Skip to main content

‘Native American Voices’

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – On Nov. 14, Wake Forest University in Winston Salem N.C. celebrated National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month by hosting “Native American Voices,” a speaking engagement that featured five nationally-renowned American Indian leaders.

Among the native speakers were Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord, the first Navajo female surgeon in the U.S. and Joseph Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians. Both spoke about breaking cultural barriers to achieve success.

Alvord received her medical degree from Stanford University in 1985. She finished as chief resident at Stanford University Hospital in 1991.

Before her speech, Alvord discussed what she hoped to convey when speaking to the WFU students. “With hard work and persistence, it is possible to do whatever you want to do in life. At first, I did not do well when I was working toward a career in health. I was not prepared.”

Alvord said she had to shift focus away from pre-med at first, but later returned to a pre-med curriculum after college and excelled. “Be sure to follow your passion and dreams. To be successful, there has to be something inside you that you almost can’t help yourself from doing because you want to do it so badly,” she continued.

Garcia, also governor of the Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo) in New Mexico, discussed the introduced topic “Journey to Success.” He spoke about the difficulties he met in his life while attending a BIA school. “I had a rough time through grade school, or even learning English, I knew very little and that was a stumbling block for the rest of my education. It was a culture shock for me.”

Garcia explained that he was able to overcome these difficulties on the road to success. “I got through it all and attended Haskell Indian Nations University. I studied of all things electronics.” Garcia worked for Anselmo Laboratories, received a degree in Electrical engineering and founded MistyLake Consulting Services.

He left the discussion with a strong statement. “Do not forget who you are or where you came from. Complete what you start. Get your education and come back to help your people.”

Joyce Dugan, former principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the only woman ever elected to serve as chief also spoke to the attendees. She admitted she has a great amount of passion about helping today’s native youth.

“I had a hard life growing up, but I never saw it as a struggle. In tribal culture, you have strong family ties. Surround yourself with a support system and never overlook opportunities. Do not look at things in life as obstacles. I never struggled; I just saw it as an opportunity,” she said.

Dugan described how becoming the first elected woman chief of the eastern Cherokees was a self-created obstacle. “My first thought when they asked me to run for chief was, ‘I’m a woman, and they will never elect me.” However, Dugan explained that others believed in her, which convinced her to run. She served for four years.

Lucretia Hicks, Cherokee, is a junior and student at Wake Forest University and founder and president of the university’s Native American Student Association or NASA. Hicks, on behalf of NASA, initiated a call to action for National American Indian Heritage Month by presenting the educational symposium.

Hicks established NASA with the help of seven other American Indian students and the Office of Multicultural Affairs at WFU. She plans for NASA to host future events to help encourage and support current American Indian students and recruit additional American Indian students to WFU. She also hopes to expose non-native people to native culture and issues.

Hicks admits that coming to Wake Forest at first was a culture shock. WFU lists only 16 native students.

“There have always been native people around me. What I am hoping by creating the NASA group is that we can recruit more students that are native. This could be a barrier as to why we don’t have many native students because we don’t have a support system. Most colleges have black or Hispanic student organizations that provide a support system for people with whom you can relate,” she said.

“One of the things I would really like to accomplish by having various events throughout the year is that we can break the stereotypes that people have towards native people.”

For specific information on The NASA program at WFU e-mail Darlene Starnes at starnedd@wfu.edu. The Wake Forest University homepage is www.wfu.edu.

Speakers at the Native American Voices symposium

• Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord, the first Navajo female surgeon in the U.S.; associate dean of student and multicultural affairs, professor of surgery and psychiatry and practicing general surgeon at Dartmouth Medical School.

• Joyce Dugan, the only woman ever elected to serve as principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; director of external affairs and communications at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Hotel.

• Andrew Conseen Duff, government advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives and education in Native communities; engineer at Albuquerque Service Center.

• Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; accountant and businessman.

• Joseph Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI); governor of Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo), New Mexico; founder and electrical engineer at MistyLake Consulting Services.

Scroll to Continue

Read More