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ASU's 1st Pueblo Indian doctoral cohort ready to make a difference in their communities

Corrine and Kathy Sanchez
May 07, 2015

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.

Fighting violence against women and girls in her Pueblo is a key driving force for Corrine Sanchez, one of 10 members of ASU’s inaugural Native American doctorate program.

But she doesn’t want to just be part of the conversation – Sanchez wants to set her Pueblo’s agenda on the topic.

That goal comes closer to reality after Sanchez collects her doctoral degree this month with the rest of the program’s cohort. Empowering the students to become leaders in their communities’ policymaking and effecting positive change is the goal of the ASU Pueblo Indian Doctoral Program, which will see its inaugural class graduate May 11.

"We’re all at different levels at having a seat at the table, and getting our doctorate affirms our seat at the table," said Sanchez, who will receive a doctorate from ASU’s School of Transformation after three years of hard work, research and sacrifice.

The ultimate goal, program leaders hope, is for the doctoral students to set the menu with policymakers through their research agendas so that their Pueblos are enriched and well-represented. 

"I hope these steps are opening the doorway for others who will come after us just as the trail had been blazed by those before us," said Sanchez, executive director of Tewa Women United – a Native-run organization in northern New Mexico – who had spent her career watching others make policy for her people. 

“My dissertation is a give-back to the women who helped get me here and to the next generation so they can continue in this path with power, strength, power and wisdom.”

Conducted in partnership with the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School, which is under the leadership of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, the program facilitates the training of practitioner-researcher-scholars within Pueblo communities.

The members of the cohort conducted their studies both in Arizona and New Mexico, creating a unique set of logistical challenges. Coursework was conducted through a mixture of video-conferencing, online and in-person courses focusing on issues of Pueblo governance. They included Native language, land and cultural resource protection, environment, health, art, community and economic development, families and communities, and law. Their coursework also included international indigenous-community visits, training in critical indigenous research methodology, and learning to write for publication.

The program launched in 2012 and is led by School of Transformation faculty members Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, assistant professor of Indigenous education and a senior researcher with the Leadership Institute; and Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center of Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs.

"There's been a long-standing issue of, if you don’t have the right letters after your name or if you don’t have the right degree, then you can’t lead research projects and studies even if you’re from that community,” Huaman said.

“Historically policymakers have largely been outsiders to the Pueblo community, and this is a national, statewide and local trend. This program strengthens the portfolios of our doctorate students and allows them to have the potential to literally change their communities.”

Brayboy pointed out that only one out of 7,000 Alaskan and Native Americans who reach the ninth grade will go on obtain a doctorate degree. He believes obtaining their doctorate will help the cohort members address the complex issues facing their communities.

"This accomplishment is big stuff,” Brayboy said. “Framing the graduation and successful completion of the program in those stark terms, this is no joke.”

Carnell Chosa, who successfully defended his thesis earlier this month, is focused on engagement through innovative community programs for youth.

"My research looks at what do we need to do to through programming to keep our young people engaged and find a way to look at all of our Pueblo communities and bring them together," Chosa said.

“One of the things we did was to create a newsletter, which was to bring the voices of the youth back into the communities by sharing their viewpoints to the elders. As the world changes and our Pueblo changes, our form of engagement has to evolve.”

Richard Luarkie, who is studying transformation through an economic lens, said his doctorate is focused on federal policy regarding the Federal Trust Doctrine of 1831, a guideline for how the government helps tribal nations.

Luarkie said rather than looking at what the government can provide, Native Americans should be looking at ways to change policies to help them build infrastructure so their economies can innovate and thrive.

"While these policies are supposed to be safeguards, sometimes they are not advantageous to the tribes," Luarkie said. “ … Basically we have worn the White man’s moccasins – their policies – all these years, and we’re at a point where we need to take off those moccasins and put on our own.”

Luarkie said the PhD at the end of his name isn’t going to be the answer or solution, but it will be another tool in his educational arsenal.

"The credential of the PhD is really for the outside world, not for my local community because they always remind me, ‘It’s not about you,’ ” Luarkie said. “The degree is not a solution or a way for us to create a utopia. It’s simply another tool that allows us to say our position and argument are valid and here’s why.”

The cohort capped off the program with a visit to New Zealand in early May for an academic exchange with scholars at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, and will spend a few days in three indigenous communities in order to learn more about their communities.

In addition to Sanchez, Chosa and Luarkie, the cohort included June L. Lorenzo, Anthony Dorame, Kenneth Lucero, Mark Ericson, Michele Suina, Shawn Abeita and Vince Lujan. The next cohort of Native American doctoral students will begin in the fall.

The Pueblo Indian doctorate cohort receives support from ASU’s School of Transformation in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Santa Fe Community Foundation, Chamiza Foundation, and the McCune Foundation.ASU 2015 commencement bannerASU 2015 commencement banner