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ASU graduate amplifies Indigenous representation through education, public outreach

Napolean Marrietta, class of 2023. He received his Master's in Public Administration from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Napolean Marrietta received a Master's of Public Administration from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions this fall. This is his second master's degree, his first being in American Indian studies in spring 2023. Photo courtesy Napolean Marrietta

December 14, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

They say, “Home is where the heart is.” For Arizona State University graduate Napolean Marrietta, home has always been southern Arizona, and his heart manifests with his family, his commitment to educating the masses, and his passion for Indigenous public outreach and representation. 

Marrietta is of Akimel O’odham descent, and his Indigenous background serves as a pillar to both his identity and his aspirations outside of the classroom.

Marrietta, 29, was born and raised in the Stotonic village of the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona — a roughly 30-minute drive south of ASU’s Tempe campus. He earned his undergraduate degree from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in American Indian studies as a part of the class of 2017, and his first master’s degree, also in American Indian studies, in spring 2023.

He has now obtained a second master’s degree, this time in public administration, from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.  

Equipped with extensive knowledge, lived experience and multiple degrees from ASU, Marrietta aims to use public administration as a basis to uplift Indigenous communities, culture and history — whether it be through education or pushing for higher societal involvement. 

After graduation, Marietta said he looks forward to applying the knowledge and know-how his has gained through his academic background in public administration to help “Indigenous people to be more represented,” Marrietta said. 

He believes that true Indigenous representation is rooted in the complete and proper education of Native American history — teachings free from and uninhibited by stereotypes, caricatures and surface-level information. With those educational hopes, Marrietta intends to be a part of eliciting that change in informing the public.  

“Middle school, high school or even college kids — it fits anywhere,” Marrietta said. “This education is important for people to know about because you can’t really learn about American history without Indigenous history.” 

Regarding his Akimel O’odham heritage, Marietta said many members of the community — even those who are native to Arizona — were unfamiliar with or had never heard of this particular Indigenous community. This sparked the creation of Voices of Akimel Students — a student organization Marrietta co-founded with the goal of providing much-needed knowledge to those unknowing or unfamiliar with the Akimel culture and people. He wanted to emphasize that there is a larger world beyond the more well- known, and often generalized, Navajo community.

“We educated people around the area, even communities that are non-indigenous to this area ... so they’re able to learn. They’re able to learn a little bit about who we are and what we do,” Marrietta said.

Marrietta also spent a lot of his time as a student leader for the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, one of the eight identity-based student coalitions, and an avid member of the American Indian Student Support Services.  

Through his work with these organizations, Marrietta shared the goal of helping Indigenous students “get through the finish line” in offering the support to “connect students with their identity, their wellbeing, and how they can get involved in the ASU community.” 

Marrietta’s other source of inspiration is his 12-year-old son. 

“(He’s) one of the important reasons why I did end up going to school,” Marrietta said. “Being a single father at a young age was really something. You kind of have this entirely different worldview of not just going to school but growing up.” 

Marrietta had just turned 18 when his son was born, but he credits his experience as a young parent for not only giving him the strength and will to move forward but also serving as an anchoring presence to fuel his dream to teach the people. 

“I’m very fortunate to have this privilege to be in school and also be teaching (my son) things along the way,” Marrietta said. “There’s just something about watching another person grow up along with you — that really just helps you continue on … It’s really about being there (and) educating not just the general public, but him too.”

Read on to learn more about Marrietta's journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I chose the field of study to empower the community. This realization came from learning from my previous degrees in American Indian Studies. The core values of preserving our ancestral lands, cultures and traditions are connected to public service and its cores of leadership. Lastly, the deep sense of community and ties to land also have given me the knowledge over traditional public administrative practices where Indigenous people aren’t represented.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: How we are deeply impacted by learning about the history of colonization, the resilience of Indigenous peoples, and the ongoing struggles for justice and sovereignty. These experiences amplify my perspective and my responsibility to highlight the importance of education, advocacy and cultural revitalization in addressing the challenges faced by Indigenous communities.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because all four campuses are in my traditional homelands. To walk in the footsteps of my ancestors from then to now, with all the accomplishments and dedication, is an honor. Also, (because) of ASU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, its programs that support Indigenous education and research, and its location in areas with significant Indigenous populations. ASU's partnerships with local tribes and its Indigenous-focused initiatives made it an attractive choice for me. Lastly, I wanted to stay close to my son and family.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The most impactful professors for me are those who have prioritized Indigenous perspectives in their teaching, respect and validate Indigenous knowledge, and support students' cultural identities and aspirations. Such professors have helped me connect my academic learning with my Indigenous heritage and community. Lastly, to critically think with an Indigenous lens. All professors I have learned from have impacted me in some way or another. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Stay connected to your cultural roots, seek out mentors from your community, and use your education to address issues affecting Indigenous peoples local and far. I also want to emphasize the importance of self-care and mental health support, as the academic journey can be challenging, you come with knowledge already, it’s about fitting that into academia in any way possible.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: The American Indian Student Support Services on all four campuses. It feels like I have never left this place since 2013 and for a reason: community and family. There is no other place like it. I am going to miss it. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Continuing my commitment to giving back to my community, advocating for Indigenous rights, pursuing careers that allow me to contribute to the well-being and sustainability of Indigenous peoples and their lands. Also, take care of my son, and might go back to pursue a doctoral program somewhere. Knowledge is forever.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: With $40 million, I’d tackle issues like land and resource rights for Indigenous communities, environmental conservation, revitalization of Indigenous languages and cultures, or addressing disparities in healthcare and education for Indigenous populations. All of these would depend on their community's needs and priorities. But also, Land Back.

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