Team receives NSF grant to advance Grand Canyon geoscience education, partnerships with Native tribes

December 7, 2023

Researchers from Arizona State University, University of New Mexico and University of Arizona have been awarded almost $148,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a program titled Developing Partnerships Among Tribes, Geoscientists, and the National Park Service to Advance Informal Geoscience Learning at Grand Canyon.

The planning grant is from the Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings division (DRL) at NSF, whose mission includes promoting innovative research, development and evaluation of learning and teaching across all STEM disciplines by advancing cutting-edge knowledge and practices in both formal and informal learning settings. ASU is the lead institution on the 18-month, $147,758 grant, with the University of Arizona and University of New Mexico as collaborating institutions. Portrait of ASU Professor Steve Semken. Steve Semken, professor at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

"It is long overdue for the geoscience and other natural-science interpretation programs at Grand Canyon to make all visitors better aware of the rich and diverse Indigenous knowledges of the Grand Canyon region, of their connections to this land since time immemorial, and of regional issues of significance to tribes with a geoscience connection, such as uranium mining and water resources,” said Steve Semken, project principal investigator and professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “With this project, we intend to help foster Indigenization of interpretation at this park and many others.”

Semken will lead the collaboration with professors Laura Crossey and Karl Karlstrom from the University of New Mexico (UNM) and professors Karletta Chief and Cherie DeVore at the University of Arizona (UArizona). 

The goal of the planning grant is to build partnerships to help shape a more equitable and inclusive place-based, informal geoscience learning plan for Grand Canyon National Park, which is visited by over six million people each year. 

The Grand Canyon region is the homeland of 11 Indigenous nations, the traditionally associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, who hold sovereignty over the land and who possess rich, land-based expert knowledge of Earth processes and features there. However, that sovereignty and knowledge have historically been marginalized and largely excluded from geoscience education at the park. The ASU-UNM-UArizona team intends to foster a respectful, reciprocal and lasting partnership at the Grand Canyon among members of the traditionally associated tribes, the Grand Canyon Trust, Interpretive Park Rangers and Grand Canyon geoscientists. 

The partnership will support ongoing efforts by Grand Canyon National Park administrators to involve tribal nations more directly in stewardship and governance at the park. It will form and carry out its work through in-person meetings in the park and at culturally and scientifically important places in and around the Grand Canyon, in tribal communities, if requested, and at times virtually.

The partnership will also produce written documents, including a summary of common goals, specific recommendations to the park and detailed action plans for Indigenizing future informal geoscience education at the park, upon which tribes will have greater input and oversight.

The model will be adaptable to other parks, and the project's products will be presented to park managers, shared widely with Indigenous communities and informal educators, and distributed in scientific publications and media. The project has received letters of support from Grand Canyon National Park and from leaders from several tribes, and expressions of interest from most tribal representatives to the park.

Karlstrom and Crossey led an earlier NSF project to create the award-winning "Trail of Time" geoscience exhibition on the South Rim of Grand Canyon, on which ASU was a collaborating institution and Semken was the ASU principal investigator.

This grant is in collaboration with University of Arizona and University of New Mexico. Supporting organizations include Grand Canyon National Park, the Grand Canyon Trust, Navajo community organizations and the Hualapai Tribal Council. Representatives of 13 tribal nations have also expressed interest in the project.

This press release was written by Dani Rae Wasche at the University of New Mexico with contributions from Kim Baptista at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Media Relations and Marketing Manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


NIH awards $9M for Indigenous-led tribal data repository to improve community health

ASU Assistant Professor Krystal Tsosie, Native BioData Consortium co-founder, to lead ethical, data-sharing and implementation issues of project

December 6, 2023

In an effort to improve the health of tribal communities and Indigenous people, the National Institutes of Health has awarded $9 million in funding for Native scientists at Arizona State University and elsewhere to create the first Indigenous-led tribal data repository.

Since the SARS-CoV-2 worldwide pandemic began, global Indigenous communities have been particularly hard hit, with health disparities including lack of access to health care and undue burden of infections leading to increased hospitalizations and higher death rates. Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Krystal Tsosie. ASU School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Krystal Tsosie (a member of the Diné/Navajo Nation) will lead a $1.2 million sub-award of the tribal data repository project to research and design the ethical approaches to data sharing, analysis and implementation. ASU photo Download Full Image

In response, Indigenous researchers and scientists have been working to secure and fund efforts to better understand the impact of COVID-19 and provide data to allow for informed decisions and policy development in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and potential future pandemics.

The new RADx Tribal Data Repository: Data for Indigenous Implementations, Interventions and Innvovations (RADx TDR D4I) involves six collaborative research awards, including prime awardee Stanford University, along with Arizona State University, the Native BioData Consortium, Ohio State University, University of California-Santa Cruz, University of Washington, Seattle and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One of the six awards is to ASU School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Krystal Tsosie (a member of the Diné/Navajo Nation), who will lead a $1.2 million sub-award of the tribal data repository project to research and design the ethical approaches to data sharing, analysis and implementation. In particular, Tsosie focuses on bioethical engagement of Indigenous communities in genomics and data science to build trust. As a whole, her interest is in integrating genomic and data approaches to assess Indigenous variation contributing to health inequities.

