about because there were no spaces or organizations that reflected Native and Indigenous culture and values. In 1994, the ladies of Alpha Pi Omega Sorority, Inc. came together to establish the first ever HNAFS. Since then, seven other HNAFS (Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, Gamma Delta Pi, Phi Sigma Nu, Epsilon Chi Nu, Sigma Omicron Epsilon, Beta Sigma Epsilon and Omega Delta Psi) have organized to represent Native people in spaces where we are often invisibilized.
Today, these eight organizations are represented on over 26 various campuses across the U.S. While that might not seem like alot comparatively, this representation is monumental when we think about the collective impact they have on many Native students in higher education. When it comes to HNAFS, we see, through testimonial experiences and research conducted on the experiences of Native college students, these organizations play a critical role in fostering an inclusive support system for their members. As I reflect back on my own experiences and the research conducted in this area, there was a commonality of support not just at the collegiate level, but at the cultural, physical, mental and in some cases, the spiritual level. After all, what else would you expect from organizations that were founded and rooted in varying tribal cultural values and understandings?
Historically Native American Fraternities and Sororities are often organized completely different from what we see with traditional fraternal organizations and therefore don’t often fit into the model or structure that fraternity and sorority life lives in within our field. In fact, most professionals within our field don’t even know these types of organizations exist. But, the reality is they do and they are doing the work that so many of us entered into this field to do. They create culturally relevant spaces in which Native students can thrive.
Lastly, to any of my colleagues in the trenches of student affairs or my fellow scholars that are doing the critical research that molds and shapes our field, I challenge you to go and learn more about HNAFS. I challenge you to expand your knowledge and look at what these organizations have accomplished while often going unnoticed and under-supported at their respective institutions. I hope that you accept this challenge and seek an understanding about these amazing organizations that not only supported and inspired me to pursue and persist toward my terminal degree, but that also continue to impact and uplift countless Native students after me.
Dr. Corey M. Still is the Director of Student Programming and Research for the American Indian Graduate Center, one of the largest Native scholarship providers in the United States. He is a proud member of Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, Inc. Alpha Chapter: Zeta Class. Currently, he serves as the National Expansion and New Member Coordinator for Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, Inc. and served three previous terms as the National Chairman of their national governance board. He currently serves as the Region IV-W Representative on the IPKC leadership team.
To learn more about Historically Native American Fraternities and Sororities, please see the following sources:
Jahansouz, S., & Oxendine, S. (2008). The Native American fraternal values movement: Past, present, & future. Perspective, 14.
Oxendine, D., Oxendine, S., & Minthorn, R. (2013). The historically Native fraternity and sorority movement. In H. Shotton, S. Lowe, & S. Waterman (Eds.), Beyond the asterisk: Understanding native students in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Still, C. (2019). Atvdastanvi ununinohetlvnvhi anisgeya listening to their stories: Examining how Native men engage the tricksters of higher education. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK.
Still, C. & Faris, B. (2019). Understanding and supporting historically Native American fraternities and sororities. New Directions for Student Services, 165, 51-59.