My family had the privilege of taking a brief holiday break on the Texas Coast. Upon return, traveling via picturesque State Road 183 taking us through Goliad, we stopped to visit a historical site known as Mission Nuestra Senora del Espíritu Santo de Zuniga, part of Goliad State Park. The mission, museum, and grounds shed light on the history of Indigenous peoples in the region and the impact of colonization. It provided a time for deep reflection on these experiences of both freedom and oppression.

The timing of this unexpected historic find perfectly aligned with national awareness raised last month commemorating Native American Heritage Month each November as the time to recognize the contributions, accomplishments and the culture of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Various national efforts have recognized celebratory days to pay tribute or for remembrance, including in 1986 President Reagan established American Indian Week, and in 1990 President George Bush approved a joint resolution designating November “National American Indian Heritage Month.”

“We take this opportunity to highlight the purpose and belonging research and how closely it is linked with the culture of Native American and Indigenous peoples. A great example of the role that belonging plays in these cultures is showcased in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian through one of the websites that they designed on ways Native People and Nations experience belonging. The site prompts us to consider how the connections that people have to place, family, and nation are key to the deeply rooted culture of belonging to the land, kinship, and responsibilities that they bear. This video from the Smithsonian website explains the importance of the landscape in generating a sense of belonging.

It is important to also note the harm and suffering brought to Indigenous communities by the history of marginalization, oppression, colonialism, and abuse in residential schools. A presentation at the 2019 Prevnet Conference by Dr. Brenda Restoule entitled, Creating Hope, Belonging, Meaning and Purpose in the Lives of Indigenous Children and Youth, highlights the challenges faced by Indigenous youth: ”

  • “Significant losses (language, culture, identity, traditional skills, Indigenous knowledge, etc.) 
  • Social problems (poverty, low educational attainment, unemployment, substandard housing, child welfare) 
  • Health problems (chronic and infectious illnesses, high suicide rates, substance abuse, violence, intergenerational trauma, accurate diagnosis, etc.)”

To address these challenges, also faced by adults in the communities of Native Americans, the First Nations Wellness Framework was developed to encompass four pillars: (1) Hope, (2) Purpose, (3) Meaning, and (4) Belonging – bringing culture to the center of intervention strategies.

“Mental wellness is a balance of the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. This balance is enriched as individuals have: PURPOSE in their daily lives whether it is through education, employment, care-giving activities, or cultural ways of being and doing; HOPE for their future and those of their families that is grounded in a sense of identity, unique Indigenous values, and having a belief in spirit; a sense of BELONGING and connectedness within their families, to community, and to culture; and finally a sense of MEANING and an understanding of how their lives and those of their families and communities are part of creation and a rich history.”

First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework

The Thunderbird Partnership Foundation

Dr. Restoule also shares data from Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Annual Report on successful culturally-based interventions and the impact they have on student educational outcomes, in this example focusing on language revitalization:

“Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK) continues to work on improving the quality of education for our people, while remaining vigilant in maintaining and revitalizing our Mi’kmaq language. 

  • High school graduation rates among First Nation students in Nova Scotia were nearly 88%, considerably higher than the national average of 35%; 
  • Numeracy and literacy rates in elementary and secondary schools increased; 
  • More than 500 First Nation students were enrolled in post secondary institutions; 
  • Eighty-eight First Nation students graduated from a post secondary institution in 2013 and went out into the world, confidently expanding their personal horizons and ready to make a change in their communities; and 
  • Our special needs students are getting the focused attention they need to grow and thrive.”

“Modeling culturally-based practices is the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) Partnership, a First Nations driven organization that is “a source of collective expertise in culturally based, cutting edge professional practices for northern health services.” This is the only First Nations organization of its kind in Canada and has shown significant gains in health and wellness outcomes of those served including lower suicide rates, higher rates in completion of intervention programs, and higher rates of discontinued substance abuse. ”

“A model of culturally-based support for Native American college students is the Native American Academic Student Success Center at UC Davis born from the Strategic Native American Retention Initiative (NARI). The plan acknowledges that “historically, the conversation around education and Native communities has been limited or nonexistent,” leaving Native American students isolated or lacking adequate culturally-grounded support and resources. The outcomes for this initiative are focused on increasing the retention, persistence, and graduation rates of Native American students in a culturally appropriate way focused on connection and community. NARI plan has the following goals:

  • Create cultural legitimacy.
  • Promote academic resilience for our students.
  • Foster students’ transition to higher education and beyond”

Given all the challenges and needs identified across a number of sectors as well as the efforts in higher education and local and national governmental efforts to address the needs of Native American and Indigenous communities, how do we fare at ACC? ”

Taking a Closer Look Within

The ACC 2020-2021 Factbook provides an updated look at our American Indian / Alaska Native population. While the current population of American Indian and Alaska Natives within our legislatively designated service area was 32% in 2020, our ACC enrollments for this student group stood at 4% in both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. Our service area encompasses the following six counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson.

We also see that from Spring 2017 to Spring 2021, our Full-Time Student Equivalent (FTSE) Unduplicated American Indian / Alaska Native headcount declined by 55.5% from 8% to 4%. These data are not always included in our student outcomes reports noting the small sample size, but the history of Indigenous peoples can help us rethink the systemic decisions that continue to marginalize these student groups.

According to the 2019 Postsecondary National Policy Institute fact sheet of Native American Students In Higher Education:

“Because Native Americans (both American Indians and Alaska Natives) comprise only 1% of the U.S. undergraduate population and less than 1% of the graduate population, these students are often left out of postsecondary research and data reporting due to small sample size. What data is available indicates that only 10% of Native Americans attain bachelor’s degrees and only 17% attain associate degrees, making the case for a system that is more responsive to the specific needs of these students.”

National higher education student outcome organizations, such as Achieving the Dream (ATD), are taking action to support Native American students through efforts such as the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, noting this student population is one of the most underrepresented in higher education. Thirty-three (33) tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) joined the ATD network in 2017.

“In addition to providing quality education, TCUs have the unique mission of nation building. Two organizations, The American Indian Higher Education Consortium  and the American Indian College Fund, support Native American student success and communities of learning and are key partners in our work.”

These program-participating colleges have worked together on a Holistic Student Supports Project that includes key resources to support Native American Student Success, not only on their own campuses but also to share with ours.

Click on the image to play video.

ACC Pathways 

Department of History

Al Purcell, PhD, Professor of History and Department Chair

Interdisciplinary Studies – American Studies

Samuel Echevarria-Cruz, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Department Coordinator of American Studies

Department of Anthropology

Carleen Sanchez, PhD, Professor Anthropology, Anthropology, Economics and Geography and Department Chair

Department of Sociology

Rennison Lalgee, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Department Chair of Sociology and Social Work

Department of Government

Christopher D’Urso, Professor of Government and Department Chair


ACC History Department

Library Research Guides

TLED Purpose and Belonging Speaker Series

Honoring Indigenous Peoples

Friday, November 12, 2021

Presented by Nichole Prescott, Ph.D., Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, P16 Initiatives, University of Texas System

ACC Student Life and Creative Writing Department hosted a reading with two authors in celebration of Native American Heritage Month:

Danielle Geller, author of Dog Flowers

“A daughter returns home to the Navajo reservation to retrace her mother’s life in a memoir that is both a narrative and an archive of one family’s troubled history.

“In this transcendent story, Geller refuses to look away from the agonizing cycles of abuse and addiction, while also writing with deep compassion about the limitations of the people we love.”—Esquire (One of the Best Books of the Year)”

Joan Naviyuk Kane, author of Dark Traffic

“Dark Traffic creates landmarks through language, by which its speakers begin to describe traumas in order to survive and move through them. With fine detail and observation, these poems work in some way like poetic weirs: readers of Kane’s work will see the artic and subarctic, but also, more broadly, America, and the exigencies of motherhood, indigenous experience, feminism, and climate crises alongside the near-necropastoral of misogyny, violence, and systemic failures. These contexts catch the voice of the poems’ speakers, and we perceive the currents they create.”