As an advocate for Indigenous genomic data sovereignty, she also co-founded the first U.S. Indigenous-led biobank, a 501c3 nonprofit research institution called the Native BioData Consortium, or NativeBio.

“We started NativeBio with a very simple premise: that research on Indigenous peoples’ samples should be led by Indigenous community members and Indigenous scientists,” Tsosie said. “‘For us, by us’ has been our motto to drive researcher questions and to better understand the data. Sometimes outsiders fail to understand factors that contribute to disparaties and health inequities outside the research samples.”

The Native BioData Consortium will be the overall project leader, working with five scholars at premier research universities and at 10 health sites using American Indian and Alaskan Native public health data to help design ethical approaches to data sharing, data analysis, implementation, policy and legal frameworks. The goal is to more immediately serve tribal populations following the disproportional impact of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities.

“The award is a landmark decision in support of Indigenous peoples," said Joseph Yracheta (Purepecha), executive director of NativeBio. “Though apparent, the true extent of COVID-19 disparities among Indigenous people is likely underestimated. This is mostly because of underreporting in the absence of a unified, Indigenous-led data resource to facilitate data collection, interagency cooperation, guide COVID-19 research and subsequent implementations.”

The project adds to an NIH effort begun three years ago to increase the overall understanding of COVID-19 and its effects on American Indian and Alaska Native communities across the nation, called the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (or RADx-UP) inititiave.

“The RADx initiative points to the need for tribal sovereign protection of Indigenous data that has been missing since the inception of federal scientific programs,“ said Matt Anderson, associate professor of medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and Eastern Band of Cherokee descent). “Scientists are accountable to Indigenous people in the use of tribal data, and NativeBio is accountable to Indian Country as being good stewards of their data. This approach models systems and understandings that more closely align with Indigenous mechanisms of community responsibility.”

Specific activities will include education and training programs on best practices for responsible data sharing and access, and constructing a secure repository to support data storage, access, monitoring and sharing of data related to COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

For Tsosie, the new NIH award marks another full circle moment in her early academic career. Tsosie is also an ASU alumna (BS in microbiology and MA in applied ethics) and began an appointment in January to make a difference as the first Indigenous geneticist-bioethicist at Arizona State University.

“I was excited to come back to ASU and serve as an advocate for Indigenous communities," Tsosie said. “I want to bring all of these skill sets related to health inequities and genetic epidemiology back to the communities that I grew up with.

“Who better to protect our data and improve research about us than Indigenous people themselves?”

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications


Shaping the future of Indigenous excellence

Adrian Lerma shares about her role as senior director of development for tribal nations at ASU Foundation

November 28, 2023

When Adrian Lerma’s grandmother passed away in 2011, she reflected on her life and legacy as she grieved. Lerma, senior director of development for tribal nations at the ASU Foundation, was suddenly struck with a sense of responsibility. Who would guide and shape her to become the leader her community needed?

Lerma, born and raised in the Navajo Nation, knew she wanted to positively influence and impact Indigenous women the way her grandmother had. An undergraduate at Northern Arizona University studying women and gender studies, she applied for an internship with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals in renewable energy solutions. Portrait of Adrian Lerma, senior director of development for Tribal Nations at the ASU Foundation Adrian Lerma, senior director of development for tribal nations at the ASU Foundation. Photo by Joel Farias Godinez/ASU Enterprise Partners Download Full Image

She interviewed for the role with Beth Osnes, a theater and environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado. During the interview, Lerma and Osnes formed an instant connection and began brainstorming projects and solutions that would serve the Navajo Nation. Lerma got the internship, and together with Osnes, co-founded the Navajo Women's Energy Project in 2012, incorporating interactive aspects of theater, improv and poetry to envision a clean energy future. The project brought together women of all backgrounds from ages 5 to 90.

Lerma's path and passion led her to work with Eagle Energy, which provides small-scale solar technology to off-grid communities in the Navajo Nation.

Later, she co-founded the Native American Business Incubator Network, which focuses on diversifying local economies and reducing dependence on resource extraction.

In 2019, she took on a role with Diné College and continued her community development and empowerment journey.

Throughout her career, she has combined her deep roots within her community with a passion for education, environmental sustainability and economic development.

ASU News spoke with Lerma during Native American Heritage Month to learn more about her commitment to shaping the future of Indigenous excellence.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: You said your initial goal when you began college was empowering Indigenous women. What sparked that goal?

Answer: I am Diné, born and raised on the Navajo Nation in the small community of Tuba City, Arizona. My clans are Naakai Dine’é — Naash't'éezhí Tábaahá  Tł'izhíłání  Táchiinii. This identity is my guide in everything I do. The tribe I’m from is matrilineal, meaning that women carry the bloodline. This uniquely positions women as pillars of their clan, their home and their community. When I was an undergrad, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I understood that I had a responsibility as a young lady to do something meaningful. 

A professor of mine, Tom Holm, once said, “Every breath you take is a political statement!” He expressed that the system is not set up for Native American people to thrive, so we have a responsibility to use our breath and the life we’ve been given to change the system so it benefits us. I remember feeling the enormity of the responsibility he was setting on our shoulders to think, strategize and act intentionally. But his words inspired me. So I set a simple goal: Do work that was going to empower Indigenous women. And that is what led me to do the work I’ve done over the past 11 years. And it’s expanded beyond just women to include all Indigenous people from all nations. 

