ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As one of five children of two teachers, Ann Marie Machamer, Amber to her friends and family, understands the value of education.
For her work as the director of institutional research and planning at Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif., and her community efforts, Machamer has been named a Native American 40 Under 40 by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.
“It was a huge honor, and I’m very surprised,” Machamer said. “Unlike most of the people on the list this year, I don’t work at a Native American organization, institution or for tribal government.”
Much of what Machamer, 39, was honored for is her work in the community, though she does see how tracking trends and planning for Las Positas College benefits American Indian students. “By forecasting the needs of the institution in order to better serve the community, which includes economic data, population and job growth, and looking at the student population and their needs, I see how my work affects issues of equity.”
Her community service includes membership on the California American Indian Education Oversight Committee, which advises the state’s Department of Education. There, too, though, she finds herself standing outside the norm. She’s one of only a few committee members who doesn’t work directly for an American Indian organization or tribal college. Instead, it’s her understanding of and expertise with the educational system, and evaluating and tracking performance that informs her input.
The committee also works with American Indian education centers around the state that sprang up with the relocations of American Indian peoples in the 1950s through the 1970s. “Overall, we suggest wording for policy for the education centers, and advocate for changes to credentialing requirements for language teachers. Usually, to become credentialed to teach a language, individuals need a master’s or Ph.D. But most tribal elders don’t have them and aren’t going to get them. But they have valuable skills that should be recognized. We’re working to help the agencies understand these issues.”
Machamer also volunteers her time – which is in shorter supply since she had her second child – for a group that preserves and passes on the language and songs of the area’s tribal peoples. She is part of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, which is attempting to become a federally recognized tribe.
One of Machamer’s passions is advocating for the removal of American Indian images as mascots, especially on the local high school level. During her 11 years as a student at UCLA, she worked with many individuals and organizations on the issue.
“I don’t believe that taxpayer dollars should fund something that harms Native Americans and non-Natives alike,” she said. “Sometimes I led the charge, and sometimes I’ve simply responded to requests for help from others in the effort. And we were successful in some Los Angeles school districts. I was part of the core group to get Native American mascots banned there.
“I understand schools’ language and culture; I’ve studied the motivations of school boards, the faculty, and students and student associations. My philosophy is to work within the system until I’ve exhausted all the options. Only then do I go outside. I’m good at creating partnerships and opportunities for people that they may not know about.”
One of the ways that Machamer educates schools and school districts about the need for American Indian mascot removal is to suggest alternatives that honor tribal peoples. Rather than using a mascot, she suggests increases in or creation of a curriculum that studies American Indian culture, music, songs and other positive aspects, including pow wows.
“We want them to form a connection to the culture that’s real, positive, and that doesn’t cause harm. It isn’t always successful, but my approach has been to become an insider. Often, Native American parents and students carry no credibility. But to have a Ph.D. gives credibility in navigating the system, policies and ability to research educational outcomes. This way we can often reach the board and faculty instead of through traditional methods of activism that can alienate.”
Machamer said it’s particularly satisfying to be recognized for something outside of her job. She works hard for her community, and it’s hard to do it with all the competing priorities for her time.
As for the future, she has no plans to leave Las Positas. She thinks the position, which she’s held for 10 years, has shifted dramatically because of changing federal and state educational requirements and the economy.
“California is looking toward community colleges to prepare students for jobs that will exist in the future, and to spur economic development. My job has remained challenging, and I’m always doing new things, presenting at conferences, etc.”