Harvard, Stanford, ASU … and Diné College

Aliyah Chavez

‘Largest representation of Native American members in any one year’ are elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

There are some notable “firsts” on the list of newly elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The organization is the nation’s oldest honor society, founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and other scholars.

This year’s firsts includes eight Indigenous scholars, a record number. And on that list includes the first time the president of a tribal college has been elected.

“You see the names of presidents from Harvard, Stanford, ASU and then you see Diné College on that list. It shows that tribal colleges are every bit as good as any institution of higher learning,” said Diné College President Charles “Monty” Roessel. “It makes me so proud to see our name, not mine in particular, but our college’s name.” 

Diné College is the nation’s first accredited tribal college.

"This year's rigorous nomination and election process resulted in the largest representation of Native American members in any one year," said American Academy President David W. Oxtoby. "The knowledge of Indigenous people will contribute to a better shared future when we recognize those voices and, most importantly, listen to them. Celebrating the excellence of our new members can help elevate their work and increase their impact."

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This list of the Indigenous 2020 elected members include:

  • Kevin Gover
  • Joy Harjo
  • Suzan Harjo
  • Edgar Heap of Birds
  • Aileen Moreton-Robinson
  • Charles “Monty” Roessel
  • Greg Sarris
  • Kay Walkingstick

In October, two Native journalists were inducted into the organization. Candis Callison, Tahltan, is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism and Patty Loew, Bad River, is a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

(Previous: ‘Indigenizing research institutions’: Two journalists honored by The American Academy)

The announcement of elected members will culminate in an official induction ceremony that will happen on the campus of Harvard in the fall. 

Kevin Gover
Kevin Gover, Pawnee, is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, a position he has held since 2007. Previously, Gover served as the assistant aecretary of Indian affairs in the Department of Interior during the Clinton administration. Gover is also an attorney who specializes in federal Indian law. He has practiced law at various firms and was a faculty member at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Joy Harjo
In 2019, Joy Harjo, Muscogee (Creek), served as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. She is an author who has written nine books of poetry, plays, children’s books and a memoir. Most recently, Harjo wrote “An American Sunrise,” a book of poetry about Harjo’s tribal history and connection to the land. Harjo is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a founding member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Suzan Harjo
Suzan Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is a policy advocate, activist and lecturer who founded the Morning Star Institute in 1984, which aims to bring awareness to sacred land claims and the protection of cultural rights. She has previously served as the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. In 2014, Harjo received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack Obama.

Edgar Heap of Birds
Edgar Heap of Birds, Cheyenne and Arapaho, is a multimedia artist with works such as drawings, painting and sculptures. Many of his pieces use short phrases or words in them. Heap of Birds has had his work exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of American Art and The National Gallery of Canada. He is a retired teacher after 30 years of teaching at various institutions including the University of Oklahoma, Yale University and the University of Cape Town. 

Aileen Moreton-Robinson
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Koenpul, Quandamooka First Nation, is Australia's first Indigenous distinguished professor and dean of Indigenous research at the Queensland University of Technology. She is also the director of the Australian Research Council’s National Indigenous Research and Knowledge Network. Previously, Moreton-Robson has worked in public administration and served as a board member on many Indigenous community organizations.

Charles “Monty” Roessel
Charles “Monty” Roessel, Diné, serves as president of Diné College, the nation’s first accredited tribal college. Roessel is the 18th president of Diné College and has held this position since 2017. He is also a former Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Previously Roessel has been a Diné business owner, community organizer, photographer and journalist.

Greg Sarris
Greg Sarris, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is an author, professor, and chairman. He is currently serving his thirteenth term as chairman of his tribe. Sarris has authored books such as Keeping Slug Woman howAlive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts, which is a collection of essays. Previously, Sarris has taught literature at Stanford University and as a full professor of English at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Kay Walkingstick
Kay Walkingstick, Cherokee, is a visual artist who specializes in landscape painting. Her work has been shown in the Denver Art Museum, Heard Museum and Hunter Art Museum. Most recently, the National Museum of the American Indian held a retrospective exhibition of Walkingstick, called Kay Walkingstick: An American Artist. Walkingstick currently has an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian-New York through fall 2021.

Other notable Academy members include Benjamin Franklin, John Legend and Michelle Obama. This year’s class also includes musician Joan Baez, Bioethicist R. Alta Charo and Poet Claudia Rankine.

Other Academy members from Indian country include Oglala journalist Tim Giago, Turtle Mountain author Louise Eldridge, Cheyenne-Arapaho educator Henrietta Mann, and Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today.

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com

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