Pictured, left to right: Will Mims, Nizhoni Begay, Ilyani “Lena” Big Crow- Abourezk, and Lillian Campbell encourage other Adams State Native American students to join them in supporting each other as Indigenous People.

Adams State Public Relations

A gathering of Adams State University Native American students at the Cultural Awareness and Student Achievement Center (CASA) in late October led to the formation of a club.

Spearheaded by Ilyani “Lena” Big Crow-Abourezk, an Adams State doctoral student, other participants included Nizhoni Begay, Lillian Campbell, and Will Mims. “I have worked to organize a support group for Native American students for a couple of years,” said Big Crow- Abourezk. “This year I made the right connections and it happened.”

Campbell and Begay received an inquiry email and both were eager to join. The two, along with Gabrielle Vigil, and virtually by Big Crow-Abourezk, recognized Indigenous Peoples Day on October 10, with a presentation in the Student Union Building Loft.

“Oneyda Maestas, CASA Center director, has been a great supporter of our cultures,” Campbell said. “She was excited to help organize a get-acquainted meal at the CASA Center.” Students from Indigenous Cultures across the southwest attended and connected.”

“I knew it had to be done,” Big Crow-Abourezk said. “We all need to connect as a community.”

It was good timing as November is National Native American Month, and the new club will have a few events planned for the month, Begay said. 

A presentation by Talibah Begay, mental health advocate and singer, “Being Native American,” begins at 12 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, in the Student Union banquet room. The event is free and open to the public.

The Native American student club is fundraising to attend the Gathering of the Nations in Albuquerque, N.M. this spring. “We are already planning events for next year,” Campbell said.

Campbell and Begay hope to raise awareness about their club and encourage Native American students or any student interested in the history and culture of Indigenous People to join. They plan to meet monthly via Zoom and supplement with on-campus gatherings.

Big Crow-Abourezk is a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota and currently has a private practice, teaches at three universities, and cares for her 22-year-old son. Mims, Class of 2017, is affiliated with the Cherokee Tribe, from his great grandmother’s heritage. He is currently in the MBA program. Campbell, a San Carlos Apache, is majoring in psychology. Begay is a member of the Navajo Nation and an education major.

“My goal is to finish my bachelor’s degree and return to the Rez,” Campbell said. “I want to be an example to the younger generation. On the Rez, you see things you don’t see anywhere else.”

Begay agrees with Campbell. “We were brought up with traditional background and giving back is an important aspect of how we were raised.”

Big Crow-Abourezk said all Native American cultures are rooted in giving back and supporting one another. It has been a life-long goal of Big Crow-Abourezk to bring more Indigenous counselors into the counseling field. 

“When I began the program, I was reminded of the lack of connection to ‘people like me’, meaning Indigenous people. My cohort and faculty have been supportive and wonderful, but I was still missing the Indigenous student connection. I wanted to create this group to connect myself and other students. In my research, I find that having a cultural and community connection is crucial to Indigenous student success in higher education. It resonated with me personally and professionally.”

Campbell and Begay were both attracted to Adams State because of its size and its location.

“The professors are so passionate and excited about teaching,” Begay said. “I knew from my first visit I wanted to attend Adams State and it is in a desert.”

Photo Credit: Linda Relyea/Adams State