News

The Path to Public Service at SEAS

News

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum

News

Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President

News

Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study

News

Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum

HNAP: Linking Two Worlds

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

It is rare to meet a first-year student who is not eager to leave home, to trade in familiar places and people for the newer, more enticing world Harvard offers.

It is just as rare to encounter one of the University's 120 Native American students, most of whom say they come seeking the best way to bring Harvard back home with them.

The Native American community at Harvard is comprised of students from all nine faculties, including 43 at the College. This group revolves around the Harvard Native American Program (HNAP), whose tremendous growth over the last two decades parallels what many refer to as "a revitalization in Indian Country."

Students say they walk through Harvard's gates first and foremost as representatives of their families and communities, instead of focusing only on the opportunities for personal advancement presented by the University. Commitment to those who await them marks their words.

"Every time I go home I'm reminded I can't get too far away," says Kristen Carpenter, a second-year Law School student whose father is half Cherokee.

Fourth-year Medical School student Patrick W. Linson's quietly determined voice doesn't betray the obstacles he has faced.

From New Mexico, with Taos Pueblo and Navajo roots, Linson matter-of-factly describes the poverty of his youth and the inferior health care Native Americans often receive. Both influenced his decision to attend medical school. Now that he's almost through, he says he is trying to decide how best to use his training here to serve his community.

He speaks with faith in his community, despite frequent reproaches that it has been unable to adapt to the modern era. Critics can wield frightening numbers to back the argument--only 52 percent of Native Americans finish high school and 4 percent graduate from four-year colleges, according to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Statistically speaking, Linson's presence is the exception to the rule.

Despite these discouraging statistics, Annabel Bradford '98 is also optimistic. Like Linson, Bradford says her goals of service are paired with uncertainty about the best way to use a Harvard education to achieve them.

When it comes to Native American issues, she says, "There are a lot of good fights to be fought."

Among the University's Native American students, the consensus holds that Harvard represents one way--and students emphasize that it is only one of many possible ways--to prepare for future fights. According to HNAP Program Coordinator Eileen Egan, "The people who are coming to Harvard are thinking globally."

As they speak of developing their talents to help other Native Americans, however, these students all mention the diversity of the larger community. With members hailing from some 50 tribes across the U.S. and Canada, from rural areas, cities and reservations, from large and small families and from public and private high schools, it becomes clear that no monolithic Native American community exists. Carpenter says this makes the definition of community "nebulous."

And the number of ways to link a Harvard education to social responsibility for such a broad group expands accordingly.

Alex Wilson, a second-year doctoral student from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, says Native American perspectives are legitimized in academic circles because of their connection with Harvard.

"Some of the people here have really been able to enter academia in a way that a lot of so-called marginalized people haven't," she says. "The thing I like about Harvard is that anything is possible if you can find the right people to help you."

"Harvard is Harvard," Carpenter says. "It carries the most weight in employment. The name is recognized, even in the Indian world."

For Navajo doctoral candidate Manley A. Begay Jr., Harvard helps the Native American world build economic and political self-sufficiency.

Begay directs two Kennedy School-based projects which actively export Harvard to various tribes. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and the National Executive Education Program for Native American Leadership analyze reservations' economic programs and train current tribal leaders to approach policy and institutional reforms, he says.

"Part of a Real Historical Moment"

Indeed, some Native American students say they sense an irony in their choice to attend Harvard. After all, the school's traditional and elite reputation keeps many Native Americans from applying, says Rosa J. Soler, Medical School associate director of recruitment and multicultural affairs.

But the Harvard Native American Program serves to lower some of these barriers, linking Native American students to each other and providing resources and guidance.

"Community-building is a huge part of my job," Egan says.

As program coordinator, she helps keep the community healthy and growing by organizing recruiting drives, connecting students with Native American mentors in their fields of interest and maintaining contact with the University's 600 Native American alumni. She also helps plan monthly HNAP potlucks and Native American-related films and speakers.

Egan says such retention work is key for a population plagued by the "dismal" story told by low graduation rates.

But Begay argues that these rates fail to reflect that far higher numbers of Native Americans actually enter higher education--and then drop out. He says this is because many Native Americans are only beginning to feel comfortable in an alien educational system.

"Until recently we have been denied the opportunity to excel in an environment that promotes Native ways of seeing the world," he says.

HNAP Director Lorie M. Graham says the Program's academic component, which sponsors research and courses, responds to this need for schools to offer a curriculum more relevant to Native Americans.

Recently, HNAP has introduced two new projects. A faculty advisory board on Native American issues was created last year, and a course cross-listed at FAS, GSE and the Kennedy School titled "Native Americans in the Twenty-First Century: Nation Building is currently being taught for the first time.

Graham and Begay are among the class' many lecturers, while Carpenter and Wilson are two of its teaching fellows.

Indeed, Harvard's Native American community has made significant strides over the last few years. And change is occurring rapidly.

"The atmosphere has done a 360 since '93," says Amanda S. Proctor '97-'98. She adds that HNAP will hold its third annual powwow this spring and that the momentum for planning this event grows tremendously each year.