Q: What brought you to the ASU Foundation?

A: This role at the ASU Foundation is new. Nobody has ever been seated in this position before. I was attracted to it because it was an opportunity to advocate for and bring much-needed support to Native American-serving and Native American-led initiatives. 

Arizona State University has a long history of collaborations with Native American people. For example, the Center of Indian Education is celebrating their 65th anniversary in 2024. The Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has been generating scholarship in the area of Indian law and has undertaken public service to tribal governments since 1988. They are celebrating their 35th anniversary this month.

There are other initiatives that I am aware of that are making a great impact in Native communities, such as American Indian Policy Institute’s Indigenous Leadership Academy and the Labriola National American Indian Data Center. These are just a handful of incredible programs that ASU has committed to. I made the choice to join the ASU Foundation because I want to see these programs flourish. I believe in their collective mission to strengthen Indigenous communities through higher education and research.

Q: What have you been up to in this role?

A: When I joined, I was tasked with four goals:

  1. Develop a comprehensive strategy to increase engagement with tribal communities nationwide.
  2. Build a case for support to identify funding priorities.
  3. Identify and engage with tribes that have a history of philanthropic giving.
  4. Build out a portfolio.

I began by evaluating the value systems of tribes. If you're looking at wealth through an Indigenous lens, the value system is distinct. It comes down to the health of the people, the family, the community and the nation. The gauge of wealth is not how much you can acquire, but how much you can distribute back to your people. By linking philanthropy back to the cultural ideology of generosity and resource distribution, it can then be discussed not only as a privilege but also as a responsibility.

Being cognizant that Indigenous value systems are historic and sacred in nature while acknowledging that philanthropy is not anything new to tribal nations is the approach I am encouraging at the foundation. Over the summer and into the autumn season, I’ve engaged in hundreds of conversations about this with my colleagues. And I’ve worked with various teams to craft messaging for Native American Heritage Month that will help guide internal and external communication about how tribal nations are contributing to the strength of ASU. 

To meet the goals that have been set out for me, I plan to expand the visibility of Indigenous excellence at ASU; increase program stability by securing multiyear programmatic and operational funding for Native American serving programs and initiatives; and build out a support network that will strengthen relationships and expand partnerships with Native American tribes, leaders and enterprises. It’s a big task, but it’s a task that I’m excited to take on. I am assured knowing that I am not alone because I have the support of the foundation behind me, as well as the backing of the Native American staff and faculty on the university side who’ve been amazing to work with over the past few months. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: If anything I said resonates with the readers of this interview, I’d like to encourage them to reach out to me. I am here at the Tempe main campus. I am motivated to make a meaningful impact here at Arizona State University and I am committed to bringing in philanthropic support for the Native community here at the university. There are many ways to give, to donate, to collaborate, to partner. So let’s talk over coffee about how we can fund the important work being done at ASU!

Nicole Rossi

Student writer and editor, ASU Enterprise Partners

Native vet to focus on tribal health with global health master’s degree

November 21, 2023

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

Charles Yellow Horse served in the United States Air Force for eight years and then turned to ASU Online for his higher education. Yellow Horse obtained his Bachelor of Science in 2021, and this semester he is graduating with a Master of Science in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.  Man in a U.S. Air Force uniform seated next to a young child. Charles Yellow Horse with his son Nathan. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

“The decision to study global health with a focus on tribal health was a culmination of life experiences that go back to my upbringing on the Navajo Reservation to my time in the United States Air Force and now as a graduate student,” Yellow Horse said. 

“Each time in my life, health was significantly present. I experienced traditional and spiritual remedies for a number of ailments on the Navajo Reservation; in the Air Force, consistent physical readiness was a priority in order to meet the demanding work environment; and as a student, my overall health was important, as well as the health of my family.”

Yellow Horse is the recipient of the Fall 2023 University Outstanding Graduate Award for Social Sciences. He was also awarded the Northwest Native American Research Center for Health (NW NARCH) Support Fellowship for his research work with Native Health of Phoenix's Helping Hands program.

ASU News talked with Yellow Horse about his experiences as a student. 

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

Question: Why did you choose ASU for your degree?

Answer: As a non-traditional student, there were many reasons I chose to study at Arizona State University. ... As a husband and father and United States Air Force veteran, I took into account my commitments. ASU offered dedicated support for all aspects of my life, which I was overly excited to discover. The online platform made it much easier to be present to support my family, the American Indian Student Support Services supported me academically as well as culturally, and the Pat Tillman Veterans Center has been a supportive organization for my efforts as a military member through offering community building and recognition of service at events.

Q: Did you participate in any internships or labs?

A: I am currently completing my internship for my global health MS degree with Native Health's Helping Hands program. I am currently serving as a community resources navigator, aiding community members and their families to find resources that address their social needs, like employment, food, financial assistance, education and housing. This program looks to reduce the health inequity gap by providing referrals to address social determinants of health. I also conducted a program evaluation for the Helping Hands program with the goal of discovering ways to improve the program to help facilitate getting community members in contact with the resources they need.

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

A: While at ASU, I was impressed by how much support I received when I had not thought to ask or thought I needed it. The consistent support from faculty and staff really enabled me to succeed in my academic journey at ASU.

