Higher Education Needs Advocates for American Indians, Alaska Natives

University Communications
March 29, 2013

Arizona contains 22 federally recognized tribal nations. To help the UA president understand and determine ways to best address the needs of the nation's college-going students, and their families, the UA established a new position.

Since its inception, Karen Francis-Begay (Navajo) has served in that role: special advisor to the UA Office of the President on Native American affairs (currently retitled, assistant vice president for tribal relations).

Nathaniel Manygoats, (left), his wife, Denise Manygoats, and their family, Natasha Manygoats, 12; Ashley Scott, 16; Nicole Scott, 22; and Daniel Manygoats, 6, attend a luncheon during a Native American Student Affairs Wildcat Family Pride Weekend event at the UA. (Photo credit: Norma Jean Gargasz/UANews)

In 2010, Francis-Begay became part of the team of authors that would eventually contribute to the publication "Beyond the Asterisk: Understanding Native Students in Higher Education," which was released by Stylus Publishing in March 2013.

The following is an excerpt from "The Role of the Special Advisor to the President on Native American Affairs," which Francis-Begay wrote for the book:

Appointing a full-time special advisor demonstrated the UA’s commitment to understanding and valuing tribal sovereignty. The institution has enhanced many of its programs and services targeting Native Americans with the understanding that these programs benefited not a “minority” group or “race,” but a multitude of individual and uniquely sovereign tribal nations.

Native Americans who are members of federally recognized tribes hold separate and unique political and legal classifications. Many of our Native American students come from tribal communities that have their own form of government, language, and cultural customs and values. The leadership of these tribal nations possesses representation and authority similar to leaders from other countries.

The UA acknowledges the uniqueness of tribal nations and honors government-to-government negotiations and agreements. The special advisor to the president on American Indian affairs also works with out-of-state tribes and organizations who have a vested interest in the university.

In my role as special advisor to the president on Native American affairs, I serve as a critical liaison between the UA and tribes to strengthen partnerships and advance mutual goals. As the primary contact and resource on Native American affairs for the president and cabinet, I provide leadership in the enhancement of public relations work with national, state, and tribal entities. The position is vital to strengthening the visibility and presence of the UA among tribal nations and for collaborating with university officials, academic colleges, and departments on new initiatives related to outreach, partnership, development, policy and research.

In her conclusion, Francis-Begay wrote:

The highest levels of university leadership must demonstrate a commit to improving access and success for Native students. Without this commitment, we go nowhere. As a Navajo saying goes, “T'áá shí 'ánísht'éego t'éiyá 'ádoolnííł” (If it has to be, it is up to me). I live by this saying and will continue to dedicate my lifetime to Native American education. I hope others will be inspired with the path I have created on my own journey and can learn and benefit from my professional and personal experiences in higher education.

Read the full article on the newly published book, read "Conveying the American Indian College Experience," at UANews.org.

Former UA President Robert Shelton appointed Karen Francis-Begay in 2007 to serve as his full-time special advisor for Native American affairs. Francis-Begay continues to serve in the position under current UA President Ann Weaver Hart. In her role, Francis-Begay is the president's key adviser in working with Arizona's Native American communities. The position was created to enhance relations and communication between the UA and tribal nations while also strengthening the academic success of Native American and Alaska Native students.


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