years ago, when Erika Washee Stanley arrived at Haskell Indian Nations
University, she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life.
Carlene Nofire-Morris, left, a Cherokee,
and Erika Washee Stanley, an Arapaho-Cheyenne, have been chosen
Haskell Indian Nation University's Students of the Year and will
give the school commencement address.
"I didn't have much direction," she said. "I knew
I wanted to come to Haskell, but that was about it."
That soon changed.
"Haskell made me realize my potential,"
Stanley, a straight-A student, is one
of two graduating seniors chosen to speak during Haskell's commencement
ceremony. She'll be joined on stage by Carlene Nofire-Morris.
Together, Morris and Stanley are the Students
of the Year, a title comparable to valedictorians.
At first glance, they don't have much
in common. Stanley is 23, from Wichita and wants to be an urban
planner. In the fall, she'll go to Kansas University to get a master's
degree in urban planning. She got married a year ago.
Morris is 41. She and her husband have
three children, ages 23, 18 and 6. For as long as she can remember,
she's wanted to be a teacher. An elementary education major, she
hopes to teach elementary school next year in or near Topeka. Eventually,
she hopes to get a master's degree in elementary education/mathematics
at either KU or Emporia State University.
Morris' parents are both full-blooded
Cherokee from Oklahoma. Stanley's father is half Arapaho-Cheyenne.
Her mother, she said, is Irish.
Morris is vice president of the Haskell
Student Senate and a key player in efforts to start an on-campus
day-care center. Stanley is president of the American Indian Science
and Engineering Society at Haskell. She's not had much interest
in campus politics.
Despite their differences, Stanley and
Morris both feel amply rewarded by their time at Haskell.
"Haskell has a unique atmosphere,"
Morris said. "So many different cultures are represented here,
and yet it's very small in that we all know each other. I have instructors
here who are like a mom and dad to me. They are always there for
Stanley called Haskell a community, adding
that it's not unusual to see young children accompanying their mothers
to class and, a minute later, encounter a tribal elder.
"Being at Haskell gives you the opportunity
to understand the complex issues facing Indian country today,"
Stanley said. Many of these issues, she said, are tied to basic
differences in the Native and non-Native value systems.
"As an environmental studies major,
I know that Native people have a different world view, and the value
they put on things the land, for example is often
different from the values of the dominant society," Stanley
Many times, she said, the non-Native culture
judges a project's worthiness by the money it saves or makes.
"But in the Native world view,"
Stanley said, "economics is not the most important thing. What
happens to the land is beyond a monetary value."
Stanley and Morris both said they wished
Haskell had the resources to do more than it does.
"Right now, Haskell makes do with
what it has," Morris said. "But if it had more resources
and more money, it could do a lot more."