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

A: I feel as though I have learned meaningful and perspective-altering lessons in each of my courses. Although the course that I value a lot is ASB 526: Survey Topics in Global Nutrition, taught by Assistant Research Scientist Roseanne Schuster. This course allowed me to research in depth about food sovereignty, which is an especially important topic for Native Americans, including myself and Indigenous people around the world. Schuster’s teaching method of hosting initiative-taking discussions via an online platform called Perusall really allowed for me to grow my perspective and complete concrete research work on traditional food systems as a means to reducing food insecurity among Indigenous peoples.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am currently navigating many pathways going forward as I search for a position, but one goal I will pursue is giving back to the Native American, veteran and student communities that have supported me in my academic journey.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Book on birth of Bureau of Indian Affairs earns award from ASU Library

Author Valerie Lambert to deliver Labriola Center National Book Award lecture

November 14, 2023

The Labriola National American Indian Data Center at the ASU Library has announced that “Native Agency: Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs” by Valerie Lambert is the recipient of the center’s National Book Award.

The annual award recognizes scholarship in American Indian and Indigenous studies.  Portrait of Valerie Lambert Valerie Lambert, author of “Native Agency: Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs” and the recipient of the Labriola Center National Book Award. Download Full Image

The book award will be celebrated with a talk by Lambert on Monday, Nov. 20, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in room 204 on the second level of Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus. The event will also be live-streamed on Zoom. Registration is open and the event is open to the public

“‘Native Agency’ is a captivating book into the birth of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission of eradicating and assimilating Native American populations and the transitional operations for the BIA to be managed by Indigenous peoples,” said Vina Begay, assistant librarian with the Labriola Center. “It is a real-tale empowerment account towards hope and healing for Indigenous communities through an Indigenous perspective.” 

Published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2022, the book explores the complicated history of the BIA, the oldest federal agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Founded in 1824 within the U.S. Department of War, the BIA was initially used as a means to subdue and eliminate American Indians. In recent decades, a transformation started to occur as American Indians and Alaska Natives joined the agency.

Lambert herself worked at the BIA and provides an inside perspective of the impact that Indigenous peoples have working within a sprawling and confusing federal bureaucracy. In addition to outlining the agency’s history, her book shares a vision for how the BIA can support tribal sovereignty and Indigenous resistance. 

“Lambert's personal experiences as a BIA employee navigates readers into the transitional phases of an Indigenous-led management team (and) into restructuring and reversing the BIA’s past catastrophic mission towards positive changes for Tribal communities through restorative justice,” Begay said. 

Photo of Department of the Interior building with U.S. and DOI flags atop pole. Title and author in blue sky above.

Lambert is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina. She was raised in Oklahoma and is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College and a PhD from Harvard University in social anthropology. 

“Native Agency,” as well as thousands of other titles by Indigenous and Native American authors are available in the Labriola Center locations at Hayden Library on the Tempe campus and Fletcher Library on the West Valley campus. The renowned collection comprises contemporary books written by Indigenous scholars, authors, artists, poets and others.

“American Indian Studies programs talk about decolonization within Western institutions, and ‘Native Agency’ provides true accounts of what that actually looks like,” Begay said. “This book demonstrates and proclaims what that decolonial and restorative justice work looks like when colonial or Western institutions give Indigenous people those spaces to lead and make decisions for the betterment of our Indigenous communities.” 

Founded in 2008, the Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award is a national competition with book submissions from numerous academic presses. 

“‘Native Agency’ is a great addition and fits within Labriola’s mission in providing Indigenous scholarly works and voices; additionally, it is supplementary to Labriola’s own decolonial work in libraries and archives,” Begay said. 

Marilyn Murphy

Communications Specialist, ASU Library


image title

ASU's Indian Legal Program grows into nationally recognized institution

November 13, 2023

Program that trains scholars in Indian law celebrates 35 years

When William C. Canby Jr. looks back at Arizona State University’s Indian Legal Program's humble beginnings, he openly marvels at how far it has come.

“When I first came to ASU, the law school had six professors on staff and our faculty meetings were held at a small table at a hotel coffee shop on Apache Boulevard,” said Canby, a senior judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and a founding faculty member of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Indian Legal Program.

“It’s become quite an institution since then," he said. "This program has grown in so many ways. They have more resources, there’s more outreach and they are attracting great students to practice Indian law to populations around the country. I’ve been so lucky to see it come to fruition.”

Canby was the centerpiece of the Indian Legal Program’s 35th anniversary, which kicked off with his Nov. 9 presentation “Indian Law Today and Tomorrow, From a Long-Term Perspective.” His lecture was part of a three-day celebration that included a legal education session, dinner and silent auction, and a golf tournament to raise money for a variety of student scholarships and endowments.

“The ILP is proud to honor Judge Canby through this annual law school lecture,” said Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program. “Judge Canby, a founding faculty member of the law school, was the first person to teach Indian law at ASU. Through his teaching and his early partnerships with tribal governments, he laid the foundation for the strong program we have become.”

The annual lecture was started in 2007 to honor the 92-year-old Canby, who served two years as an U.S. Air Force judge, clerked for Associate Justice Charles Evans Whittaker on the U.S. Supreme Court, spent a few years in the Peace Corps in Africa, was a special assistant to Sen. Walter Mondale, and was an assistant to Harris Wofford, president of State University of New York at Old Westbury. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Canby to the Ninth Circuit Court.

