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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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A Unique Honor
by The Eureka (CA) Times-Standard

Dr. 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.

The 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.

Lara, 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 State.

"I 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 my ancestors."

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."

Lara 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."

She 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."

Since 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 in Arizona.

"Kishan's 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, retired administrator.

"Kishan's 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."

Lara said her journey owes much to contributors in the field of education and language preservation, all the way back to her early childhood.

"I 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."

Among 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."

"This 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.

"(Lara) 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.

Growing 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.

In 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."

Lara's 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.

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