As a child, Alli Moran (Cheyenne River Lakota) wanted to be a race car driver; later she dreamed of becoming an astronaut and being the first American Indian woman in space. Then in seventh grade, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer.
Observing tribal council meetings as a high school student, she noticed the tribe’s lack of Native attorneys. “That’s when I first understood there was, metaphorically, a wall between the reservation and Washington, DC, and a huge disconnect between us two,” says Moran, who studies Indigenous Liberal Studies as well as business and entrepreneurship at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA, Santa Fe, NM). She dreams that she and other young, Native lawyers can someday strengthen those connections.
Her family has always supported her, she says, and Moran credits her mother, especially, for encouraging her to plan for the future—even when following her own path has meant moving away from South Dakota.
“My mom says, ‘Don’t worry about us; we’ll always be here,’” she says. “But no one has a bigger place in my heart, aside from the Creator, and I always take them wherever I go. They mean the world to me—and I make sure everything I do will benefit me but also my family and my tribe, the Cheyenne River Lakota tribe.”
Running for president of the AIHEC Student Congress in the spring of 2012 was a big move for her, she says, because she didn’t want to disappoint or mislead anyone. The morning when applications were due, she prayed, then decided she would indeed run. She felt amazed at the banquet when people cheered at the announcement she had won the election. “It hit me: I’ve always wanted to step up at some point,” she says, “and it’s amazing that I did it at that point in time, and that it was right.”
Now, she’s excited that the Student Congress is working on a Native voter registration initiative at tribal colleges and universities. Students plan to register new Native voters across the nation—and have that to show congressional members during next year’s visits to the Capitol. Not only will Native voters make more of a difference in elections, but tribal college students will have more proof of how they are making a difference in Indian Country— and deserve fair funding from Congress.
Meanwhile, even though she’s sometimes homesick, Moran is glad to be at IAIA. “All throughout my education, I’ve been learning from the Western perspective— we had some Lakota classes in high school—but the majority were Westernized,” she says. “I’ve always found Native American history fascinating, and now I know not only my creation story but the creation stories of 24 other tribes. It’s just miraculous what you learn here on a daily basis.”
Since walking through the doors of IAIA and explaining her plans to study law, she’s felt supported and encouraged. “This school really caters to Indigenous students,” she says. “It’s a blessing that I’m here, and I’m grateful for it.”