“Judge Canby is a giant in Indian law as he was the second person in the United States to teach Indian Law at a university,” said Robert J. Miller, faculty director of the Rosette LLP American Indian Economic Development Program and a professor at ASU Law. “He has visited tribes around the state and got them to work with ASU. His book, 'American Indian Law in a Nutshell,' has been read by every law school student and judge in the field, which is going into its eighth edition. He is also the founding member of the leading Indian law program in the country, and is still going strong.”

Canby said he stumbled upon his legal niche fortuitously, and quite by accident.

“I was hired by Dean Willard H. Pedrick, who had been at ASU for a year and trying to get things set up. I was told to get here by July 1, so he could go on vacation but have someone watching the shop while he was away. He was going to make me acting associate dean for a month,” Canby said. “I wasn’t here but a week when someone from the regional office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs came to Tempe. He wanted to bring tribal judges from Arizona, Utah and Nevada here and have someone give them a day’s instruction to give them some general instruction on law. I said, ‘I’ll do it.’”

Canby and the judges met eight to nine times a year for several years. In 1971, Warren Cohen joined the faculty, and together, the duo created the informal Office of Indian Law. Under this name, they began to increase outreach and foster relationships with tribes, often funding their activities from their own pockets. The relationship grew and tribes began to seek out advice and guidance from the program.

“Judge Canby saw a need with tribes with their codes and their courts and he agreed to meet with them on these issues and worked with their communities,” said Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, Indian Legal Program faculty director and a clinical professor of law. “He saw a need for public service to tribal governance and he met it. Ever since then, the ILP has hired dedicated faculty to educate Native students and others who are interested in Indian law.”

In 1988, the Indian Legal Program was accredited by ASU President J. Russell Nelson, giving birth to the official name. The program moved to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus and has been housed in the $130 million Beus Center for Law and Society since 2016.

“This is the seventh academic year we’ve been able to work in this beautiful law school building,” said Stacy Leeds, Willard H. Pedrick Dean and Regents Professor of Law at the O’Connor College of Law. “But it’s not just the law school and the physical space that distinguishes us from our peers. We are so fortunate to have grown but also sustain what is undoubtedly the nation’s best Indian law program.”

Today the program's faculty includes 10 professors (six of whom are full-time Native American law professors), three faculty associates and seven staff members. Through their expertise, they offer a variety of degrees and law certificates, as well as hosting national conferences, workshops, lectures, presentations and community outreach programs. 

The Indian Legal Program is also the home of the Indian Legal Clinic, Tribal Court Trial Skills College, Pathway to Law Initiative, Continuing Legal Education courses, the Rosette, LLP American Indian Economic Development Program and the ILP Washington, D.C. Experience, which offers students an opportunity to take classes for a full semester in the nation’s capital.

To date, the program has graduated approximately 400 students, representing 151 tribes. Some of the more notable graduates include Benjamin Hanley, who served 13 two-year terms to the Arizona State House of Representatives; Claudeen Bates Arthur, the first Navajo woman licensed as a lawyer in the United States and first female chief justice of the Navajo Supreme Court; Diane Humetewa, a U.S. District Court judge and the first Native American woman and enrolled tribe member to serve as a federal judge.

In 2010, Derrick Beetso joined that list of distinguished graduates.

“As an alum, I always thought that some point in my career I might come back to ASU and transition back into academia,” said Beetso, director of the the program's Indian gaming and self-governance programs, and a professor of practice at ASU Law. “We have an opportunity to provide to a broad spectrum of students from very talented faculty. When I think of Judge Canby and the Indian Legal Program, it reminds me of that old saying: We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Top photo: The second day of the anniversary celebrations for the Indian Legal Program included a Nov. 10 dinner and silent auction. All proceeds went to support Indian Legal Program students with scholarships. Photo by Tabbs Mosier/ASU

Empowering Indigenous communities on economic self-development

ASU's American Indian Studies and urban planning units team up to help build culturally centered and community-driven solutions

November 9, 2023

Every Indigenous community has its unique characteristics.

Some communities embrace developing their land for enterprise or tourism to foster cultural exchange, while others adopt a more conservative stance regarding development. ASU professor and students pose for a group photo. Michelle Hale and her reservation economic development class in April 2018 on a field trip to Native American Connections. Photo courtesy Michelle Hale Download Full Image

In either case, Hale works to empower Indigenous communities with the necessary tools and knowledge to achieve their objectives and align their development with their vision.

Since joining ASU’s American Indian Studies program in 2005, Michelle Hale, who is Laguna, Chippewa, Odawa and a citizen of the Navajo Nation from Oak Springs, Arizona, has focused her teaching and research on Indigenous communities' economic and community development and governance.

For Hale, development is essential in every community, but even more so for Indigenous communities looking to enhance the quality of life, preserve and maintain their culture, improve infrastructure, expand opportunity and assert more control over their land and resources.

“Most of what I teach is in Indigenous planning and reservation economic development,” she said. “Our core course is Indian policy, which I enjoy because it is sort of an introductory class to a lot of the concepts I’ve been working on the last couple of years.”

Hale’s coursework is grounded in lived experience, traditional knowledge and perspectives of American Indian people and organizations who do the work of community development on the ground.

