Kishan Lara, a Hoopa Tribe member and of Yurok and Karuk descent,
is the first of her tribes to earn a doctorate in education. It
is also likely she is the first Humboldt County native to receive
her degree from the hands of President Barack Obama.
president conferred the doctorate degree in education on Kishan
Dawn Lara recently during the commencement ceremony at Arizona State
University. Along with Lara's family and friends, more than 70,000
attended the commencement in the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Lara was among 81 doctoral candidates who walked across the platform
to be greeted and congratulated by Obama.
29, who graduated with summa cum laude honors, is the daughter of
Walt and Callie Lara of Hoopa and the youngest of seven siblings.
She attended Humboldt State University at age 16, earning a bachelor's
degree in Native American studies. She earned a master's degrees
in linguistics at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., and
completed her doctorate at Arizona State University -- all while
working in tribal schools and teaching courses at HSU and Arizona
have been in Arizona eight years, although I came home often for
ceremonies and other important events as my schedule allowed,"
Lara said. "The culmination of my studies and research could
not have been more profoundly represented then to have President
Obama validate my work, the work of my mentors and the wisdom of
In his commencement address, Obama emphasized that it is clear the
nation needs to "build a new foundation -- a stronger foundation
-- for our economy and our prosperity, rethinking how we educate
our children, and care for our sick and treat our environment."
said Obama's address was "motivational and inspirational to
instituting positive change within our community and our country
as a whole." She added that, as she listened to him, "I
could not help thinking that he was talking about indigenous philosophies."
said her dissertation, "titled 'Conceptions of Giftedness on the
Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation,' explores and identifies concepts
of giftedness, supports the development of transformative knowledge
and validates the indigenous epistemologies."
her dissertation defense on April 8, Lara was nominated by the Arizona
State University Education Program for her outstanding dissertation
research. She has been featured in numerous newspapers throughout
the country and participated in several radio and television interviews
work provides the educational community with a valuable and powerful
tool for addressing and successfully meeting the educational and
socio-emotional needs of students," said Laura Lee George,
research has provided the missing detail necessary for academic
counseling, incorporating culturally appropriate curriculum and
aligning school curricular goals with community expectation,"
George continued. "This thesis study is monumental in that
it is the first to be conducted by a tribal member with input from
the Hoopa Valley Indian community. After approximately 118 years
of imposed education from a non-Indian perspective, this study gives
the basis for changing the paradigm of local education to one that
is compatible with local Indian values, perspectives and 'ways of
living in harmony' with the world. Empowering students through culturally
compatible criteria for giftedness has been long overdue."
said her journey owes much to contributors in the field of education
and language preservation, all the way back to her early childhood.
attended Big Lagoon Elementary School and remember my third grade
teacher asking where I saw myself in 20 years," she said. "I wrote
that I would be a Ph.D. I barely knew what that meant, but as the
years passed, I understood the importance and influence it could
have for Indian issues."
her experiences at McKinleyville High School as Associated Student
Body president, she participated as a founder of the "Success in
Both Worlds Native American Youth Conference."
conference is a reminder to us all (of) the strength that can come
from a group of teens, a principal willing to take a risk, supportive
Indian agencies in the community and the philosophies of our heritage,"
said Lara. The conference is an ongoing event.
inspires other Indian students to follow their dreams and aspirations,"
said Marcellene Norton, Klamath Trinity Joint Unified School District
board member. "Kishan's dissertation demonstrates unique giftedness
among Indian children that is not considered part of the educational
norm, but should be included as a category of gifted. Her work,
validates other research that states Indian students excel when
their education includes culturally based curricula interwoven with
standards-based education." Norton is also a Hoopa tribal member,
an educator/ administrator and grandmother of school-age children.
up, Lara has been immersed in the culture and the traditions of
the Hupa and Yurok peoples. She believes that has been her strength,
and said she was proud that her nieces and nephews could attend
her graduation, hear the president speak and consider it "a
norm" to have a doctorate degree.
answer to President Obama's call to "Find someone to be successful
for. Raise their hopes. Rise to their needs and keep taking risks
as new opportunities arise," Lara said she'll continue to encourage,
support and challenge Indian students in the community to take the
journey to higher education. While there isn't "a blueprint
to follow," she said, "each experience is a process. I
believe my work has just begun in so many ways. I foresee members
of our community represented among the professors and administrators
in our colleges and universities."
current plans are to continue research that will shift the paradigm
of education in indigenous communities, teach at the university
level and provide professional development for teachers and administrators
in schools and communities that serve Indian students.