Speaker says universities have role in nation-building

The director of the Arizona State University Center for Indian Education discussed tribal nation-building and the well-being of tribal members in the context of higher education at a talk on Tuesday.

Bryan Brayboy, who researches the experiences of indigenous students, staff and faculty in higher education, began his talk by showing a photo of his father with his children. Though Brayboy was not physically in the photo, he said he was present as the thread that connected the two generations.

“This is an intergenerational project,” he said of tribal nation building. “It is about engaging (universities) in the project of loving their students and the communities they come from.”

Nation-building is fundamentally about perpetuating a community on its own terms, which Brayboy said institutions of higher education have a role in. His emotion toward the project of nation building is rooted in his hope for the future and frustration with universities.

He said it is important to recognize relationships, not just between institutions and students, but also between students and the places they come from and want to serve.

“It’s about institutional commitment,” he said, “providing an avenue for young ones to grow up and lead us.”

Institutional commitment through dedicated programs, Brayboy said, should not be written off as affirmative action, an unearned advantage. It is about recognizing past and ongoing systemic intent of the U.S. government to destroy indigenous language and culture.

He cited incidents in which people he knew had dogs let loose upon them, were sent home due to traditional hairstyles deemed “too long” or “improper,” or were not allowed university-excused absences for multiple-days-long burial ceremonies.

“How dare us as an institution not make a commitment,” he said. “I understand there are financial constraints, but there is money out there.”

Brayboy said at the project’s center are the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of tribal nations, and their ability to determine their own future.

Before his lecture, Brayboy was formally welcomed by members of the Nez Perce tribe, whose land WSU was built upon.

“I’m a visitor on Nez Perce lands,” he said, and emphasizing the importance of recognizing that.