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Alpha Pi Omega sorority celebrates and supports Native American culture through Greek life

During National Native American Heritage Month, sisters share their experiences within the sorority and their traditional culture and values

Alpha Pi Omega.jpg
Alpha Pi Omega sorority sister pose for a photo at Old Main on the Tempe campus on Thursday, March 23, 2023.

Alpha Pi Omega, the first sorority in the nation to be dedicated to Native American women, uses its chapter at ASU to continue the celebration of Indigenous culture past Native American Heritage Month.

To celebrate, the Iota chapter hosts different food, art and cultural events throughout the year to celebrate and support the Native American community.

"Most of us come from very different tribes," said Iota President Kaihalla George, a senior studying political science and American Indian studies. 

Alpha Pi Omega was established in September 1994 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently has more than 900 members and 130 tribes represented nationwide. 

READ MORE: Native American students reflect on University support during heritage month

In May 2007, ASU started the Iota chapter of the sorority. UA is the only other Arizona university to have an Alpha Pi Omega chapter.

"We are a small sorority, we don't always have the schedules to get out there and do everything," said Randii Castaneda, a junior studying art and American Indian studies. "But we want to be more involved in Greek life in general, not just the multicultural Greek (life)."

"I was worried when I came to ASU (about) being able to find a group and maintain it," Castaneda said. "But with the sisterhood, we always have each other's backs. I feel like these girls are always here for me no matter what."

Multiple officer roles within the sorority come from intertwining the traditional Greek life positions, like president and treasurer, with traditional Indigenous roles, like "chieftess" and "grand dean of honeycombs."

In addition, the sorority's four values of education, spirituality, traditionalism and contemporary issues are all connected to the four elements, according to George.

"Education is earth, spirituality is air, traditionalism is fire and contemporary issues is water," George said. "We all fit into different clans; I think they are accurate."

Lisa Williams, a junior studying neuroscience, serves as chieftess. The role requires Williams to mediate issues within the sorority and handle all internal and external communication.

"I think having those little chieftess moments makes it more memorable and close-knit," Williams said. "Even though we all have our own problems outside of the sorority, I feel like I really connect with everyone through those moments."

READ MORE: ASU's LGBTQ+ inclusive sorority provides community for people regardless of gender

Sisters focus on their relationships with one another and share respect for the different tribes represented within the sorority, according to its members.

"It’s easier for me to convey ideas, ideologies and principles I have personally," Williams said. "They grew up moderately traditional, especially within today’s society. It's hard to stay in touch with our Indigenous roots."

The mission of the Iota sorority chapter is to support creating a balanced life between traditional cultures and success in the modern world. 

George said those who are well versed in traditional Indigenous practices while living in the "contemporary modern" world "walk between two worlds."

"It's being able to live in this world and take care of ourselves and build something that we are proud of, but still maintaining our traditional values, ceremonies and responsibilities of home," George said.

With their motto "My Sisters as Myself," the Alpha Pi Omega sorority focuses on issues for Native American women in society at large.

"We just keep in mind respect, being compassionate and caring (about) people who are not ourselves and putting other people before ourselves," Williams said.

Looking into the future, the sorority is excited to partner with an Indigenous fraternity, Phi Sigma Nu, which will be restarted in Spring 2024 after being inactive for several years.

"They will be making a comeback, and while we haven't been personally involved with getting to help with that, it will be fun to see and do socials with them," Castaneda said. 

The sorority will continue to educate while letting the brother organization coordinate with fraternities. Together, the organizations can host larger events, according to Castaneda.

"A lot of people assume we only accept girls who are Indigenous, but we are open to everyone as long as you respect our values," George said. 

Edited by Grey Gartin, Sadie Buggle and Angelina Steel.

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