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First Native and Indigenous Student Alliance at Overland High School Launches

Nancy Soto, a junior at Overland High School and a member of the Navajo Nation, wanted to create a space for students that identify as Native or Indigenous as well as students who wanted to learn more about these cultures and launched a Native and Indigenous Student Alliance (NISA) club at her school this year.

“I haven’t really felt seen or represented as a Native student,” Soto shared. “I wanted a club where others like me and people who want to learn can have a safe space.”

Soto shared that sometimes learning about groups like the Navajo or other Native groups is only done through a historical context, and sometimes in a way that she feels is glorified. She hopes that people can come to meetings to learn more about not just the history of Native and Indigenous peoples, but their present and future. She also wants to host educational community events.

“We often do a history lesson or activity. We just did a group circle where we talked about what being Native or Indigenous in our community looks like now,” Soto said. “A lot of students shared that they felt they have to live double lives and were feeling stepped over.”

Soto said that she is proud of her Navajo heritage and hopes to help people understand that Native people don’t exist only in history books.

NISA students

“Sometimes it feels like they think we just existed in the past,” Soto said. “I’ve been asked if I live in a tipi or eat buffalo. I want people to know we have traditions like any group but we’re also modern and live in the same community. I want people to know that Native reservations are often in bad shape, with brown water and a bad education system.”

One of the club’s members, Overland junior Sandy Elderinky, wanted to join NISA to learn and understand how to support Native students.

“The club is very welcoming of a lot of students from different backgrounds to learn about Native American tribes and culture,” Elderinky said. “In my opinion, it is a great opportunity to learn about them while the club provides a safe environment for everyone.” 

Valery Gonzalez Jimenez, who is also a junior at Overland, explained that clubs can bring a form of collaboration and communication to students.

“Safe spaces within the clubs, such as Native Indigenous Student Alliance (NISA), can help find unity among the students,” Gonzalez Jimenez said. “It's significant that these clubs exist, as they give students a place where they won't feel discriminated against, can feel belonging, and can openly speak on how they can create changes for the good. These leadership opportunities can inspire them to reach towards goals in life.”

Natalie Terrazas, the club sponsor and English Language Arts teacher at Overland, said that when Soto explained that her hope for NISA was to create a space where other Native and Indigenous students can overcome this lack of representation within our school systems, the teacher jumped at the opportunity to sponsor.

“I was Nancy’s AVID teacher for two years and over the course of that time I learned that she is a member of the Navajo Nation,” Terrazas said. “She also shared that she didn’t feel that her Navajo identity was seen at school. It’s been really cool to watch Nancy grow into a great leader. I hope that when she graduates in 2024, we can continue to honor her goal and continue to grow our community!”


Posted 3/27/23.