Proctor is not alone in her enthusiasm for recent changes.

"I feel like I'm part of a real historical moment," Egan says.

Egan and Noelani Crawford, who works with the collections in the Peabody Museum's Native Hall, attribute much of the credit for this momentum to Graham's vision and energy.

"Lorie is really active," says Crawford, who possesses Hawaiian, Potawatomi and Kaw ancestry. "She is trying to create more reasons for Natives to start coming here."

Graham is not the first to make such efforts.

The entire program stemmed from the Native American self-determination movement of the 1960s and '70s. The movement culminated in the 1975 Self-Determination Act, which Begay says allocated more funding for Native American students and made it the reservations' mandate for every youth to go to college.

The self-determination effort touched Harvard in 1970, when a first-year doctoral student at the GSE began the American Indian Program there. Eleven master's candidates registered that first year. Ten graduated with M.A.s, and one received a specialist's degree.

Pressed by rising enrollment, the program remade itself in 1990 as the broader HNAP, which welcomed Native American students from any part of the University. Students say the organization is now well-established, both as a Harvard institution and part of their own social circle.

"It's a space," Carpenter says. "There are things that are meaningful to us there."

From Background to Foreground

But students say Harvard still has a lot of catching up to do.

Other private schools, like Dartmouth and Stanford, and state universities in Arizona, California and New Mexico, have much larger Native American populations and recruit Native American students more actively, according to Soler.

Likewise, Linson says that the Medical School's Native American community has in fact shrunk over his four years there, with only one student in the current first-year class.

The financial burden still overwhelms most Native Americans' desire to attend a school like Harvard, especially for graduate study, according to Wilson.

And prevailing attitudes at Harvard and other schools can still be unfriendly and downright discriminatory towards Native Americans. Students express less confidence in their capacity to change popular perceptions of Native Americans than in their ability to improve conditions for their own relatives and communities.

Many students say romanticization of Native Americans and assumptions of their poverty and ignorance need to disappear before Americans in general can understand Native American issues.

"What you learn in the American school system is out of date," Egan says. "Native peoples are rebuilding nations, and I don't know if people know that."

"It's the nature of popular culture to continuously view Natives in the past tense," Begay says, adding that with such misconceptions, even well-meaning people need "a certain amount of education before receptiveness becomes a reality."

So the Native Americans at Harvard seek the University's support. They say they don't look for individual endorsement, but rather for acknowledgment of their people's place in both the fore-ground and background of the United States.

"The main thing I would want," Wilson says, "is for the University to recognize that we are here, that we are always going to be here, and that Harvard is built on a land that we come from. Just that recognition would change a lot of things."

Connected both to the Native American and the Harvard communities, students say they will continue to push for recognition from educators, legislators and the general public.

"My generation is the first generation which has had the opportunity for a full higher education," Begay says. "Things are changing tremendously now."

Harvard's students hope to continue changing things. After all, there is work to be done in Indian Country, and no one told this generation that it would be easy.Photo Courtesy of HNAPRight: A freshly-minted Harvard graduate poses with his family.

From New Mexico, with Taos Pueblo and Navajo roots, Linson matter-of-factly describes the poverty of his youth and the inferior health care Native Americans often receive. Both influenced his decision to attend medical school. Now that he's almost through, he says he is trying to decide how best to use his training here to serve his community.

He speaks with faith in his community, despite frequent reproaches that it has been unable to adapt to the modern era. Critics can wield frightening numbers to back the argument--only 52 percent of Native Americans finish high school and 4 percent graduate from four-year colleges, according to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Statistically speaking, Linson's presence is the exception to the rule.

Despite these discouraging statistics, Annabel Bradford '98 is also optimistic. Like Linson, Bradford says her goals of service are paired with uncertainty about the best way to use a Harvard education to achieve them.

When it comes to Native American issues, she says, "There are a lot of good fights to be fought."

Among the University's Native American students, the consensus holds that Harvard represents one way--and students emphasize that it is only one of many possible ways--to prepare for future fights. According to HNAP Program Coordinator Eileen Egan, "The people who are coming to Harvard are thinking globally."

As they speak of developing their talents to help other Native Americans, however, these students all mention the diversity of the larger community. With members hailing from some 50 tribes across the U.S. and Canada, from rural areas, cities and reservations, from large and small families and from public and private high schools, it becomes clear that no monolithic Native American community exists. Carpenter says this makes the definition of community "nebulous."

And the number of ways to link a Harvard education to social responsibility for such a broad group expands accordingly.

Alex Wilson, a second-year doctoral student from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, says Native American perspectives are legitimized in academic circles because of their connection with Harvard.

"Some of the people here have really been able to enter academia in a way that a lot of so-called marginalized people haven't," she says. "The thing I like about Harvard is that anything is possible if you can find the right people to help you."

"Harvard is Harvard," Carpenter says. "It carries the most weight in employment. The name is recognized, even in the Indian world."

For Navajo doctoral candidate Manley A. Begay Jr., Harvard helps the Native American world build economic and political self-sufficiency.

