DU Alumna and Staff Member Elevates Native American Outreach
When Viki Eagle first came to the University of Denver as an undergraduate student in 2007, she didn’t know much about it even though she grew up in Denver. Eagle, who became director of Native American Community Relations and Programs earlier this year, is driven to make sure today’s Native American high school students are aware of DU and see themselves here.
“A DU education looks unattainable to Native students in the Denver metro area, even though the University is effectively in their own ‘backyard,’” Eagle says. “A key part of my job is to be a bridge to DU for students, making sure they’re aware of opportunities such as the full-tuition Native American Community Scholarship.”
Eagle, a recipient of the scholarship, notes that the University sees more applications from nearby states such as New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota. With the majority of people who identify as American Indian/Alaska Native in Colorado living in Denver and Colorado Springs, it would seem logical that in-state applications, especially from these urban areas, would be larger.
Her own story helps illustrate why they aren’t. Eagle identifies as half Japanese and half Sicangu Lakota. She grew up in a single-parent, low-income household in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and long has been a part of the Denver Native American community, starting in Denver Public Schools with the Indian Education Program. “In local Native communities, DU just isn’t top of mind,” she says. “First, being the ‘Pioneers’ puts some people off; then there’s the reputation as a school for rich kids.
“Until I became aware of the Native scholarship opportunity, I didn’t even think of DU. As I learned more about the University, I was attracted to the small classroom size, and being a ‘city girl,’ I liked that it was in my hometown.”
She admits to culture shock upon arriving at DU. “For me, it was an introduction to what wealth looks like.”
Her response was to be proactive. “If I noticed that DU didn’t have something I thought was important to attract other Native students, I was determined to create it.” That’s how she came to organize the DU Native Student Alliance, focused on increasing awareness of Native sociopolitical issues, and the annual New Beginnings Pow Wow, to be held for the seventh consecutive year on Sunday, May 7, 2017. She describes it as “bringing the outside to the inside.”
As a master’s student, she worked on the University’s John Evans Study Committee, which issued a report in 2014 on the role of the University of Denver’s founder, John Evans, in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. Her current position was created as a result of the DU Native American Task Force for Inclusivity following the John Evans report. In addition to supporting Native American student success, she is responsible for continuing DU’s community and tribal partnerships within the Denver Native American community and creating new programs and recruitment efforts for the campus.
“The John Evans report was groundbreaking,” Eagle says. “It shows that DU supports dialogue around challenging issues.”
Following this report, the Native American task force offered recommendations to address the fact that, with a few notable exceptions, the Native American population and their culture have been ignored by higher education.
These steps raise the profile of Native Americans and their traditions on the DU campus. They also affirm the primary message Eagle says Native people want to convey: “We’re still here.”
And it all helps her send the message to the Native American community that DU is a place where Native people have the opportunity to be themselves, and feel safe and welcome.
Eagle’s persistence and drive have not only led to her success, they show the way for others to come.
Eagle earned a bachelor of arts in international studies and a master of higher education from DU. She currently is pursuing a doctor of education through the Morgridge College of Education.
In her DU job, meanwhile, she is focusing on helping Native students access more opportunities to participate in clubs, conferences and other learning and development programs, bringing more Native youth groups to campus, and expanding the Native Student Alliance.