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American Indian students engage with arts, design in ASU INSPIRE program


INSPIRE participants show their Sun Devil pride with the pitchfork hand sign.

Participants of INSPIRE flash the pitchfork. Photo courtesy the School of Music, Dance and Theatre

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August 07, 2023

Each year, American Indian high school students gather on campus at Arizona State University — where more than 3,000 Indigenous students are enrolled — for INSPIRE, a no-cost college readiness program offered through the ASU Office of American Indian Initiatives.

During the weeklong program at the Tempe campus, 76 students representing 16 tribal nations attended academic and personal success workshops with culturally relevant, project-based learning.

This year, faculty members from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts led hands-on creative workshops as part of the program. Nora Cherry (Payómkawichum/Luiseño/Mission), recruitment and admissions coordinator for the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, facilitated the workshops with Herberger Institute faculty.

“My mother was sent to government boarding schools most of her childhood, attending Phoenix Indian School from 1930–35,” Cherry said. “She would be astonished now to see the former doctrines of assimilation replaced by the celebration of Native culture and spirituality.”

Assistant Professor Wanesia Misquadace from the School of Art is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe of the Fond Du Lac Band. She led an Indigenous metals workshop and a metal stamping cultural activity. Each student produced a handmade copper bowl as well as a stamped cuff bracelet and ring. 

It’s empowering for students to see a Native Indigenous professor,” Misquadace said. “I tell my story so they know if I can do it, so can they.” 

Students also participated in a screen acting workshop with Gene Ganssle, associate teaching professor in The Sidney Poitier New American Film School. Students practiced acting in a commercial and performed on camera.

“The screen acting workshop proved transformational in that students who were hesitant and withdrawn seemed to get the ‘acting bug’ by the end of the class,” Cherry said. “It was thrilling to see these students perform their commercials on camera!”

Kelly Hawkinson, clinical assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, taught the students about clothing shapes and draping, and then provided paper materials with which students worked in teams to create their own traditional regalia in dress forms.

Participants also attended a screening of “Red Hand” by filmmaker and ASU grad Octavia Endischee (Diné) as well as a talkback with the Indigenous cast and crew. The short film focuses on the international issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

The students gathered at the Memorial Union at the end of the week to present their projects and celebrate their success with family and friends. 

“This was the first time we had an arts and design learning community, and it was a hit!” said Annabell Bowen (Onöndowa’ga and citizen of the Diné Nation), director for the Office of the President on American Indian Initiatives at ASU. “We hope we can continue to partner with the Herberger Institute in our future programming for American Indian students.”

ASU acknowledges the 22 Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. ASU's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O'odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today.

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