Manny Loley ’16 grew up on the Navajo reservation and hopes to inspire Kenyon to recruit more Native Americans. Emma Schurink ’17 plans to move after graduation to South Dakota where she has worked at a Lakota Sioux reservation YMCA. Hannah Ewing ’16 wants to become a doctor to continue her work in Native American health clinics.
The three students who lead the organization Indigenous Nations at Kenyon shared their experiences with native communities in a talk in November for Native American Heritage Month.
Loley, an English major, founded the group to raise awareness about issues important to indigenous people and to try to establish a community of students with similar interests to help him feel more connected to campus. The group started the Native American Heritage Month activities and supported more courses about Native Americans, including a literature class and a history class about American Indian activism, he said.
Loley is from the Navajo Nation reservation, the largest in the country with parts in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Residents have maintained many traditions, but Loley said graduation rates are low and a college education is not valued.
His family, from Smith Lake, New Mexico, was different because his mother is a first-generation college student. “In my house it was set that I was going to go to college and all my siblings were going to go to college,” he said.
He found Kenyon through a summer college-preparation program, and the classroom atmosphere and focus on critical analysis won him over.
Schurink, a sociology major from Brooklyn, New York, volunteered at the YMCA in the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota for the first time in 2011. She was drawn back, becoming more immersed in the community with each visit and building relationships as a counselor at a YMCA summer camp. “I didn’t want to be one of the faces that these children see come and go,” she said.
Many children go to the camp to escape hardship at home; the reservation has high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence and suicide, she said. In summer 2015, she said she developed a big sister relationship with some of the older children at camp. “Labels of skin color and everything sort of began to melt away,” she said.
She volunteer there for two weeks over winter break and will be a counselor again next summer, planning to live in South Dakota full time after Kenyon.
Ewing, who transferred to Kenyon from Montana State University for smaller class sizes, said it took her a while to settle on a way to combine her interests in political science and medicine. She became ill her first semester at Kenyon and returned home to Ashland, Oregon. During that time, she assisted doctors at a clinic serving rural native people. Back at Kenyon, she switched her major to biochemistry to prepare for medical school. She also plans to pursue a supplemental master’s degree in public health.
In the summer of 2015, she returned to Montana to teach diabetes education classes and shadow doctors at a clinic. She was nervous, but she said, “Kenyon has shaped me into a person who can handle transitions and handle getting out into the community.”
Ewing, who became interested in native issues because of a Native American family friend, plans to get more experience in Montana before pursuing her advanced degrees. “I hope to continue to use my Kenyon education to look at this issue through a multidisciplinary lens.”
The three students said they hope the talk inspired people to learn more about native communities. Loley said Indigenous Nations at Kenyon has done a lot to establish a presence for native people on campus. “But we still have a long way to go,” he said.