2020 Native American Studies Convocation Recognition Meet our graduates

Although we cannot celebrate our graduating students in our traditional NAS Convocation, we would like recognize our amazing students and highlight their accomplishments. Congratulations to our NAS Graduates!

Celebrating 50 years at the University of New Mexico

M.A. in Native American Studies

Focus in Indigenous Leadership, Self-Determination, and Sustainable Community Building

The M.A. in NAS degree program began with our first cohort in Fall 2018. We’re excited to celebrate the degree completion of our first cohort!

Albert A. Abeita, Sr.

Pueblo of Isleta from Isleta, New Mexico

Albert A. Abeita, Sr. graduated in December 2019 with his (M.A.) Master of Arts degree in Native American Studies as the first graduate to complete his M.A. in NAS from the University of New Mexico.

Through his Project of Excellence, titled, “Restoration of Identity, Resource Center,” Albert created a non-profit program that will address assistance to victims of violence within Indigenous Nations.

I learned that in this day and age, Indigenous Nations continue to have difficulty with Eurocentric governments who continue to put these Nations on the back burner. The lack of assistance from the government outlines the importance of these Nations and it’s up to future students who must step up to address issues that will benefit the people.

He’s pictured here giving his final presentation in the NATV 590, Project of Excellence.

There is a metaphor that says, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Being the oldest in my cohort class and graduating with a Masters degree at 56 years old, I am that old dog that has learned not only new tricks but more education within the field of Native American Studies. Don’t ever allow age to become an obstacle or barrier in reaching your goals.
The fondest memory I have is being a team player with my fellow cohorts and taking this journey together. The amount of knowledge each one shared allowed me to open my eyes to many epistemologies and ideologies associated with Native studies.

~ Albert A. Abeita, Sr., M.A., Native American Studies

Leiloni Begaye

Diné from Greasewood Springs, AZ

Leiloni Begaye completed her M.A. in Native American Studies this May 2020. After graduation she plans to continue advocating for food resiliency, being a care taker of the land, and as an Indigenous woman in Agriculture. One of her future goals is to apply to a Ph.D. Program within Rangeland Ecology and support her community on the Nation Nation.

My fondest NAS memory was starting a new journey with the first cohort in the M.A. NAS program. These young, inspiring, and empowering cohort are now my friends, relatives, and family.

Leiloni’s Project of Excellence focused on Indigenous women in agriculture through the lens of Diné philosophy, epistemology, and cosmology. As a land steward, she utilized traditional Diné practices and Indigenous ecological knowledge to reclaim food resiliency. Leiloni co-piloted a Food Sustainability Launch Project with her community of Lower Greasewood Springs and continues to give back to her community.

An NAS student that I’ve come to admire has a passion and love for ornithology and is now my STEM sister. Over the last two semesters we’ve taken science courses together and I’m inspired of her continued journey in wildlife conservation.
A gratitude to the Department of Native American Studies for being wonderful mentors, advocates and wise words of encouragement along this journey in the M.A. NAS program.

~ Leiloni Begaye, M.A., Native American Studies

Micha Bitsinnie

Diné from Monument Valley, UT/AZ

Micha Bitsinnie is a part of the first M.A. cohort in Native American Studies. Her Project of Excellence focused on implementing Land-Based Pedagogy at the Native American Community Academy (NACA). She focused on interviewing the current land-based team on their insights regarding the ways of which NACA can build a strong land-based program in its schools.

After graduation, I plan on focusing on improving educational policies for our Native American children and families.

Micha learned as a NAS student that we have a lot of work to do in our Indigenous communities and that our Native scholarship is needed.

My fondest memory is when NAS staff intentionally invited our families into their spaces, so that our kids, partners, family knew where we were on those late nights in class and times spent studying.
Thank you so much for your support, love, and hard work!

~ Micha Bitsinnie, M.A., Native American Studies

Janiece Garcia

Santa Ana Pueblo / San Felipe Pueblo / Navajo Nation from Albuquerque, NM

Janiece Garcia completed her M.A. in Native American Studies and is a part of the first cohort of graduate students in this program. Her Project of Excellence was a case study of the Santa Ana Pueblo Healing to Wellness Court that was implemented in October 2019. Prior to this program, the Pueblo of Santa Ana Tribal Court dealt with drug and alcohol cases with very limited resources geared towards diversion and sobriety. Through participatory research, she was focused on providing an evaluation of the program’s first year of implementation and how collaboration promotes positive well-being, sustainability, and deterrence from drug and alcohol abuse.

My fondest NAS memory was meeting and connecting with my classmates, who are now lifelong friends and colleagues.

Once Janiece graduates, she plans to continue her education and pursue law school.

The passion to lead and do more for our people is within all of us. Who we are as Native people is beautiful and empowering. It comes with great courage and resilience to do what we do in various capacities that makes NAS such a powerful community of scholars, leaders, and warriors.
I want to thank everyone who I have managed to cross paths with so far through the UNM NAS department. I thank all my professors for their knowledge, wisdom, and guidance. I foresee nothing but greatness for all of my colleagues as we continue our academic journeys and to each of them I wish all of them luck and many blessings!

~ Janiece Garcia, M.A., Native American Studies

Nathan Jopek

Pueblo of Laguna from Albuquerque, NM

Nathan Jopek’s Project of Excellence focused on holistic wellness as it pertains to mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of an individual’s life. He specifically looked at how the young women of NACA’s 2019 Volleyball team felt engaging in the sport and how participation fostered holistic wellness outcomes.

