Native women enrolled in universities across the U.S. are enjoying the camaraderie and sisterhood that comes from membership in the first historically American Indian sorority.
Alpha Pi Omega was founded by four college women in 1994 on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Known as the Four Winds, the women—Jamie Goins, Lumbee; Shannon Brayboy, Lumbee; Christina Strickland, Lumbee; and Amy Locklear, Lumbee/Coharie—presented their idea of starting a sorority based on American Indian traditions to elder women representing different tribes in North Carolina.
The elder women gave the sorority their blessing, and Alpha Pi Omega pledged its first class of sisters, known as the Fifteen Warrior Women, in the spring of 1995. It received its incorporation status that fall.
Since then, the sorority has grown to include campuses across the country, with nine undergraduate chapters, four graduate chapters and three provisional chapters. Members of the sorority, who are seeking degrees from a range of colleges, including the University of New Mexico, Dartmouth College and Oklahoma State University, say the sorority is attractive because it offers something different yet familiar–a unique organization with a slice of Native culture not found on many college campuses.
“It was something different on campus,” said 21-year-old Shawna Nelson, Navajo, who joined Alpha Pi Omega’s Delta Chapter at the University of New Mexico in 2010. A nursing student, Nelson was looking for a way to keep her Native culture alive during her college years.
“I am very traditional, so it was nice to have a lot of girls I related to, sisters who were involved in their tribes’ heritage, sisters who were wearing Native regalia,” said Nelson, who is from Winslow, Arizona. “It was something so different from all those Greek houses.”
During the sorority’s grand gathering in July, held at Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Nelson was nominated by her sisters as Pi of the Year, the sorority’s highest individual honor. Among her accomplishments was serving a term as president of the Delta Chapter.
The sorority “has benefitted me personally in a lot of ways,” she said. “It has taught me how to conduct myself, to plan events, to delegate tasks. It also has taught me to take pride in our cultural heritage. There is lots of culture right here in Albuquerque, and we have the ability to show other people that we know who we are and what we believe in. We are proud of that and want to share it.”
The sorority is still working to get three additional sites added as fully chartered chapters. Earlier this year, members voted to award provisional status to an undergraduate chapter at Oregon State University and two graduate chapters, in Bernalillo County in New Mexico, and the District of Columbia.
“The sisters at all three of these sites have worked hard to earn provisional chapter status,” said Grand Expansion Director Cho Werito, Muscogee (Creek) and Navajo. “I am confident that they will continue to put in that hard work and earn their charters at the grand gathering next year.”
The sorority’s mission is to provide a support network for collegiate and professional Native women in contemporary society while embracing traditional cultural practices. More than 70 tribes are represented nationwide.
“There are Native American females out there who are into empowering other Native American females and celebrating their achievements,” Nelson said.
For more information, or to find a chapter, visit AlphaPiOmega.org.