UI Students Discuss Their Involvement with the Native American Student Association

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February 07, 2024
NASA Powwow

As of Fall 2023, Native American students make up 0.1% of the student population at the University of Iowa. The Native American Student Association (NASA) offers the opportunity for the Native American community, or the community at large, to come together and support, promote and advance Native American student academic success, retention and social activities. The organization serves as an academic, cultural support system for Native students. 

"The organization is a safe space for all people to support events that pertain to Indigenous cultures and honestly just to have a good, relaxing time during our study or beading sessions," University of Iowa student, Jeni Barajas said. "We are all able to come together, laugh and destress about school, life or really anything."

NASA students


NASA students


Barajas has lived her whole life just a few minutes away from the Meskwaki Nation Settlement in Tama, Iowa and has had the privilege of having Native friends from the Meskwaki Nation– the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi. Along with having friends from the Meskwaki Nation, she is also the daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico. Her family descends from the Purepecha people from Michoacan, in west-central Mexico. 

"By joining NASA, I felt like it was one of the ways I could honor and represent the Indigenous people in my family as well as my Meskwaki friends," Barajas said.

The Native American Student Association encourages the open discussion of any problems that members may be having. President of NASA, Abigail Buffalo, desires to support and uplift Native voices, issues, culture, rights and traditions. She works to ensure that not only Native students, but all students feel welcome and cared for at the university. 

"Here at the university, being Native is hard. In total there are probably less than 30 of us, to whom I know less than half," Buffalo said. "To be able to go to NASA meetings and be open about how I am feeling and the struggles I face with being Native is something I am truly grateful for." 

A key component of the organization is that members want to continue to learn and find new ways to help various Indigenous communities. 

"By continuing to educate myself more and getting involved with Indigenous communities in Iowa has been such an amazing experience so far and I still feel I have so much to learn," Barajas said. "I hope by learning more I can educate others on how important it is to hear Native voices."

Along with learning more about Indigenous culture and advocating for Native students, the Native American Student Association also believes that sustainability efforts are crucial. 

"I feel like Native peoples have always been the 'stewards of this land' and have tended and learned the ways development can happen while not depleting resources," Barajas said. "Climate change has made huge threats to many Indigenous populations in the Americas and worldwide. I hope that Indigenous voices, the key to sustainability, continue to be heard."

NASA students


NASA students


Indigenous peoples have accumulated valuable traditional knowledge about nature and sustainable practices and continue to protect biodiverse areas around the world. Yet, environmental problems continue to negatively affect indigenous communities. 

"If there is ever to be change to 'reverse' the effects, it must start with Indigenous communities all over the world," Barajas said. "It has been proven that lands conserved by Indigenous communities are better conserved than by any other people... the history and ties to the land cannot be denied." 

Barajas and Buffalo hope that more awareness can be spread about environmental issues. The Native American Student Association plans on having a collaboration event about sustainability and the environment this spring semester to educate more people about environmental efforts. 

The Native American Student Association is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about Indigenous issues, culture, rights and traditions. 

"NASA has truly made my experience here at Iowa feel more like home," Buffalo said. "And although there are still only a handful of us, NASA to me is like a family." 

NASA students


For more information about the Native American Student Association, visit https://nasa.org.uiowa.edu/.

Story by: Amber Yeutsy