During Native American Heritage Month, University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval visits with Director of Indigenous Relations Daphne Emm - Hooper. Emm - Hooper has dedicated her career to public service, most recently serving as the city manager for the City of Fernley and previously holding the role of executive director for Nevada Urban Indians. She is also the co-founder of the Nevada Tribal Leadership Development program at the University.
During the episode, Sandoval and Emm - Hooper talk about the Office of Indigenous Relations’ efforts to support University compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, returning ancestorial remains and Native American items to their communities. They discuss the new benefits offered by the Native American fee waiver after Nevada legislation was passed during the 2023 session and the role of the land acknowledgment on campus. Emm - Hooper also shares how her team supports the 28 Indigenous communities around the state and the role of higher education in her career and life.
Sagebrushers is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other major podcast platforms, with new episodes every month.
Sagebrushers – S2 Ep. 15 – Director of Indigenous Relations Daphne Emm - Hooper
Join host President Brian Sandoval as he and Director of Indigenous Relations Daphne Emm - Hooper explore her office's efforts to support Indigenous communities on campus and around the state.
Daphne Emm-Hooper: We know that belonging is really important, and so whatever belonging looks like for our students, it might be a native connection, which we hope that through our office, and through other areas on campus, we can provide that. But maybe it's something else. Maybe they want to get involved in other programs or clubs, or they have to find the people that they might feel comfortable with. And so, we just need to make sure that we're checking in, and checking on, our students to make sure that we are engaging.
President Brian Sandoval: In this episode of Sagebrushers, we welcome Daphne Emm-Hooper, director of Indigenous Relations at the University of Nevada, Reno. I'm Brian Sandoval. I'm a proud graduate and president of the University, and I'm your host of Sagebrushers.
Daphne has served as the city manager for the city of Fernley and has dedicated her career to public service, including serving as the executive director for Nevada Urban Indians. Daphne is also the co-founder of the Nevada Tribal Leadership Development Program at the University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a Master of Arts degree in Organizational Management, and a Master of Science degree in Community Economic Development. Today's podcast is being recorded at the Reynolds School of Journalism on our University's campus. Daphne, welcome to Sagebrushers. I am so excited to share with our listeners more about your background and your story.
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Thank you.
President Brian Sandoval: Welcome. So, since you began this role with the University in May of 2022, there have been major changes and milestones met. Can you walk us through some of the highlights of the projects your team has been working on?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. So, I think one of the biggest milestones I've seen is huge support from University leadership. So, thank you for all of your support. And we've really been working on building bridges both within the University and externally. And so, we work with a lot of the college units to learn about who the tribes are, what tribal sovereignty is, and what that means for the University and how we can work better together. And then also, we've been on the road visiting the tribal communities, really trying to build those relationships and understand what role we can play with the tribal communities. I think for so long, people just try to work with the communities and not quite sure how to access them. And so, our office has been, I think, integral in helping to establish those connections and relationships and really looking out for the best interest for our tribal communities. As a land grant institution, it's important for our University to be a resource, and so we're working on things like economic development, looking at what our medical school can provide, what public health can provide and also what research looks like within our communities. Certainly, the fee waiver is a big topic as well as NAGPRA. So, we are big and broad and expansive and there's a lot to cover.
President Brian Sandoval: No, and we're going to get into to some of those things. And first and foremost, I want to let you know how grateful I am about what you're doing and, you know, very important for me to be connected to our tribal communities across the state. So, you mentioned economic development and working on economic development. Could you provide a little more specificity with regard to what that looks like?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Absolutely. So, in December of last year, the Intertribal Council of Nevada had a conference. And so, with that conference, we were able to partner with the University Center for Economic Development and funding through the Governor's Office of Economic Development to host an economic development summit. And through that, we were able to meet with the tribal representatives, gather some information about what their needs and wants are, and we're putting together a statewide tribal economic development plan. This is really important because when tribes apply for funding, particularly through the Economic Development Administration, they need what's called CEDS or Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. And often tribal communities don't have that. So, we'll be able to use that tool to help them look at funding and also help them understand what economic development means in their communities and how the University can be a resource.