After graduation I plan on assisting Indigenous youth through college engagement and the sport of volleyball. Along with this I will be continuing my work with my non-profit, Tribal Entities Connect. It is my plan and goal in life to use the knowledge I have gained through NAS and give that back to Indigenous communities.

Through the NAS program, Nathan learned the importance of what it means to be an educated Indigenous person.

I can now walk through the world ready to take on any challenges that come my way. I’m empowered, educated, and most of all Indigenous.
My fondest NAS memory is the community building over the years of my undergraduate and Master career in Native American Studies. I have had the honor of meeting profound Indigenous scholars and good friends through NAS.
I am truly grateful to have met, learned, and had discussions with every single person over the course of my college career. All of my interactions have impacted me, and have added to the collective knowledge I hold today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone in NAS and my fellow colleagues.

~ Nathan Jopek, M.A., Native American Studies

Caitlynn Mayhew

Diné from Cove, AZ

Caitlynn Mayhew’s fondest NAS memory was with her cohort members and the journey they shared together. Together they developed an incredible community that extended past the lecture hall.

Each Indigenous community has a story that needs to be shared. We are not alone in our journey to be heard; together we can rebuild and revitalize.

After graduation, Caitlynn’s goal has always been to be of service to her tribe. She wishes to further her education in wildlife conservation to provide more critical research on the Navajo Nation to protect our natural community.

Caitlynn’s Project of Excellence was focused on utilizing her background in biology to study wildlife on Dinétah. Her research stood as an exploratory study of bird diversity within the traditional territory of Dinétah with an emphasis on reclaiming the traditional names for these species. The intention of surveying species within Dinétah and researching their role within Diné history is to provide context to the value of these non-human entities within our culture to repair our relationship with our natural community. Her project served as a conscious act of wildlife and language conservation to assist in Diné self-determination and cultural revitalization.

Thank you for this incredible experience and education. May future NAS M.A. students find their community and voice in this incredible program. It was an immense honor to be one of the first cohort members.

~ Caitlynn Mayhew, M.A., Native American Studies

Nicole Swentzell

Kewa Pueblo from Santo Domingo Pueblo, NM

Nicole Swentzell graduated with a M.A. in Native American Studies and is a part of the first M.A. cohort at the University of New Mexico. Through her Project of Excellence, Nicole put together the “Joe Sando Symposium - Pueblo Stories: Laying the Path for Sustaining Pueblo Futures,” which took place in March, 2020.

As a NAS student, I learned that getting a degree in Native American Studies should always include giving back to your community.

After Nicole graduates, she plans to continue teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

I am grateful to my fellow cohort members for their continued support, encouragement, and our occasional happy hour gatherings.

~ Nicole Swentzell, M.A., Native American Studies

Congratulations to the first graduating cohort of the Master of Arts degree in Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico!

Bachelor of Arts degree in Native American Studies

Native American Studies provides a Bachelor of Arts degree with two concentrations: Leadership & Building Native Nations and Indigenous Learning Communities. To complete the NAS major, students must complete 36 credit hours of coursework along with other graduation requirements. Our majors must either select a double major or add a minor to their program of study.

Autumn Platero

Autumn Platero, Diné/San Carlos Apache, is from To’hajiilee, New Mexico. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Native American Studies with a concentration in Indigenous Learning Communities with a minor in Navajo Language and Linguistics in December 2019.

Through her degree in Native American Studies, Autumn learned new ways to develop research and how to apply that research to the current state of our Indigenous peoples. After completing her B.A. in NAS, she plans to apply to graduate school.

My fondest memory was forming bonds with peers in the Native American Studies Indigenous Research Group (NASIRG) student organization, whom I met through my NAS courses. We had a blast learning, researching, and applying knowledge from our courses to speak as a group at national conferences.
I am thankful for the hard work and dedication of the NAS faculty and staff. Educators, like them, who have a passion for the betterment of Indigenous peoples are the reason why I chose to get a degree in Native American Studies. You are truly cherished. Ahéhee’!

~ Autumn Platero, B.A. in Native American Studies

Shannon Benally

Shannon Benally, Diné, is from Waterflow, New Mexico. She completed a double major in Native American Studies with a concentration in Leadership & Building Native Nations and a B.A. in Psychology this May 2020. Through her double major in Native American Studies and Psychology, she learned that knowledge is POWERFUL.

One of the best things we can do as Native Peoples is to empower one another to make wise and positive decisions, keeping in mind the generations following us.

After graduation, Shannon plans to attend graduate school then onto a Ph.D. Program!

All of my Native American Studies courses were AMAZING. The professors and the guest lecturers were great. I am so thankful for the knowledge, the empowerment, and the encouragement from all of the NAS staff.
Thank you all for your support and your encouragement. It has been a pleasure working with you, and along side all of the graduates. Keep going! We have a responsibility to our communities. I love UNM and I am thankful for the journey... onto the next!

~ Shannon Benally, B.A., Native American Studies & B.A., Psychology

We are so proud of all of you!
Native American Studies minor degree

Ineka S. Jake, Navajo Nation

Ineka is from Albuquerque, New Mexico and completed a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Native American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her fondest NAS memory was to learn about culture and identity, which created a new perspective in creating her own understanding of the world.

Culture is an important part of learning who you are and who you can be.

After graduating, Ineka plans to continue her education with a Masters in Counseling and/or Public Health.

Culture is a part of who we are and it will continue to do so for as long as we live on.

~ Ineka Jake, B.A. in Psychology with Minor in Native American Studies

The University of New Mexico

Native American Studies, College of Arts & Sciences

Honoring Indigenous experiences, strengthening Native Nations, and helping build sustainable communities through academic excellence
Created By
Catherine Montoya