Diversity Dialogues concludes with keynote on Native identity and opportunity

By Ajay Davis | February 3, 2021 6:37pm

Adrienne Keene was this year's keynote speaker at the final Diversity Dialogues event. Keene is a Native scholar who prioritizes college access and representation for Native communities. Image courtesy of Brown University.

Diversity Dialogues 2021 drew to a close with its final event last Friday night, which featured keynote speaker Dr. Adrienne Keene of the Cherokee Nation. Keene is currently a Native scholar, writer and activist working to increase representation of the Native community. Keene also runs a blog called Native Appropriations and works with a non-profit group called College Horizons, which assists native students in the process of applying for colleges and securing financial aid.

At Friday’s virtual presentation, Keene was introduced by two members of UP’s Native American Alliance. Seniors Sonny Ray Olguin and Devonna Begay each spoke to the influence and importance of Keene’s work, both in their own lives and in the Native community.

Below is a section of key points from Keene’s lecture.

On the opportunities college affords indigenous students

“College is a place where we can start to do some building and imagining. Especially for indigneous students, it is very important that college is seen as a source of strength. The reason for this is because historically, indigenous students were sent to government run boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their language, they were not allowed to wear their traditional clothing and they wouldn't have any markers of home. So the whole idea of college contains a lot of different challenges to overcome for indigenous students because they have to begin to see college as a sort of strength and pride. It gives them a way to use their education to give back to their communities and uplift them in a lot of different ways that go beyond how they were originally perceived.”

On the importance of collaboration for BIPOC students

“I love to see Native students, BIPOC students and all of these folks creating spaces within the pockets of their universities and beginning to build the world that they want to live in. In Cherokee, we have this word: gadugi. And this word means working together towards a common goal. To me, it is really helpful to think about higher education through this concept of gadugi. We have to realize that working together towards a common goal that will benefit the overall community is something that is going to help all of our different groups.We also need to figure out how we can feed our communities in the future and create spaces where we can have positive relationships with one another.”

On the necessity to create change both inside and outside of the university setting

“All of this is about helping Native students find meaning in their college experience and helping them find the knowledge that is going to be useful for them in creating the future and nation that they want to be a part of. The change needs to come from the top, but unfortunately it seems like it always only comes from the students. We need to come together as communities to create the spaces for students to build the futures that they imagine in order for us to let all of these students feel like they can be comfortable with who they are out in their daily lives.”

Ajay Davis is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at davisaj22@up.edu.