KC Spotlight - Indigenous Peoples

Tiffani Kelly, NASPA IV-W IPKC Representative

January 3, 2018

Hello 2018! For many folx in higher education, 2017 was a challenging year, and for me it wasn’t any different. In my work, I spend all day with Native American students, and think about how both our campus climate and the nation’s climate are affecting our students. This year in particular seemed harder to be optimistic when the students on our campuses were struggling almost every day with events happening across the nation and on our campuses.

This past year was a year where Native American students (and probably Native professionals) felt extremely invisible and silenced. 2017 seemed to either be filled with jabs and jokes related to Native American communities, from very overt ones from the President of the United States related to Native identity, as well as when he disrespected Navajo Code Talkers during an event honoring them, to extreme targets against Native American sovereignty and racist mascots. Issues of Native identity and rights continued to come up this year, and unfortunately many of them were negative, and heavily impacted the well-being of our students and community. Stories related to Senator Elizabeth Warren and Kaya Jones dominated news without really recognizing or highlighting Native communities, more focusing on these women who claim Native ancestry without any responsibility on their part to these Native and tribal communities. Native voices were left on the sidelines and made to deal with the trauma.

Native students continually tell me how they feel left out of the “social justice conversations” and yet are dealing with the aftermath of these incidents. We have had many conversations in our office this past year about how in many of the movements, Natives have been pushed even further to the outside. Some of the most predominant conversations have been related to interpersonal violence and sexual harassment. While campaigns like #MeToo and the Women’s March were so dominating this year, Native women have been having these conversations for years, but our voices were continuously left out of the conversation, overlooked, or romanticized. Even this week, the Huffington Post wrote an article related to how Women of Color experience sexual harassment differently than white women, and not one of the stories featured an Indigenous woman, despite the fact that Native American women experience sexual violence 2x higher than any other race.

The reason I decided to write about this and share these stories is because I still believe Native students are being left behind in the conversation on our campuses. Even in conversations related to supporting students of color or first generation students, statistics for Native American populations are left out because they are not “statistically relevant.” As student affairs professionals, it is our responsibility to understand how to better support our Native students and make them feel valued, regardless of their numbers on our campuses. We must educate ourselves to understand their stories and ways to support them. IPKC has resources for practitioners, and I hope some of the readings in this article help provide some spark for education.

All things considered, 2017 was a rough year, but as I reflect back on 2017 and think forward to what we can accomplish in this new year, I can’t help but be reminded of our ancestors and the resiliency they have given to us and how Native students continue to exhibit this regardless of what’s happening in our world. These students are fighting hard to leave the next generations better than today, and the strength they bring to our campuses is amazing and immeasurable. They are the ones who give me hope for the future and excitement for the upcoming year.

My hope for this blog is to encourage all of us to think more about Native students moving forward, and bring their stories back to the center. As practitioners, students, and life-long learners, we all have a role to play and we will use what happened this past year to make us stronger and fight harder for representation, recognition, and to have our voices be heard louder than ever. Afυmmi himona na yukpa (Happy New Year)!

Yakoke (thank you),

Tiffani Kelly
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Indigenous Peoples KC IV-West Rep

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