American Indian Heritage Month: Perspectives from Past Anderson Student Association Presidents
November 25, 2020 - Crystle Collier
Anderson School of Management wants to acknowledge that November is Native American Heritage Month. Our Native students are a key pillar to the growth and betterment of Anderson, New Mexico and the tribes. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we highlight a past Anderson student organization, the American Indian Business Association (AIBA), and two of its former presidents: Alicia Ortega and Jennifer Lujan.
Alicia is co-director of Native Women Lead, an organization she helped found. She grew up in Northern New Mexico in her ancestral homelands of Kha’Po Owingeh (Santa Clara Pueblo), and she is a tribal member of Posuwaegeh Owingeh (Pojoaque Pueblo). Jennifer is an entrepreneur and proud Lobo from the Isleta Pueblo and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (Belcourt, N.D.).
AIBA and the Student Experience at Anderson
Alicia and Jennifer both learned about AIBA through co-founder Jaye Francis, who had a meaningful impact on both women. “[Jaye] extended her support to not only students in the business school, but to everyone including those of us headed to the School of Engineering,” Alicia said. After getting involved with AIBA, Alicia changed her major to entrepreneurial studies and organizational management and never looked back.
Jennifer remembers Jaye attending an AIBA Christmas party in 2018, even though she had to drive “over an hour both ways while still … recovering from personal ailments.” Jaye’s commitment to students was what AIBA was all about.
Jaye Francis’ mentorship is one example of the family atmosphere AIBA created. “The first year I was at Anderson, I lost my mother and was fighting my own battles,” Jennifer said. “I was feeling helpless, unsupported and lost.”
She reached out for support and resources during that time and gained an extended family and a way to honor her mother’s memory. A common phrase during her time at AIBA was, “Once in AIBA, always in AIBA. We’re a family,” she said. The motto has stuck with her ever since.
Alicia shares Jennifer’s sentiments. “AIBA was my home away from home and will forever mean family to me. AIBA was a safe and inclusive space to build relationships, family and support.”
AIBA also showed students how business intersects with Native values and culture. Some of Alicia’s favorite AIBA memories were trips to the National Center for American Indian Economic Development’s Reservation Economic Summit. Through national conferences and local chapter meetings, AIBA members learned how to engage in tribal economic development and social justice while preserving community, culture, traditions, language and way of life.
Alicia and Jennifer encourage students to build a community of friends and mentors at UNM who will help them with their goals while supporting and encouraging one another and helping them stay connected to their roots and culture.
What Native American Heritage Month Means to Them
“I’m grateful for the acknowledgment of the First Peoples of Turtle Island [United States],” said Jennifer. “Native people, culture, heritage, traditions, beliefs, values, language, history and impact should always be honored and uplifted and never forgotten. “Let’s continue to embrace this month and celebrate Native beauty and resilience and the fact that we are still here! #NotSomethingElse!”
Alicia added, “Native American history and heritage is often not well understood or perceived in American History. For me, Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for society to think about the lands they occupy, acknowledge the 574 sovereign nations that have existed as caretakers of these lands since time immemorial, learn about the other perspective of our history, find ways to heal, and build a better tomorrow together for ourselves and future generations.”
Interested in getting involved in AIBA? Email Crystle Collier at firstname.lastname@example.org.