The Ask // Research and report on an issue that can be found both widespread and locally
The Work // Audio, written, and visual pieces that observe the advancement of indigenous education at the UO
Cholena C.C. Wright is a University of Oregon 2016 graduate who did not have to move very far from college to find her place. After graduating, Cholena was offered a position with the university’s Office of Admissions where she specifically focuses on Native American and Indigenous recruitment. In her own words, she explains the difficulties of being college-bound native student and how the University is creating more oppertunities for young adults with indigenous backgrounds.
Most people would consider Saturday to be a day of rest and relaxation. However, for Cholena Wright, it’s instead a day dedicated to intensive work and reflection. The young University of Oregon admissions counselor quietly sits in the campus’ Many Nations Longhouse reviewing the aspects of the week-long Native American Pre-College Academy program (NAPCA) set to occur in the coming days. The Academy, conceptualized by the university’s Office of Admissions, aims to educate college-bound native students about the resources, communities, and skills that can aid them in navigating predominantly white college campuses. Despite the stress of putting on the event, Wright stays driven by a familiar fear and uncertainty. Not too long ago, she stood in the same place as her future students.
In 2014, Wright took her first steps on Oregon’s campus as a freshman. During her first year as a political science major, she found it difficult to relate to other students. After constantly finding herself explaining her cultural background to others, Wright soon became exhausted and distanced. “That was tough,” she explains. “Not feeling like I had a lot of people on campus who really understood where I was coming from.”
The following school year, Wright began to seek out like-minded communities on campus. She quickly discovered sanctuary in the Native American Student Union (NASU), a cohort of indigenous students maintaining their sense of culture and sharing it with the people of Eugene. “It was a place where I didn’t have to translate my experiences anymore or explain myself to people. It gives you a home away from home and a family away from family,” Wright says while describing her involvement with NASU and the Longhouse community. Throughout her academic journey, Wright continued to integrate herself, becoming a co-director for NASU’s board alongside being active in the university’s Indigenous Women’s Wellness group. Despite her and her groups’ best efforts, Wright recognized a continued lack of indigenous presence on campus. After graduating in 2016 and being hired the same year by the University of Oregon Office of Admissions, Wright understood that in order to build a stronger native presence, she needed more native students at the university.
The Longhouse continues today to be a safe space for Wright as she stays hopeful that the Academy will bring many indigenous students to the campus and provide the support she wished she had as a student. “My goals are to physically get them on campus, to have them get to know each other, and for them to learn about the college process,” she shares. “I think the more native students we have on campus, the more opportunities we’ll have to come together and make the University of Oregon a place native students want to be.”
Most young adults support their family by staying home to help. However, for University of Oregon anthropologist and tribal liaison Dr. Jason Younker, in order to help his tribe of the Coquelle, he had to leave home. Dr. Younker’s longstanding career with anthropology and education has attributed to helping the University maintain its relations with the 9 federally recognized tribes of Oregon as well as reaching out the other 553 Native American tribes in the United States. With his experience and vision, Dr. Younker now helps provide educative opportunity to other native students, so they too can return with the proper skills and tools to help their own tribes and communities.