Kamiah Lansing, a junior at Weber State University, is one of 95 Native Americans on campus, making up less than 1 percent of the school’s population.
Lansing belongs to the Navajo tribe, which is made up of four different clans. She left her reservation in Arizona and came to WSU for the nursing program. She stayed to be a part of the American Indian Council on campus. She is now the vice president, working with the council to make Native American students more comfortable on campus.
“Transitioning from a reservation full of people you know to a place of multiple ethnicities can be challenging,” Lansing said. “We are trying to make this campus a place where natives can hang out and chill.”
Lansing has recently won what she calls a “princess title”: Miss Indian of WSU. She won this based on her good values and morals, and with the title she represents all of the tribes on campus.
Since then, she was selected to sing the national anthem in her native tongue at the Native Symposium last month. Stephanie Quinn, the Native American adviser on campus, had heard Lansing sing at an American Indian Council presentation and requested that she sing for the symposium.
Lansing grew up learning Navajo, because her grandparents would speak to her only in their native tongues. However, Lansing’s primary language is English. She felt nervous to sing for a large audience last month.
“I didn’t expect that many people,” Lansing said. “It was interesting to know that there were that many people that were interested in our Native American culture.”
Lavangeline Harris, social activities coordinator for AIC, is also Navajo. She works toward spreading the message about what it is like to be a Native American. Harris describes the reservation life as calming, where there is no traffic or noise to stress people out.
“I crave the rez life,” Harris said. “There, at home, it is so much more relaxed and welcoming. I always feel safe and comforted.”
Campus life has more conveniences than living on a reservation. Lansing has discovered that even though home is familiar and safe, it is also more manual labor.
“I wonder if my mom burned the trash this morning,” Lansing said. “On campus, we just have dumpsters to throw everything in. At home, everything is a lot more work, and (it is) a lot more rewarding.”
On their respective reservations, Native Americans live in hogans, or mud huts, the two women said. They are surrounded by other Navajos, both on the reservation and at their high schools. One of the biggest transitions to campus life is learning to adapt to different ethnicities.
Some students mistake the Native American students on campus for different nationalities. Both Lansing and Harris said that it is common for them to be asked if they are Hispanic or African American. They believe that people might not be used to seeing Native Americans, and they do not find such mistakes offensive or surprising.
“I don’t feel offended at all. I just correct people and tell them I’m Navajo,” Lansing said. “Sometimes it’s flattering because the other cultures are beautiful as well.”
Harris, who is both Native American and African American, surprises people when she tells them her heritage. She is mistaken for a Samoan most of the time.
“After people realize I’m Native American, their eyes light up. They usually ask if we still live in teepees,” Harris said.
In fact, the tradition of teepees has now become a sort of religion to some Native Americans. Instead of living inside teepees, they will use the structure as a type of church building to practice their worship.
“It’s better to educate them than to get mad,” Lansing said. “If we ever get mistaken for something else, or people ask questions about our heritage, it’s our pleasure to explain who we are.”