Session Explores Why Indigenous Students Should Think about International Affairs

Session Explores Why Indigenous Students Should Think about International Affairs

On September 17, 2020, APSIA and the Northeastern University (NSU) Native American Support Center co-hosted a session to explore why –with all the ways they can make a difference - Indigenous students should think about careers in international affairs.

Moderated by José Antonio Lucero, Chair of Latin America and Caribbean Studies at the University of Washington Jackson School of International Studies, the discussion featured

  • Jean Dennison, Co-Director, Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies, University of Washington (Osage Nation)
  • Keith Harper, former US Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council (Cherokee Nation)
  • Melissa Lewis, Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health and Population Sciences, University of Missouri School of Medicine (Cherokee Nation)

Speakers shared their own career paths and some of the ways in which policy choices matter.

Dr. Dennison explained her path into academia. Her work explores the systems put upon native nations by colonizers and how good governance can achieve desirable aims for communities. “How can we weave together the pieces we have to create something that’s our own,” Dr. Dennison said.

Amb. Harper outlined his path into law and politics. His career has enabled him to work on water rights, religious freedom, national security, and much more. He was the first Native American to be named a US Ambassador, serving as US Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council. “[As a diplomat], you can contribute in ways that are important and put Indigenous issues more central to US foreign policy,” he said. In the international realm, Amb. Harper noted, many people understand themselves as citizens of a nation and citizens of a tribe. Indigenous diplomats connect in ways that others cannot. “[We have] a huge advantage...We walk through life translating between cultures.”

Dr. Lewis talked about her work addressing the structures that impact mental and physical health and well-being. "Indigenous people know that mind, body, and spirit are together," she said; we have to look at the structural conditions that harm those elements and how they are interrelated. She also described her research collaborations with Maori tribes in New Zealand as an example of the international connections that are possible in different fields.

During the discussion, participants explored how to safeguard one’s way of life while working in international affairs. They discussed “whether the indigenous relationship to the land is a factor in indigenous involvement with international affairs, even outside of environmental related professions” and “the future of relations between the federal government and tribes.”

Speakers agreed there are many different ways to make a positive impact, even in the same life. They celebrated the hard-won changes over the last 100 years, while encouraging students to continue to be engaged.  Honor the fight for self-determination. Educate yourself about the power structures and relationships at work. You have insights that others will not have. Use that knowledge and think critically about how you can keep pushing ahead, they said.

Speakers also had advice for students thinking about graduate-level education. Choose the school and the field that have the most choices for you. Learn about the culture of the school. Seek advice from people you trust (you should also ask them to read your applications). Look at the community of Native people at the Institution; make sure you have a support structure around you.

After the session, the Native American Support and APSIA celebrated all of the students who asked for more information about programs in International Affairs and Policy.


This event was part of the 2020 APSIA Diversity Forum series.

The 2020 Diversity Forum was made possible by













University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy