In response to the increasingly active roles our student peers are seeking in tribal advocacy, and because of the importance of community change coming from within, we in the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Student Congress are piloting a new leadership conference to encourage these emerging leaders.
The idea for this initiative first materialized at our fall 2015 AIHEC Student Congress (ASC) meeting in San Diego. As we gathered to brainstorm ways to support our fellow students, a few issues seemed to echo in the room, particularly unity and communication among tribal college campuses. Moriah Thompson of Cankdeska Cikana Community College (CCCC) discussed her experience at a prior summer conference, noting how it was a great way to meet leadership-minded students but lamenting that tribal college students were separated from the rest of conference. Aaron Longie, also of CCCC, attended the same conference and mentioned how age restrictions made it difficult for others to participate. As a group we discussed different conferences, and while we agreed that they were positive experiences on the whole, they never quite fit— either they weren’t aimed at community leadership or they had restrictive applications that failed to take into account the diversity of tribal colleges and universities (TCUs).
This grew into the idea of organizing a tribal college leadership conference that would be aimed specifically at our peers. Led by ASC President Chris Sindone and Great Lakes Representative Bethany Tarbell, with unanimous support from ASC members, we will host a leadership conference May 24-26 in hopes of bringing together students who are interested in campus and community leadership and who want to strengthen their connection to the TCU community. “The idea is to focus on students who want leadership roles in their communities but might not know where to begin,” ASC Sergeant-at- Arms Waycen Owens-Cyr says.
“The idea is to focus on students who want leadership roles in their communities but might not know where to begin.”
We have been hard at work planning and coordinating the event. Every detail, from potential application questions and securing location releases to naming the event, has been discussed during biweekly meetings. Southwest Representative Leslie Tsosie suggested utilizing the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the location of the conference. “It’s important to host the conference at a tribal college. Students should be proud of [the network of schools] they are in,” Tsosie explains.
With planning such a large endeavor and only a year to implement it, telephone conferences have become a normal part of the week for us. Our ASC advisors, Carmen Henan of IAIA and Alex Grandon of AIHEC, help facilitate discussions, imparting their seasoned advice but allowing us the space to tackle issues and find solutions on our own. From Montana to Arizona, we call in to share regional updates as well as to keep other members informed on a myriad of individual duties which we handle throughout the school year.
For the leadership conference, we decided that each member should be responsible for coordinating a key element: Treasurer Aaron Longie is creating and maintaining the budget; Vice- President Falon Torrez is contacting potential speakers; President Chris Sindone is planning the meals and menu to be served; Midwest Representative Moriah Thompson, along with Historian Kimberlee Blevins and Secretary Adrianna Hoffman are tackling the weighty task of registration; Waycen Owens-Cyr is in charge of marketing as well as recruitment; and I am overseeing sponsorship and exhibit booths. Bethany Tarbell of Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College is tasked with perhaps the heaviest duty—overseeing how all of these parts fit together. “Let’s make something that students can look forward to and come back to every year,” she says.
As the planning rolls on and the end of our terms nears, we have exchanged a volley of emails for comment and approval. We have gathered ideas for panel speakers and marketing tactics as suggestions for themes bounce in. Members have discussed and debated over the details, including a name for the conference. Suggestions have trickled out from brainstorming sessions and have pooled to create something that encapsulates the goal of the event, giving us the official name of the conference: Leadership In Future Endeavors (L.I.F.E.). We hope to empower students by teaching them leadership skills so they can take this knowledge back to their communities and schools and, in turn, teach others.
Robin Máxkii (Stockbridge-Munsee) attends Salish Kootenai College and is the Northwest region representative of the AIHEC Student Congress.