President Brian Sandoval: And you also mentioned NAGPRA and NAGPRA is an acronym for a federal law, it’s something that I've learned a lot about and is extremely important to the mission of our University and that we understand and respect that. So, can you go into NAGPRA, please?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Sure. So, NAGPRA is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It was passed in 1990 and basically, what it means is that ancestral remains or Native American items must be returned to their communities. And a lot of institutions, museums, universities have those items on their campus and in their control. And so, the University does have some collections on our campus and there is federal law that says that those items must be returned. So, our leadership has done a great job in creating a position. So, we have a NAGPRA program coordinator, Rochanne Downs, who works out of my office and she is working with a consultant that we have on board to figure out what we have on campus, what that entails, and then work on processes to make sure that we get those returned. We have engaged the tribal communities and are working with them to get information out about what we have and how we might get those returned. We have repatriated one collection. There are about 16 collections on campus. And so, we're doing our best to make sure that we have a full understanding of what those collections are so we don't miss anything and then are able to work with the tribes to get them returned.
President Brian Sandoval: But it also includes ancestral remains?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Absolutely.
President Brian Sandoval: And if you would talk a little bit about that because I think that is one of the most important things that we could do.
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Absolutely. And so, there are ancestral remains, so human remains, that are on campus, and we have identified those and we have taken care of them and made sure that they are handled appropriately and respectfully and we have contacted the tribes to make sure that everybody knows that they're here. And so, according to NAGPRA, tribal consultation is a huge requirement. So, the University can't just say, “Oh, this is what we're going to do with them.” We have to make sure that we ask how tribes would like those taken care of, and then we will respect their wishes and then we will work with them to get them returned and back to their communities.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, and perhaps you can talk a little bit more about that because, you know, this is really important to the tribal communities and the ability for those ancestors to be in peace.
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Absolutely. And so, you know, so often I think Native American remains and ancestral remains were treated as objects, and they are in fact, people. And so, these are our relatives that have been placed in not-so-great conditions or stored in places that probably aren't appropriate. And so, we're trying to figure out where those are, how we can care for them, and then again, work with our tribal communities so that they can get returned and buried appropriately according to whatever their processes might be.
President Brian Sandoval: No, and again, thank you for this really important work and I do believe that we're setting an example both in the Western United States, if not throughout the country. So, let's talk a little bit more about some of the things that we're doing on campus. And our listeners, they may have attended some of the events here and we do a land acknowledgment. So, what is the takeaway that you hope our listeners learn from that acknowledgment?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Land acknowledgments are huge all over the country. Everybody seems to be doing one. And so, the University does have a land acknowledgment. I think it's really important, especially as a land grant institution because what that means is in the Moral Act of 1862, land was taken from our native and tribal communities to establish an endowment to support institutions of higher ed. The University of Nevada, Reno is that, one of those institutions. And so, it's important for us to acknowledge that our native people were here and this institution is a result of the land that they lived on.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, and in fact, this campus was a sacred place, correct?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. And so we need to acknowledge that.
President Brian Sandoval: So, you mentioned briefly in some of your earlier comments the Native American Fee Waiver, and I frankly believe it's one of the most exciting things happening on our campus, and one of your main areas of focus in your role is indigenous student retention. So first talk about the fee waiver, how it started, and we've had some recent change in state law that is a fantastic gain. And how that's expanded the opportunity to have even more native students on campus.
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Absolutely. So not this legislative session, but two years ago the Native American fee waiver was established through legislation. And basically, what that said was that fees for Native American students would be waived for those enrolled members or descendants of federally recognized tribes in Nevada. And so, during that time, which is fantastic, there were some challenges particularly regarding residency because we do have some reservations that go beyond state lines. And so there were some challenges with the way that that was written. So, during this legislation, there was an amendment proposed to change that and through that process, the fee waiver was expanded even further. And so now what it says is that enrolled members or descendants of any federally recognized tribe are eligible for this fee waiver. There is still a residency requirement, so people must be a resident within the state for at least a year.
