The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams June 8 during its annual commencement roundup. The news team reached out to 422 schools and went through more than 220 tapes to come up with the nearly five minute video featured here, of which IAIA was a part.
And when the news team described the undertaking, IAIA topped its list: “Some of the most impactful material came from our sit-down interviews with students at the Institute of American Indian Arts, West Point Academy, Spelman College, the University of Virginia, and Wesleyan University,” the story reads.
A separate story titled “American Indian students find refuge in cultural curriculum” features interviews with IAIA’s valedictorians Jamie Figueroa and Blue Tarpalechee.
“Caps and gowns and degrees embossed with gold, commencement at IAIA looks like the thousands of graduation ceremonies across the country but with a little something extra,” says NBC News associate producer Chiara Sottile in that story. That something extra is the indigenous culture woven throughout IAIA’a curriculum, a curriculum that saved its top students.
Figueroa, an enrolled member of the Taíno Tribe in Puerto Rico, had attended five different universities over 12 years before finding one that fit.
“What I needed was an education that not only gave me the world but also gave me myself,” she said during her commencement speech at IAIA.
Tarpalechee, Muscogee (Creek), had worked more than 20 jobs in two years after dropping out of the University of Oklahoma.
“I appreciate being able to wear our traditional regalia,” he says in the NBC News video. “A lot of us, like myself, kind of hybridize the two where it’s cap and gown mixed with traditional regalia and the symbols from the communities we come from.”
IAIA is one of 33 tribal colleges and universities across the country offering Native American students the opportunity for higher education blended with indigenous culture, and the only four-year institution in the country devoted to Alaska Native and Native American arts.