Two Boise State University students are making it known that there are Native American students on campus, proudly sharing their Native American heritage and keeping their culture alive.
Boise State currently has a total enrollment rate of 25,829 students. Out of those students, less than 100 registered or identified as American Indian and Alaska Native, according to the BSU website.
Marco Ovando and Barbe Tom took on the challenge of venturing into the world of higher education, a setting the two weren’t familiar with. But it didn’t take long for them to find their path.
Ovando is a citizen of the Shoshone Paiute Nation of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, between Idaho and Nevada. He said he grew up in a small rural Native American community, full of ranchers. At times he felt embarrassed and unsure if he belonged.
But that all changed once he found the cultural connection he was looking for.
“I was like no, this is who I am, nothing will change that,” Ovando said. “And I’m proud to be Shoshone-Paiute and proud to be indegenous and reoccupying the land that my ancestors once lived on.”
Marco Ovando’s activism journey began in 2016 after participating in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol. In 2021, Ovando submitted a testimony to the Nevada Legislature in support of a law that provides certain waiver fees for Native American students interested in attending a college or university in Nevada.
Ovando understands the barriers Native students can encounter in a higher level institution.
One of those simply being lack of awareness. He said when he introduces himself using his Native introduction, it confuses many individuals.
“It throws the instructors off cause some of the time these people don’t know even know Native Americans still exist,” Ovando said. “That we’re still an alive and well people and we’re not just facets of the past.
So what’s one resource Ovando encourages individuals to use to gain knowledge? The answer is simple, Google!
Individuals can find online tools like maps highlighting the tribes in North America, where they overlap, and which tribe occupies the area you’re residing in, Ovando said.
Barbe Tom is a tribal member of The Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone in Nevada.
Tom grew up in a predominantly white area in Colorado. Her relationship with her family helped her connect to her Native heritage.
When Tom stepped foot on campus, she had to learn how to search for pieces of her heritage and identity on her own.
“My parents weren’t there to help me get access to pow wows or other indigenous events,” Tom said. “And so I had to go out there and search for myself. Kind of get into tune of who I am and what my culture is.”
This guided her to the student-led Native American group, Intertribal Native Council (INC). Through INC, Barbe Tom found a safe space and connected with other Native American students in the area.
INC hosts indigenous events, like the Seven Arrows Pow Wow. But most importantly, INC makes it clear that there are Native American students on the BSU campus.
“We’re not going to be silenced or just given half the effort,” Tom said. “We want to see full effort especially because we are here as Native people trying to build ourselves in a world that we’re not used to and that our parents aren’t used to.”
Barbe Tom is working with some Idaho teachers on a project focused on how to incorporate Native American heritage into lesson plans.
Ovando and Tom are two students that strive to promote their Native heritage.