It connects to the unit's larger mission to educate students and the broader community about the history, experiences and issues facing Indigenous people and to create opportunities for community-based research.

Hale and David Pijawka, professor emeritus in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, have worked together over the years to create a course in tribal community planning, which has bridged the gap between historical, cultural insights and practice from the two disciplines.

“What I appreciate most is that the work is interdisciplinary across the university. It allows us to draw from the knowledge of different topics, tools and technology to brainstorm solutions to fit a common goal and to modify those approaches to be relevant to Indigenous communities,” Hale said.

In Arizona, the combined efforts of American Indian Studies and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning have helped support communities in the Navajo Nation in developing land use plans, updating older land use plans and supporting discussion and community education for economic development efforts and planning for new infrastructure projects.

“Our approach, leveraged by the strengths of the two units, ensured that the planning process aligned with Indigenous community values,” said Jonathan Davis, an instructor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning said. “These efforts support tribal self-sufficiency by building planning capacity through bottom-up approaches.”

“It’s about providing Navajo community leaders, members and support staff with the planning tools they need so they can tailor them to what is most important to them and the projects at hand,” Hale said. “These tools empower them to have greater control in terms of planning, land use and having a say in areas they don’t want to develop.”

Kim Kanuho, a member of the Navajo Nation and president of Fourth World Design Group, recently came to Hale’s tribal community planning class to speak to students about the importance of tribal planning and how they can get involved.

“As a tribal planner, our work is important because it includes Indigenizing the planning process and incorporating our tribal voices and cultural values into our tribal communities," Kanuho said. “I love working and co-creating the planning process with our tribal people who know their culture, land and communities best.

Student engagement and community-based work

Portrait of Native American woman with long dark hair wearing glasses

Michelle Hale

Hale said that in past years, teaching Indigenous planning meant breaking through the stigma of development, since the word “development” did not always sit well.

“For many Indigenous students, development is associated with extraction, capitalism or growth that is managed by those other than the Indigenous people themselves,” she said. “The early thoughts from students when the tribal community planning class was first introduced at ASU in 2015 were that Indigenous planning was something that is simply going to trick us into developing all our lands.”

But that has changed over the years. Hale said she has seen shifts in the students' mindsets. 

“There is a lot of excitement, especially from undergraduate Indigenous students, because they see how Indigenized planning tools can help to address real-world, here-and-now challenges in their home areas and place the community at the heart of the decision-making,” Hale said.

One of Hale’s upcoming research projects, in collaboration with the the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, focuses on the Navajo Nation's food stands and flea markets. It will use geographic mapping technology that captures data for various purposes, such as mapping and spatial analysis.

The project, funded by the National Science Foundation and part of a grant with the Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene, will monitor the activity at Navajo reservation flea markets in communities like Window Rock, Kayenta, Tuba City and Shiprock.

Hale and Davis will be joined by Assistant Professor Jose-Benito Rosales Chavez and a team of student researchers who will use geographic information systems to map flea market locations. They’ll also study the exchange of traditional food items and arts and crafts and talk to customers about why they visit these flea markets. 

They hope the information collected will be helpful for decision-makers with Navajo Nation Economic Development, local chapters and others who wish to support Navajo entrepreneurs and the flea markets essential to the Navajo economy and people who rely on them for income or access to food and necessities.

“Navajo students on the project know what it’s like to be at a market; they show a real interest in engaging with this work,” Hale said. “This project helps us to support and encourage students interested in community-based work and offer guidance on how to engage with people in the community respectfully and ethically.

“But this research can also help the Navajo Nation learn with tools and information to help support the market sellers or entrepreneurs and advance their community.”

Hale will also be collaborating with professors across the university on a water sustainability mixed-reality game launching in 2025 that helps address water issues in Arizona.

A co-principal investigator on the WaterSIMmersive project, Hale will work with Indigenous students to start a dialogue with tribal and rural community members all over the state to better understand and voice their water concerns.

Outside of her community-based research, Hale has long engaged with students on different grant-funded projects or helping students with their research. 

Currently, Hale is helping ASU student Elisha Charley conduct her dissertation research.

Charley, a doctoral student studying urban planning, is researching tribal community development in her hometown of Dennehotso, Arizona, in the northeastern Navajo Nation. She is researching self-help housing advocacy for tribal members living in the Navajo Nation and the Nihok’aa Diyin Dine’é (Navajo) value system.

“Housing or dwelling disparities in the Navajo Nation is an ongoing issue that requires collective efforts,” Charley said. “The housing footprint is one aspect of the complex layers of the built environment in the Navajo Nation. It is also significant data to study and maintain for future infrastructure development.

“Dr. Hale is a fellow Navajo tribal member and representation is invaluable. Her academic support has been significant in how I can intersect (American Indian studies) framework into my planning research topics.”

Stephen Perez

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU honors student dreams of giving back to his community as a pediatrician for Navajo children

November 9, 2023

Arizona State University honors student Jonah Holiday takes inspiration for his education, community service and future profession from his parents and grandmother.

A junior medical studies major, a student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, and Mr. Indigenous ASU, Holiday is following in their footsteps as he pursues his dream of serving the Navajo Nation in a medical career. ASU student Jonah Holiday at the 2023 SACNAS conference. Jonah Holiday at the 2023 SACNAS conference. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

Both his parents are ASU alums. His mother graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2017 and his father received a degree in public administration in 2002.

