ASU student receives MLK award for increasing awareness of Native American communities

Using values instilled from her childhood, one Hopi student strives to bolster awareness of her culture

Amber Poleviyuma and her dance partner participated in a “social dance” with other dancers from the village in an effort to make it rain. She said to her grandfather, “We are going to make it rain, just us — not the other dancers.”

After two days of dancing, Poleviyuma said she finally felt the first drops of rain and returned home to her grandfather who said to her, “You did make it rain.” 

Poleviyuma said that this social dance was not just to bring rain. It was to celebrate the harvest, and to bring about prayer and happiness. Poleviyuma said sharing this moment with her grandfather meant a lot to her.

Poleviyuma is a Native American who grew up on the Moenkopi village in northern Arizona, and her grandfather taught her to value her family and her community. Now a senior community health major at Arizona State University, these values are portrayed in her work and activities.

“The values that he had instilled in me remind me why I’m here,” she said. “I’m not just here to get an education, I’m here for my people.”

Recently, Poleviyuma received the 2017 MLK Student Servant-Leadership Award for her efforts to represent and increase awareness for Native American communities both on and beyond campus.

Poleviyuma said every aspect of her actions revolve around giving back to her community. 

Poleviyuma also said her end goal is to go back to her village with an education and with experience that will allow her benefit her people.

Through the ASU Tribal Nations Tour, Poleviyuma said she was able to share her ideals about how people can further their community by furthering their education with students in schools with high Native American populations.

According to the Tribal Nations Tour website, it brings college students to schools that share their stories to encourage the younger population to pursue higher education.

“We all have a responsibility to either our families or our communities,” Poleviyuma said.

Poleviyuma said when she was growing up in her community she was taught the importance of individuals because to raise her, everyone had to work together.

"It showed me how every person is valuable because they put so much work into everyone," she said.

Poleviyuma said she was also the secretary of Native Americans for Academics, Success and Unity during its first year on campus. The club focused on building a community for Native Americans on downtown campus and to promote the Native American community and culture.

Poleviyuma also said she was co-nominated for the award she received with one of the nominators being Bryan Brayboy, president’s professor and special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. 

Brayboy said Poleviyuma offered fresh perspectives to the studies put on by the Center for Indian Education

Brayboy also said Poleviyuma's job as research aid means that she does a lot of background research and analysis of literature for the studies, and he often uses her as a sounding board for ideas and thoughts. 

“She is using her talents to serve other people,” Brayboy said.

Jessica Solyom, assistant research professor at the Center for Indian Education also nominated Poleviyuma for the award.

Solyom said Poleviyuma looks at the world in a different way than most people because of her major and her experiences. 

“She always has her eye on the bigger picture,” Solyom said.

Poleviyuma was also the secretary of Native Americans for Academics, Success and Unity during the club's first year on campus. This club focused on building a community for Native Americans on downtown campus and to show that Native Americans are on campus by promoting their community and culture. 

Ryan Bia, a co-founder and the first president of NAASU, said Poleviyuma was important to the success of the club. 

“She was dedicated and passionate about it and I think that’s what we really needed for a solid foundation for NAASU,” Bia said.

Poleviyuma said that she believes it is important to step up when the occasion arises, but also to be humble and able to step aside if there is someone better equipped to work on the issue. However, she is not waiting for graduation in order to start making a difference.

"You can make changes where you are right now," Poleviyuma said.

Reach the reporter at or follow @NikkiDusanek on Twitter

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