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Life Through an Indigenous Lens

by Jasmine Lopez

2024 - 2025 Miss Native American, University of Arizona

Crisp air and fresh greenery fill my senses as I examine the new world around me. The emerald greens highlight the land's ancient, yet vibrant trees. Bright white, pink and yellow flowers blossom as I hear unfamiliar birdsongs. I honor this new land and ask that it welcomes me to the space here. I feel the ground around me awaken as it transfers its pain to me. This isn’t the prickly, scorching desert that my ancestors have embraced, but this Indigenous land hugs me and connects me to the ancestors of this state. It was my first time at an East Coast university. It was the first time that I felt my Indigenous bubble completely shatter.

I was raised by Native women, surrounded by Native populations in Tucson, Arizona, and I attended a tribal community college - the lack of Native American voices was never an issue. When I scored an internship with this well-known university, I was excited and inspired by the opportunity. During my time there, I ran into a total of one other Native American student who happened to be from the same tribe as me. Together, we faced many microaggressions and the concerns we had about the university occupying Indigenous lands were disregarded. The university occupies the lands of four Indigenous tribes and is settled on Abenaki ancestral lands. After connecting with the land and feeling the energy there, I decided to address the topic with each professor and doctor that I encountered throughout my internship. Many of the educated professionals didn't understand or care about the concerns of occupying Indigenous lands without honoring the original caretakers.

Indigenizing a space is uncomfortable; it's the uncomfortableness of undoing colonialism. To create change and to honor the Indigenous way, we must empower the right people to make choices that positively affect communities. Indigenizing a space is more than decoration. You must look at life through an Indigenous lens. We don't own the land; the land owns us. We are a community of people who care for the world and the people who occupy it. Many universities around the nation continuously allow history to repeat itself by overlooking Indigenous communities. Giving an old building a tribal name isn't solidarity. It is a small start, but it's too late for small.

As a future Indigenous scholar, I want to see universities elevate Indigenous communities and create proper connections between the tribes in their area. I want to see real initiatives that bring Native American students into higher education. I want to see universities acknowledge Indigenous sciences and histories. As a future Indigenous scholar, I want the government and educational systems to care about me.

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