“They heavily encouraged me to look at ASU as the university to attend and to take my education very seriously,” said Holiday, a member of the Navajo Nation who grew up in Tuba City, Arizona.

His grandmother worked for years as a nurse specializing in diabetes education for Navajo patients, helping them manage their conditions and integrate Western medicine into the Navajo lifestyle. 

“Her stories of how she would bring hope to patients who were completely lost were always something that captivated me when I was a child,” said Holiday, who aspires to be a pediatrician caring for children on the Navajo reservation.

“Like my grandmother, I also feel that with my background on the reservation, I can bridge the gap between the Navajo culture and Western medicine,” added Holiday, a Chief Manuelito Scholar.

That commitment to education and service is the through line for Holiday’s undergraduate academic and extracurricular activities and the basis for the inspiration he passes on to others as Mr. Indigenous ASU, a yearlong role he was elected to last spring.

“I feel it’s super important to inspire others and make sure they know they can achieve many things, like getting a university degree. My job as Mr. Indigenous is to spread awareness that we, as Indigenous people, despite setbacks in the past, can still accomplish great things today,” he said.

Holiday, along with Ms. Indigenous ASU and their First Attendants, frequents community events to promote Native American leadership, cultural awareness and higher education. They’re all part of the Ms./Mr. Indigenous at ASU Committee, a student organization whose mission is to “promote the ideals of the Native American community nationwide, with dignity, grace and friendship.”

Holiday has appeared at several events, including the White Mountain Apache Tribe Fair and Rodeo in Whiteriver, Arizona, and the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona, both in September, and the Western Navajo Fair in Tuba City in October. He also has spoken with Native American schoolchildren from Shiprock, New Mexico, about opportunities at ASU and celebrated student achievements at ASU’s spring 2023 American Indian Convocation.

Holiday’s next appearance will be at the ASU West Valley campus Pow Wow and Salute to Service on Nov. 11, where he’ll participate in the festivities and help with a Navajo hamburger and frybread fundraiser.

“It’s really cool to be able to represent my community and ASU, and promote advocacy and education for Native American students. I feel really proud when people respond in a positive way,” he said.

In addition to representing ASU in the community, he has been working as a Seciwa assistant with ASU American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS) for three semesters, where he helps develop resources for students and coordinate professional development and cultural events, tutoring sessions and the American Indian Convocation.

He has extended this student engagement work to Barrett Honors College at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, where he assists with information sessions and events for Indigenous students.

“It is super key to make sure there are initiatives in place for Native American students to be able to apply to Barrett Honors College,” he said.

“The honors college allows Native students to have the opportunity to develop themselves during their undergraduate years in order to set them up for graduate school,” said Holiday, who is considering attending medical school in Arizona or Utah.

“I tell them about the support network the honors college has in place for all students, the close connections and collaborations you can get there, and about how the honors college has enabled me to have my personal voice heard and encouraged me to advocate for Native American people,” he said.

Amid his activities as an honors student, AISSS assistant and Mr. Indigenous ASU, Holiday took time out last summer to participate in the Native American Summer Research Internship, a 10-week program for university juniors and seniors interested in health science research. The paid internship program at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Holiday researched factors contributing to mortality and morbidity among pediatric burn patients in low- and middle-income countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

“I feel like this kind of study about middle- to poor-income communities could be translational and applicable to figuring out how I can implement what I learn in projects and programs in the Navajo community,” he said.

“In addition to the research, the great thing about this internship was the focus on Native American students and meeting people from other tribes who are interested in medicine and the representation of Native American physicians in all areas of health care,” he added.

In October, Holiday presented a poster about his research at the Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference in Portland, Oregon.

With all of his accomplishments and contributions to the community, Holiday sees himself more as a guide to others than a role model.

“I don’t really want for other students to be like me. I want them to see in me the possibilities of what they can accomplish. I want them to see what’s great about themselves, think about what they can do and move forward,” he said.

“I always tell them not to stress about the past or the future, but stay in the moment and focus on the opportunities that are in front of you.”

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College


image title

Annual pow wow honors Indigenous veterans, culture

November 3, 2023

ASU West Valley campus tradition celebrates 20th anniversary

Editor's note: This story is part of our Salute to Service coverage, Nov. 8–18. Learn about the schedule of events.  

Charles Yellow Horse has two dreams for his young son, Nathan.

The Arizona State University student wants him to learn about his family’s Navajo culture. And, after serving in the U.S. Air Force for six years, Yellow Horse, 33, hopes that one day, his boy will understand how meaningful that experience was for him.

ASU student  is honored at annual Veteran's Day Pow Wow

Charles Yellow Horse

Yellow Horse will have the opportunity to do both at ASU's 20th annual Veterans Day Pow Wow. The free event is part of the Native American Heritage Festival, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Nov. 11 in front of Fletcher Library on the West Valley campus. It is is open to the public.

The event falls on Veterans Day and is part of ASU’s Salute to Service, which honors the contributions of all ASU veterans. 

“When I was growing up on the reservation, there was a very honorable view of joining the military,” said Yellow Horse, who graduates with a master’s degree in global health this December.

