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San Diego State Hires First Tribal Liaison

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San Diego County has the most Native American tribes in the country, with more than 24,000 Native Americans calling the county home. Now San Diego State University is focusing on better serving its Native American students.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County has the most native American tribes in the country. More than 24,000 native Americans call it home. That's according to the census now, one of the county's universities, San Diego state university is focusing on better serving its native American students. One way they are doing that is by hiring the university's first tribal liaison, Jacob Alverado. Y puck is a San Pasqual reservation resident and Kumiai nation member. He graduated with his BA from SDSU and is currently pursuing his doctorate at UCLA and Cal state San Marcos. He joins me now. Jacob, welcome. Thank you. So you graduated with your BA from SDSU in 2014 being a student of native American descent. What were your personal challenges at SDSU as a student?

Speaker 2: 00:48 Well, when I first came here I was actually welcomed by dr camper and he brought me in and took me to get some Starbucks. And then I met the chief diversity officer at the time and uh, they made me feel welcome. We didn't have a native resource center at the time and we had a small American studies department, so that was our hangout spot. So my experience at SDSU was awesome, but when I studied abroad, then I was able to see how indigenous populations can really impact the universities by creating a sense of belonging for indigenous students. And that's what I want to bring here for sending a state university.

Speaker 1: 01:24 It's, it's, it's one thing to have diversity, another thing to have inclusion, right? Yes. Yeah. Um, how important has education been in your own life

Speaker 2: 01:33 as a kid? And very important to me just because I'm, it's a pathway for better opportunities in life. Um, better jobs and we have to learn these, this way of life just so we can survive as indigenous people. So when we combine our culture and traditions and our way of life, and we keep that strong within ourselves and we learn education and combine those two together and makes us twice as strong, we're able to be in positions of power where we can create that change that we want.

Speaker 1: 01:59 Um, you know, the creation of the tribal liaison liaison position at SDSU, um, really was created to better serve San Diego's native American community. Um, how will you know when you're accomplishing that?

Speaker 2: 02:10 I feel like me being here has already been the odds. So I feel like it's already a success. And when I came in here, I came in with a strategic plan of action and I spent months on it and actually had a foundation to where I included frameworks, um, from, from different, like tribal critical race theory, just different frameworks that I use throughout the university and my, my undergrad studies and also my graduate studies. And I'm just combining everything, comb UI native way I was brought up and then also stuff from the universities to create a foundation for our people here that we can, uh, succeed. And my main thing is to create a sense of belonging here at SDSU. So our students feel welcomed when our students walk on campus. They feel good in their heart, they feel good when they see something. Call me on the land. Right now we don't have much coming on anything, not SDSU, but my, one of my main goals is to bring Columbia representation here and to maybe put murals on the building so people know where they're at, that they're walking on community land. And to acknowledge our people here, you know, and tell that story of who we are as in business people of this land. That way there can be that better understanding and we can all just understand together of why the [inaudible] people really want the representation here.

Speaker 1: 03:25 So the current native American population at SDSU is in the hundreds and what can be done to boost those numbers?

Speaker 2: 03:31 There's a lot of things that can be done. The first thing is building a relationship with the local tribes and the [inaudible] nation and Luiseno Quia desert queer all the way. Even over there we have a campus in Imperial Valley. So I'm also the tribal liaison for the [inaudible] and the Cocopah and that's that to me, that's an honor, you know, and the, I can go to all these places and accrue and business students to our university and let them know that they have me because I know the community, you know, I've been in the communities and a lot of our elders are from different reservations and that have taught the songs. And to me it's an honor to give back and I feel that's what I'm full out for. Like that's what I'm doing. I'm giving back and building clarity up, collaborative connections and partnerships. Um, it's a big thing. And going into the reservations and talking to them on a one-to-one, like as a human level like that, this is what we want to do. I'm your, I'm your people. Like I'm going to bring you in. Like I'll bring your student, I'll bring your family, I'll bring the kids in and they'll feel comfortable when they see me on campus. Like I'll welcome them.

Speaker 1: 04:31 Right. You know, graduation rates among native American students in general or are are lower than the average graduation rate. How do you plan to increase those rates among native American students?

Speaker 2: 04:41 Yeah, graduate graduation rates. Uh, it's pretty, it's pretty low just because, um, we need people in these positions where we can help our students succeed. And the first thing is creating that environment that they can feel a sense of belonging so they can, they want to be here and coming from the reservation or even coming from the city, Urban's everywhere, no matter what native kind of native you are anywhere across the country. When you come from that place and you're coming to the university, it's a, it's a culture shock and we're not used to this feeling. We're not used to seeing all these buildings and the trip to us because it's on our land. That's the difference. So I feel like even if we get one indigenous student here, that is, that's big because statistically they're already beaten the odds. So any student at that level, any student graduating from high school is a big thing.

Speaker 2: 05:28 Any student going, pushing that to the college level as a big thing. So the higher we go up there'll be in the odds. So I feel creating this foundation where we do collaboration and partnerships with the tribes will help our tribes trust the university and especially when they see one of their own doing it. You mentioned culture shock. So I'm curious to know when you first stepped foot on the campus of SDSU, how did you experience culture shock? For me, uh, I always had my hair long. So I feel me as an indigenous person, people are always staring at me and looking at me a certain sort of way and making comments and you can just feel that energy and it's not good. And it's just like, okay, well how can I change their perspective of how they see me by being in a position of power, being educated.

Speaker 2: 06:11 They'll know I can do that and what I want them to know that anyone that does is me when they see me just cause based. How I look is to know that they're looking at a eye and this is the land that I walk into, this land and my answers was walk on and I'm still here. So you're looking at the first person know this land. And once they realize that and they see in the understanding of it, they'll respect us a lot more or respect me as a person. And I'm sure you believe in empowering other students, that knowledges, I am 100% about empowerment and I'm pushing everyone's dreams to the next level and whatever. That student has a spark in to nurture that and help him move in that direction in a positive way. And you mentioned that it's important for native American students to really feel at home and I know there's a native and indigenous healing garden and native student resource center in the works on campus, both expected to be opened by the spring.

Speaker 2: 07:03 And what ways will those two projects serve students for the native resource center? That is huge. I mean as indigenous student, as a native student walking on campus, we didn't have that. So to me, I was looking for that and all of us were all in these at that time. We were always pushing to have a native resource and or Reese or any kind of a center that had a space for us. So now like I graduated back in 2014 and time has flown by and we're able to push in that direction because we have great leadership at San Diego state university and with great leadership and understanding we're right now we have a tribal liaison and look who they brought in, you know, and to me that's, that's uh, that's shows how strong leadership peers at San Diego state and how open and how many new doors have opened for indigenous people and diversity overall. Like things are changing at San Diego state. And I believe it's all for the better and it's growing. Like we're doing big things here and I don't think any university is going to be doing what we're doing in the next few years. I have been speaking with SDSU, his first tribal liaison, Jacob Alvarado. Why PUK. Jacob, thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on your new role. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.