Slow Growth Web Extra: Small but Mighty
by Sophia Fischer
They represent less than 1 percent of the UC Santa Barbara student population, but last June the American Indian Student Association (AISA) was awarded Campus Organization of the Year by the Office of Student Life.
“I am proud that AISA received recognition for their great work,” said Luther Richmond ’07, a descendant of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and UCSB counselor, STEP director for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), and programming coordinator for the American Indian Cultural Resource Center.
AISA’s Native American undergraduate and graduate students come from various tribes and reservations nationwide and find strength through their connection. AISA provides a vital support system and haven for Native students to celebrate and explore their culture. Members manage a garden of native California plants, cook Native foods together like fry bread and Three Sisters Salad, and make Indian art through beading and weaving. They host dinners, graduation celebrations, game nights and speakers.
“AISA has made me aware of the things worth fighting for, when to strive for what I believe in and that I can better myself and the people around me,” said Makayla Rawlins ’19, of the Luiseño tribe. “It has also made me aware of the lack of knowledge on campus for the Native community around Santa Barbara and in general.”
BEYOND CAMPUS, AISA’s GREATEST STRENGTH may lie in the connection Native students maintain to the organization even long after they graduate.
The UCSB campus sits on four major Chumash village sites and areas of historical significance to local Native people, according to Mia Lopez, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation which numbers about 3,000 from Morro Bay to Malibu. Lopez and fellow Chumash leaders have reached out to the UCSB administration about acknowledging the village sites through signage.
“It’s something that’s rarely shared, and a lot of students don’t know about it,” Lopez said. “It’s such a little thing but really matters because it gives us contact with our land which was erased for so long.”
Beyond campus, AISA’s greatest strength may lie in the connection Native students maintain to the organization even long after they graduate.
“I stay involved in AISA by attending campus events and acting as a liaison for Native students interested in the legal profession and screenwriting,” said Chad Gordon ’93, an attorney from the Muscogee Creek Tribe. “It's important for me to support AISA because a good portion of the success I've been fortunate enough to attain has been largely attributable to the skills learned and relationships made while at UCSB.”
Manny Luna ’17, a Chiricahua Apache from Arizona, was an active AISA member who often showed fellow members how to gather natural materials to create pine needle and woven baskets, and traditional Native jewelry and art. He co-founded the UCSB American Indian & Indigenous Arts Collaborative as a space for celebrating, creating and learning about Native art. Luna is pursuing a career in social work to provide support to Native families. in social work to provide support to Native families.
“While I was a student, I became good friends with alumni who have been involved in AISA for years,” Luna said. “We look out for each other in the Native American community and I plan to remain involved and support Native students.”
Shawn Howell ’90 of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, supports AISA through recruiting prospective American Indian students, participating in alumni career panels and providing financial support.
“I really want to give back to a program that makes a positive difference in student lives,” said Howell, a financial services consultant and trader. “These are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and it’s a privilege to remain part of this community.”
Native Amerian enrollment needs a boost.