Ilisagvik representatives travel to Washington
Ilisagvik College had the honor of attending this year's American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Winter Meeting, which was held in Washington D.C. Among those who represented Iḷisagvik were its President, Pearl Brower; Executive Assistant, Florence Alred; Student Support Specialist/Residential Advisor, Simon Aina; and vocational trades student, Matthew Murray. President Brower and Executive Assistant Alred were scheduled to be at this year's meeting. Murray was selected due to his outstanding efforts in school, and Aina was nominated as the representative of the Tribal Colleges of the Northwest region making him an official part of AIHEC's student council, and Iḷisagvik's first representative on the AIHEC Student Council.
For more than 40 years, AIHEC has been the collective spirit and unifying voice of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). AIHEC serves its network of member institutions, a unique community of tribally charted institutions working to strengthen tribal nations and make a lasting difference in the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, through public policy, advocacy, research, and program initiatives to ensure strong tribal sovereignty through excellence in American Indian Higher education. AIHEC's purpose for this year's meeting was simple - to ask Congress to help improve Native workforce opportunity, ensure ongoing operations, honor treaties and tribal sovereignty and plan for equity. In addition it is always important to hear the stories of struggle and triumph from Tribal College students themselves.
The first meeting on Capitol Hill was with the Committee on Indian Affairs in which the Tribal Colleges each introduced their respective President and student representatives. An overview of the Tribal Colleges and the priorities for the 113th Congress were also presented.
The next day all students and Presidents were provided with an opportunity to meet with their own Congressional representatives to discuss ongoing efforts and support for their own Tribal College. Ilisagvik representatives had the pleasure of meeting Senator Hirono, of Hawaii, who has been a tremendous advocate of students pursuing their GEDs and subsequently higher education opportunities. In addition, Ilisagvik representatives had the chance to speak with Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young. Students Aina and Murry were excited to tell their story about how Iḷisaġvik College has helped each of them get to where they are today, and also discuss AIHEC's goals of trying to support all TCUs.
During their free time, the students took advantage of an opportunity to tour the Nation's Capitol at night. They explored the legendary Washington Monument, the most famous and visible monument in Washington, D.C. They also visited the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. "While growing up in California, Dr. King inspired me to believe in my dream to become anything I want to be," said Aina. Murray stated that his favorite monument was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: "No matter what move you made, the soldiers eyes were on you." After the tour, the students went to sleep feeling honored to have experienced the nation's rich history and in this interactive and visual way.
Upon their return to Barrow, the students were each asked to summarize each of their unique experiences in Washington D.C. Murray Stated:
"Traveling so far away from Alaska was quite the culture shock for me. It introduced me to the ins and outs of traveling coast to coast, and what life in a busy city is like. I met people from many different backgrounds, yet we are all one when it comes to striving for success. Meeting with students from other Tribal Colleges broadened my perspective on how we each can play a part in changing our communities for the better. Once there is leadership in place to show the way for the next generation, the possibilities are endless in what can be accomplished. Hearing words of wisdom from people who have a positive impact seemed to have the power to change lives in an instant. I never saw myself attending college, but now I am looking forward to earning a degree in my trade. Without Ilisagvik and the faculty here I would not be where I am today. I am very grateful for the opportunity to further my education, and broaden my worldview."
Aina offered the following:
"This trip was amazing, it really opened my eyes to the possibility of what we as tribal and non-tribal students have to offer to the world, and not only here on the North Slope. This trip prepared me for what comes next after life here at Ilisagvik, like putting a foot in the right door. In addition, the best part for me was being able to network with the different students and Presidents throughout the conference. Finally, meeting with our congressional representatives was an honor and a privilege; it was awesome for them to take time and meet with us students to hear our stories. It feels like they are truly invested in a mission to support and further Ilisagvik College, as well as Tribal Colleges and Universities as a whole, to expand their potential for future students."
President Brower stated: "Our yearly trip to Washington D.C. is important as we have the opportunity to share our successes and our struggles with our representatives at the highest level of government for the country. In addition, it is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to bring along our own Ilisagvik students—many of whom have never traveled to the east coast. Not only are we able to highlight their accomplishments, but we are able to nurture their growth as individuals. Something we at the college strive to do."