There also were some changes in the way that the fees were applied. And so now this waiver will be applied first and federal funds or scholarships that a student receives will be reapplied after those funds are received. The other thing that it did was it expanded the types of programs that students could access. And so, any undergraduate program, any graduate program, professional program, any program through extended studies, any self-supported program, basically anything that is offered by an institution within the state of Nevada is eligible for this fee waiver. So, it's a great access for our native communities. What we need to make sure as a University is that we provide the support and environment that allows them to continue on with that education. So, just because you get in, we need to make sure that we're giving you the tools and support to continue and ultimately graduate.
President Brian Sandoval: So, I want to break this up into a couple pieces. So, talk about how many more students, indigenous students we've gotten, and then what are we doing to retain them?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Yeah, so, last year there were about 70 students that accessed the fee waiver. So, we're going to likely see the numbers grow and especially because of types of courses that are allowed. One of the things that the president did first off was to send out a letter and let everybody know. So, the students who are currently enrolled at the University and have identified as American Indian or Alaska Native are now eligible if they weren't previously. And so, they've been calling and asking for information. And so, we are just trying to build those supports and make sure that we give them the information, but we're likely to see it. It could potentially double, I don't want to say those numbers, but it's hard to know until we finish the enrollment process.
President Brian Sandoval: So, we've talked about your recruiting efforts and the change in state law. What are we doing once our students arrive?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: So, it's going to be really important for the University to look at what is needed for our students to remain in college and to ultimately graduate. And so there are a couple of programs that currently exist on campus, there's a program, the Tribal Academy through INBRE. There's a tribal student support system through the College of Ag. We do have an indigenous student support position through the Multicultural Center. So, I think one of the things that we need to make sure is we're actually giving the students the tools that they need to continue and to graduate. We know that belonging is really important and so whatever belonging looks like for our students. It might be a native connection, which we hope that through our office and through other areas on campus, we can provide that. But maybe it's something else. Maybe they want to get involved in other programs or clubs or they have to find the people that they might feel comfortable with. And so, we just need to make sure that we're checking in and checking on our students to make sure that we are engaging.
President Brian Sandoval: So, you've put a lot of miles on the car traveling across the state, and you have visited, I think every tribe in the state of Nevada. What have your experiences been and what type of reaction are you receiving when you do visit?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: Yeah, so, there are 28 reservation bans or colonies or communities within the state of Nevada. And yes, they are all over the state from Owyhee, which is by Idaho, all the way down to Mojave in Southern Nevada. Our goal is to visit the tribes at least twice a year. People are pretty receptive. I think it's nice to be able to just have a face and have a discussion and show representation. I mean, even beyond just academics for our students, I think we're trying to help the communities understand that the University can be a resource and often people don't think about that or understand that when they're writing for grants or looking at programs or looking at projects that the University could be a resource. The other thing I think that's been helpful is from the University's end, is educating our University about what that means for working with our tribal communities. And so, you know, if somebody has a grant or a program or a project that they would like to apply for because there's funding out there to work with tribal communities, that it's helpful to be culturally respectful and responsive. And so, we're encouraging people to go through our office so that we can build those connections and help you build those relationships so that we make sure that we're not taking advantage of our tribal communities and we're being respectful.
President Brian Sandoval: So, we're almost out of time, but you know, I have to say you're one of the most committed and passionate people that I've ever met. So, what drives you? I mean, your academic record is so impressive, your history is so impressive. What drives you each day?
Daphne Emm-Hooper: You know, I come from a pretty supportive family, so I think it starts there. But I've been really blessed to be able to access higher education, get the degrees that I have, and, you know, I played sports, I was involved in my community and I think my passion right now is being able to give back to the communities that were so supportive of me and to try to build support for our youth and our communities and let them know that there are these opportunities out there and anything's possible if you have support and take advantage of the things that are out there.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, you truly are an inspiration and a role model, so thank you for being with us. And unfortunately, that is all the time we have for this episode of Sagebrushers. Thank you again for joining us, Daphne. And join us next time for another episode as we continue to tell the stories that make our University special and unique. Until then, I'm University President Brian Sandoval and Go Pack.