Octaviana TrujilloOctaviana Trujillo is a leader in educational program development for Native American populations. After serving as director of the American Indian Graduate Center at Arizona State University, she was recruited three years ago to chair the new department of Applied Indigenous Studies at Northern Arizona University (NAU), where more than 10 percent of the university’s 12,000 students are Native American.
Says Octaviana, ”Through consultations with tribal leaders in Arizona, we designed an inter-disciplinary degree that addresses the importance of producing graduates who can return to their communities, reservation-based or urban, to help with nation building and provide leadership to insure true self-determination.”
The inclusion of traditional knowledge, often relayed through elders who teach alongside faculty members, is one of the program’s unique elements. Another is a required, year-long capstone course for seniors, taught by Octaviana, that examines contemporary issues in tribal nations and features an array of guest speakers who describe their effective strategies in resolving pressing issues. Another graduation requirement is a student internship. Octaviana’s role is to cultivate mentors across the country, in national organizations, senators’ offices, science labs, and more, who can provide students with meaningful, on-the-ground experience in their chosen areas of emphasis.
Octaviana knows from personal experience the immense challenges facing aspiring Native American leaders and is intent on fortifying her students with sound thinking and astute nation-building strategies. As former chair of the Pascua Yaqui tribe of Arizona, she was compelled to advance policy issues at the state and federal level. ”I had to become a professional in many areas, health service, environmental issues, economic developmentÄ¶,” she says. ”I negotiated the first gaming contract in Arizona with a governor who didn’t want to come to the table.”
She continues, ”As a tribe, the Pascua Yaqui have no natural resources, but we have human capital. We need to development our human resources for our own destiny.” By raising money through grants and supplemental federal funding, Octaviana was able to create a Department of Education within her tribal government to establish programs for teaching native language, community literacy, improving connections between public schools and the tribal villages, and much more.
Octaviana is determined to prepare her students to face their leadership challenges. She stresses, ”The graduates really have to be trained in nation building, not just academic training, because our issues need to be addressed yesterday.”
She escorts groups of students to the state capitol to observe how other tribal leaders interact with the governor and state legislators. She has invited media professionals into the classroom to help students develop ”sound bites” in order to deliver their message and advance their agenda in a small amount of time.
At the same time, Octaviana points out, ”The values tied to [Native American] leadership are very different from mainstream leadership. We need to be very humble. In our community of work there needs to be a lot patience, it’s a different type of leadership altogether.” [9-05]