UCLA - University of California - Los Angeles

11/30/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/30/2023 16:59

Flashback: Video ‘time capsule’ features American Indian studies scholars

Madeline Adamo | November 30, 2023

From mentions of Myspace to b-roll footage of students using Windows 7, a 2011 snapshot of UCLA through the eyes of Native Bruins checks many nostalgia boxes. In the video below produced by the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA, Native students involved with the center shared personal stories and struggles about their academic journeys.

While the video was created long before the University of California announced the Native American Opportunity Plan - an initiative to make college more affordable and accessible for California's Native American students - the Bruins in front of the camera sent a clear message to prospective Native students that UCLA was a place for them.

Most of the scholars also expressed a desire to apply what they learned in American Indian studies at UCLA to careers serving their communities at home and beyond. And many of them have stayed in touch; some are even on campus today.

Thanks to the center's Native Bruins campaign - a monthly spotlight series featuring Indigenous students, staff, faculty and alumni - Newsroom was able to learn what some of the students in the video are currently doing.

Cheryl Ellenwood

"So many people on the reservation don't go [to college]. I never dreamed I'd be at UCLA."

Vision: To use her degree in American Indian studies to help her reservation and other tribes
Where she is now: Indigenous social scientist and professor at Washington State University

When Cheryl Ellenwood came to UCLA, she was afraid that being in a place with so many people would make her invisible. Having grown up on the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho - and having attended a high school with only 150 other students - it's no wonder that she felt that way.

But when she arrived on campus in the early 2000s, that wasn't the case. In fact, Ellenwood says in the video that finding community at UCLA wasn't hard. "I have friends that are reaching out to friends that may be here, and people are Facebooking me and Myspacing me … just helping me feel at home," she said.

Ellenwood, who is also Navajo, is now an assistant professor at Washington State University in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs. She is also an affiliate of the university's Center for Native American Research & Collaboration.

Read more about Ellenwood in Native Bruins.

Heather Torres

"Realizing that I do have an education - it gives me a responsibility."

Vision: To study American Indian law
Where she is now: Program director at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute

UCLA was Heather Torres' "dream school." In 2011, while working toward bachelor's degrees in English and American Indian studies, Torres urged prospective Native students to consider UCLA. "It just intrigued me that there was actually an American Indian studies program here, a [American Indian] student association, and ways to receive help and aid," she said.

Torres, who is a citizen of the San Ildefonso Pueblo and who also comes from the Diné and Mexican peoples, said at the time that having an education at UCLA gave her a responsibility to serve Native communities. After going on to get her law degree from UCLA, Torres has worked in the civic sphere, in higher education and as a community organizer before becoming program director at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in 2019.

Read more about Torres in Native Bruins.

Caleb Dunlap

"I never realized that I would feel so excited to get accepted. ... Maybe I just never had hope that I would get here."

Vision: To develop and drive programs benefiting Native communities
Where he is now: Global vice president of Indigenous at Amazon

Twins Caleb and Jared Dunlap, who introduce the 2011 video, were key players in the Native campus community at the time. Both brothers graduated with bachelor's degrees in American Indian Studies.

"First quarter was 'Intro to Working in Tribal Communities,' and it taught me how to remember the respect I need to have when I go in and work with elders," said Caleb Dunlap, who is Anishinaabe from Northern Minnesota and a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. "Even though I grew up in a tribal community, [the class] really refreshed that knowledge that I needed."

Since the video interview in 2011, Dunlap has worked in various roles at Amazon, where he founded and now leads Indigenous at Amazon - the company's employee global resource group for Native and Indigenous employees.

Read more about Dunlap in Native Bruins.

Elizabeth FastHorse

"If I can do it, anybody can do it."

Vision: To pursue American Indian Studies at UCLA and work in education
Where she is now: Current doctoral student at UCLA

In 2011, Elizabeth FastHorse was a third-year transfer student at UCLA working on getting a bachelor's degree in American Indian studies and minoring in theater. The returning student said at the time she had wanted to go to UCLA since she was a little girl, having been inspired by a young woman on her reservation who was a Bruin.

FastHorse is a tribal member from the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians. Since being interviewed for the video in 2011, she has stayed at UCLA to obtain two master's degrees and is currently working toward her doctorate. Her research areas are language and culture reclamation, with a special focus on the Rincon Youth Storytellers - a student and youth centered organization building skills through traditional songs, stories and language.

Read more about FastHorse in Native Bruins.