Begay directs two Kennedy School-based projects which actively export Harvard to various tribes. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and the National Executive Education Program for Native American Leadership analyze reservations' economic programs and train current tribal leaders to approach policy and institutional reforms, he says.

"Part of a Real Historical Moment"

Indeed, some Native American students say they sense an irony in their choice to attend Harvard. After all, the school's traditional and elite reputation keeps many Native Americans from applying, says Rosa J. Soler, Medical School associate director of recruitment and multicultural affairs.

But the Harvard Native American Program serves to lower some of these barriers, linking Native American students to each other and providing resources and guidance.

"Community-building is a huge part of my job," Egan says.

As program coordinator, she helps keep the community healthy and growing by organizing recruiting drives, connecting students with Native American mentors in their fields of interest and maintaining contact with the University's 600 Native American alumni. She also helps plan monthly HNAP potlucks and Native American-related films and speakers.

Egan says such retention work is key for a population plagued by the "dismal" story told by low graduation rates.

But Begay argues that these rates fail to reflect that far higher numbers of Native Americans actually enter higher education--and then drop out. He says this is because many Native Americans are only beginning to feel comfortable in an alien educational system.

"Until recently we have been denied the opportunity to excel in an environment that promotes Native ways of seeing the world," he says.

HNAP Director Lorie M. Graham says the Program's academic component, which sponsors research and courses, responds to this need for schools to offer a curriculum more relevant to Native Americans.

Recently, HNAP has introduced two new projects. A faculty advisory board on Native American issues was created last year, and a course cross-listed at FAS, GSE and the Kennedy School titled "Native Americans in the Twenty-First Century: Nation Building is currently being taught for the first time.

Graham and Begay are among the class' many lecturers, while Carpenter and Wilson are two of its teaching fellows.

Indeed, Harvard's Native American community has made significant strides over the last few years. And change is occurring rapidly.

"The atmosphere has done a 360 since '93," says Amanda S. Proctor '97-'98. She adds that HNAP will hold its third annual powwow this spring and that the momentum for planning this event grows tremendously each year.

Proctor is not alone in her enthusiasm for recent changes.

"I feel like I'm part of a real historical moment," Egan says.

Egan and Noelani Crawford, who works with the collections in the Peabody Museum's Native Hall, attribute much of the credit for this momentum to Graham's vision and energy.

"Lorie is really active," says Crawford, who possesses Hawaiian, Potawatomi and Kaw ancestry. "She is trying to create more reasons for Natives to start coming here."

Graham is not the first to make such efforts.

The entire program stemmed from the Native American self-determination movement of the 1960s and '70s. The movement culminated in the 1975 Self-Determination Act, which Begay says allocated more funding for Native American students and made it the reservations' mandate for every youth to go to college.

The self-determination effort touched Harvard in 1970, when a first-year doctoral student at the GSE began the American Indian Program there. Eleven master's candidates registered that first year. Ten graduated with M.A.s, and one received a specialist's degree.

Pressed by rising enrollment, the program remade itself in 1990 as the broader HNAP, which welcomed Native American students from any part of the University. Students say the organization is now well-established, both as a Harvard institution and part of their own social circle.

"It's a space," Carpenter says. "There are things that are meaningful to us there."

From Background to Foreground

But students say Harvard still has a lot of catching up to do.

Other private schools, like Dartmouth and Stanford, and state universities in Arizona, California and New Mexico, have much larger Native American populations and recruit Native American students more actively, according to Soler.

Likewise, Linson says that the Medical School's Native American community has in fact shrunk over his four years there, with only one student in the current first-year class.

The financial burden still overwhelms most Native Americans' desire to attend a school like Harvard, especially for graduate study, according to Wilson.

And prevailing attitudes at Harvard and other schools can still be unfriendly and downright discriminatory towards Native Americans. Students express less confidence in their capacity to change popular perceptions of Native Americans than in their ability to improve conditions for their own relatives and communities.

Many students say romanticization of Native Americans and assumptions of their poverty and ignorance need to disappear before Americans in general can understand Native American issues.

"What you learn in the American school system is out of date," Egan says. "Native peoples are rebuilding nations, and I don't know if people know that."

"It's the nature of popular culture to continuously view Natives in the past tense," Begay says, adding that with such misconceptions, even well-meaning people need "a certain amount of education before receptiveness becomes a reality."

So the Native Americans at Harvard seek the University's support. They say they don't look for individual endorsement, but rather for acknowledgment of their people's place in both the fore-ground and background of the United States.

"The main thing I would want," Wilson says, "is for the University to recognize that we are here, that we are always going to be here, and that Harvard is built on a land that we come from. Just that recognition would change a lot of things."

Connected both to the Native American and the Harvard communities, students say they will continue to push for recognition from educators, legislators and the general public.

"My generation is the first generation which has had the opportunity for a full higher education," Begay says. "Things are changing tremendously now."

Harvard's students hope to continue changing things. After all, there is work to be done in Indian Country, and no one told this generation that it would be easy.Photo Courtesy of HNAPRight: A freshly-minted Harvard graduate poses with his family.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags