As part of a goal to be the number one institution serving Native Americans, NAU hosted a Tribal Leadership Education Summit to seek input on better assisting tribal communities.
Tribal representatives and individuals who work with Native Americans throughout the southwest participated in information-sharing sessions on education, economic development and tribal leadership.
“We spent most of our time listening to their needs,” said Craig Van Slyke, dean of the W.A. Franke College of Business, whose Center for American Indian Economic Development hosted the event. “I think there are some concrete things that NAU can do relatively quickly while we work on some of the longer term plans.”
A research analyst with the Hopi Tribe, Clifford Qotsaquahu, called the Tribal Leadership Education Summit valuable because he learned about initiatives other tribes have launched for economic development. He said as revenue streams and economic trends change, tribal councils can learn from one another to strengthen their economies.
Challenges in education were also discussed, including preparing Native American students for college, increasing cultural sensitivity among new teachers and providing adequate housing for educators.
Serving Native American students and their communities is written into NAU’s strategic goals.
“We’re fortunate to have an extremely diverse student population and campus environment which fosters a culture of respect and acceptance,” said NAU President Rita Cheng. “This atmosphere provides the opportunity to thrive and explore the importance of learning from one another.”
More than 1,300 Native American students are enrolled at NAU, representing 120 tribes. Supporting higher education for additional Native American students in the future is expected to benefit tribal communities and society as a whole.
The university has numerous collaborative service and outreach programs with Native American tribes.
“It’s very important to go out to these Native American communities and develop collaborations and have it be more of a two-way street,” said Chad Hamill, NAU’s special assistant on Native American Affairs. “The typical model is that educational institutions will make recommendations to tribes about what is best for them. We are doing it in reverse—we are asking tribes what their needs are and seeing how we can help, where we fit into that picture,” Hamill said.
Some tribal leaders said they look forward to future information-sharing sessions at NAU, where people can come together, learn from one another and improve their communities through education and economic development.