According to the United Service Organizations, Native Americans serve in the United States’ Armed Forces at five times the national average. 

“I felt proud to serve, and the experience served me,” said Yellow Horse, who will be joined by his family at the event. “It was a way to find stability and also a way of finding out what my true calling was.” 

The pow wow will be a multi-tribal celebration that features sacred drumming, dancing and singing. Traditionally, only warriors danced in pow wows. Today, many of them incorporate warrior traditions and are used to honor Native veterans.

“It is a big part of Native American culture — honoring our warriors — honoring the people who sacrificed for this land,” said Jacob Meders, associate professor in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the event.

The day is also an opportunity for Native Americans to showcase their handmade crafts and traditional foods. 

ArtSpace West Gallery will host the newly opened Native Veterans Print Exhibition. Meders, a member of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria, organized the exhibit featuring relief printmaking created by veterans. The show is a collaboration with the Heard Museum.

Yellow Horse will be formally recognized alongside fellow veteran Eliza DelaPaz during the event.

ASU student and veteran  is honored at annual Pow Wow

Eliza DelaPaz

DelaPaz served in the U.S. Marines from 2013 to 2019. 

“I intuitively knew that I needed a solid foundation,” said DelaPaz, explaining her choice to enter the service. 

She said that the friends she had at the time she enlisted are now “either no longer with us or are in jail.”

“I was on a different trajectory,” she said. 

DelaPaz is in her third year at ASU, studying neuroscience. After graduating, she plans to develop a K-12 curriculum which emphasizes mindfulness and expand her life coaching business. 

 “I’m grateful that I'm part of an institution that does this — that makes space for us and recognizes the time we have dedicated to our country.”

Top photo: Sooya Davis, from the Hopi Nation’s Second Mesa, is scheduled to assume the role of Head Man at the ASU West Valley campus’ 20th Annual Veteran’s Day Pow Wow. Photo by Sooya Davis

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

2 ASU emeritus professors recognized as Social Work Pioneers

Brown mentored Indigenous social workers; Leighninger made mark researching profession's history

November 1, 2023

Two Arizona State University School of Social Work emeritus professors are among the newest members of the Social Work Pioneers of the National Association of Social Workers Foundation, which honored them for their significant contributions to the profession.

Eddie F. Brown and Leslie Leighninger are among 25 social workers inducted Oct. 14 by the foundation, which created the honor in 1995. Today more than 900 Pioneers have been named. About one-third of them are still living. Photos of Eddie Brown and Leslie Leighninger pasted side by side. Eddie Brown (left) and Leslie Leighninger, ASU School of Social Work emeritus professors, were named as Social Work Pioneers by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation in October 2023. Courtesy photos Download Full Image

The foundation said the Social Work Pioneers “are role models for future generations of social workers. Their contributions are reflected in every aspect of the profession, as well as in the establishment of social policies and human services programs. They have accomplished this through practice, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, advocacy, legislation and election to public office.”

Eddie F. Brown

The foundation noted that Brown is an Indigenous elder who has served in top administrative positions in federal, state and tribal governments, as well as at universities and in social work education.

Clinical Assistant Professor Christopher Sharp, director of the school’s Office of American Indian Projects, said he has known Brown for most of his life. Sharp said Brown was the office's first director, having a major role in establishing the office in 1977 and directing it before going to work for the Arizona Department of Economic Security two years later.

After retiring from ASU, Brown served as co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians National Research Center Advisory Board and on the board of directors of Tohono O'odham Nation’s gaming enterprise.

“His work has had an impact on not only the Office of American Indian Projects, but for all Indigenous and tribal peoples,” Sharp said. “When Eddie left ASU, he maintained his connection to the School of Social Work by providing a site for field practicum for students going into macro practice focused on tribal issues.”

“Beyond Eddie’s service at ASU, to have a male, Indigenous social worker as a role model in the social work profession has been important to me personally and something I've been fortunate to have throughout my lifetime,” Sharp said.

Leslie Leighninger

The foundation praised Leighninger’s “seminal work to share knowledge about the social work profession and about social welfare historical developments. Her efforts resulted in an improved understanding of historical developments for other social workers as well as historians.”

Her textbook titled “Social Work, Social Welfare and American Society,” co-written with Philip Popple, gave students “an understanding of social welfare debates in both historical and contemporary contexts,” the foundation said.

Associate Professor Judy Krysik, the school’s associate director for academic affairs, remembered Leighninger as a former director of the school, an early female scholar and a leader in the social work profession.

“Her specialties were in the unique area of the history of the social work profession, as well as social welfare policy. Her textbook with Dr. Philip Popple, ‘Social Work, Social Welfare and American Society,’ made it through 14 editions,” Krysik said. “Dr. Leighninger was also a co-founder of the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, along with her husband, Dr. Robert Leighninger.”

Krysik said the journal had its home with the Leighningers at ASU for many years, and both of them were often seen tabling at national social work conferences to promote it.

Krysik remembered that conversations with Leighninger frequently involved many historical, research and writing projects she was working on at the time.  

“Beyond all of Dr. Leighninger’s notoriety, she was a kind and professional director and colleague, and is a loving parent and grandparent,” Krysik said. “I cannot think of anyone more deserving to be named an NASW Pioneer — it is wonderful to see her receive this recognition.”

The School of Social Work is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions