Meet 5 Native American Professionals Shattering the Status-Quo

View of an open two lane road that travels toward a snow capped mountain.No matter what career path you choose, we hope you can envision yourself shining within it. Whether you’ll be the first of your identity to break down the barriers to entry or follow in the path of an amazing leader before you, there’s no reason you can’t achieve greatness. In honor of Native American History Month, meet these 5 amazing Indigenous persons excelling in a variety of professions.

Sharice Davids | U.S. Representative

Looking to represent your community in politics, seek? Rep. Sharice Davids certainly is doing just that as the first of two Native American women to be elected to U.S. Congress. As a first-gen student and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, she held a job during her attendance at Johnson County Community College and the University of Missouri-Kansas City (we love a student who hustles). Afterward, she enrolled in Cornell Law School where she obtained her law degree. Seeking a career in politics, Rep. Davids served under President Barack Obama as a White House Fellow. You’ll now find her representing Kansas’ Third Congressional District and the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Let’s go Kansas!

Dave Anderson | Founder of Famous’ Daves

Are you someone who can’t stand the idea of working for anyone other than yourself? Or maybe you have an idea so huge and ambitious, you’re the only one courageous enough to make it happen. Then look to Dave Anderson, a member of the Chippewa and Choctaw tribes, for some inspiration. What he lacked in grades, he made up for in ambition. Anderson took his love for barbecue and charted his legendary path in 1994 with the opening of the first Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant. With 700 awards later, and a publicly-traded company, you could say he knows quite a bit about barbecue and business.

Louise Erdich | Author and Poet

Want to see your books at the front table of Barnes & Noble? Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa certainly has achieved this. And we bet she would welcome you pulling up a table next to hers. Erdich has received the National Book Award for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Night Watchman, received the Pulitzer Prize and serves as a tribute to her grandfather who engaged in a political fight for Native American rights. What story will you pull from the shadows of your subconscious?

Martha Redbone | Musician

If you’re more focused on the playlist to take with you on your career journey, maybe music is your destination. Martha Redbone certainly may inspire you as someone to incorporate into your list music. Redbone is a Native American and African American composer, songwriter, performer, and educator. Her folksy, blue-grass-inspired music pulls from her Kentucky. And layered within these rhythms are lyrics that speak to her experiences as a biracial woman. What kind of tale can you share with your music?

Aaron Yazzie | Mechanical Engineer

When it comes to the science fields, it can feel dauntingly overrepresented in certain demographics. But with a growing focus on the remarkable achievements and talents out there, this is changing. Aaron Yazzie, who is Diné, is certainly no exception to the talent field being tapped into. As a Mechanical Engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Yazzie delivered flight hardware to Mars via the InSight Lander Mission. But he isn’t just focused on the world beyond. Yazzie also is focused on promoting STEM within Indigenous communities. In fact, he’s so involved in his work on encouraging excitement around science in the Indigenous community, he received the 2019 NASA JPL Bruce Murray Award for the effort.

 

As you consider your own career path, seek out people and their stories that offer you a nudge of inspiration. Then, consider reaching out and asking if they would consider partaking in an information interview­­. You may be surprised how many busy professionals are more than eager to make for a coffee break on Zoom to share their stories and hear all about how they inspired you. If you need tips on conducting an informational interview, check out our resource guide.

Correction Note – An earlier version included Lila Downs, a musician who has ancestry to a region of Mexico.
By Thomas Guzowski, U of R Employee
Thomas Guzowski, U of R Employee Assistant Director of Marketing Thomas Guzowski, U of R Employee