Notable ACC Faculty and Staff

Dr. MaryJane McReynolds

Director of Articulation and University Relations and Professor of Anthropology, Liberal Arts

Dr. MaryJane McReynolds earned her B.A. with Honors and M.A. in Anthropology and Archeology from The University of Texas at Austin. She has participated in archeological fieldwork in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana, with concentration on prehistoric settlement patterns. She earned a doctorate in Educational Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and her doctoral research focused on personal and institutional roadblocks to educational success among Native American women seeking a college education. She applies her research and experience in working to improve the transfer process for ACC students in her staff position in the Office of Articulation and University Relations. Her goal is to help students transfer to a bachelor’s degree program and achieve their educational goals.

Dr. Jose Flores

Professor of English, Liberal Arts

Dr. Jose Flores is a professor of English and has taught at Austin Community College for over 35 years. His areas of interest include Comparative Literature, Mexican and Native American Studies and Curriculum Development. Professor Flores has taught at Austin Community College for 35 years. Before ACC, he taught English at Antioch University (four Years) and also held the position of Managing Editor CMAS/University of Texas Press. At ACC, he has been awarded The Excellence in Teaching Award and the University of Texas NISOD Teaching Excellence award. In Spring 2012 and 2014, Professor Flores was nominated by students and faculty for the ACC Teaching Excellence award.

As poet and songwriter, Jose Flores Peregrino has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines; his first poetry collection “Mesquitierra,” Pajarito Publications, New, Mexico, 1977 is a celebrated example of the new voices of Chicano Literature. His song “Hace Falta Amor” is featured in the September 2010 PBS Documentary As Long as I Remember and is included in one of the two albums with El Conjunto Aztlan. His noted achievements include receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from Radio Aztlan, the University of California Irving for Chicano music and poetry and an invitation to perform at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Dr. Flores served as Faculty Coordinator, Mexican American/Chicano/a studies at ACC in 2019.

Dr. Flores’ Teaching Philosophy

I teach students not English. Making my classes student-centered entails using a variety of approaches in delivering a lesson because each student brings with her an entire personal repertoire, a unique history, and a personal way of learning. Guiding a student to a successful completion in any of my courses is critical because a college education can make a difference between living a positive and engaged life and a negative and disengaged life, between a rewarding and affirming disposition and an attitude of malcontent and disappointment, between making healthy choices and unhealthy choices. Teaching is sweetness and light; I am doing what I love and getting paid for doing it.

Dr. Lydia CdeBaca-Cruz

Coordinator, Mexican American/Chicano Studies and Adjunct Professor of English, Humanities, and Integrated Reading and Writing

Dr. Lydia CdeBaca-Cruz is committed to improving educational outcomes for underserved students through both higher education and community-based education initiatives. Dr. CdeBaca received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English with graduate certificates in Mexican American Studies and Native American/Indigenous Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her teaching is founded on a concept of learning as bridging. Together with her students, she co-constructs bridges between teaching and learning in order to establish an environment of trust in the classroom, to meet their goals and expectations, and to convey relevant and authentic learning experiences.

Ursula Pike

Associate Director, DigiTex and ACC Adjunct Professor, Creative Writing, Arts, Digital Media

Ursula Pike is the author of An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir (2021) from Heyday Books. She is an enrolled member of the Karuk Tribe, was born in California and also spent part of her childhood in Oregon. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts and also holds an MA in economics in Community Economic Development. Pike won the 2019 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest in the memoir category, and her writing has appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, World Literature Today, and Ligeia Magazine. Pike was a Peace Corps fellow at Western Illinois University and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia from 1994 to 1996. Her book is the first Peace Corps memoir by a Native American.
Soon Merz Flynn

(Retired) Vice President, Effectiveness and Accountability, Austin Community College

Currently working with the Institute for Evidence-Based Change as a member of the Caring Campus Racial Equity Advisory Council, Soon Merz Flynn has served in higher education for over 38 years working in community colleges, universities, coordinating boards and boards of regents in Texas, Kansas, Michigan and Massachusetts. She recently retired as Vice President for Effectiveness and Accountability at Austin Community College after serving more than 15 years. Soon is currently serving as a Data Coach for Achieving the Dream, supporting three tribal colleges and a Tennessee community college. Soon received an Associate in General Education from Central Texas College, a Bachelor of Science in Business from the University of Central Texas, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas.

Acknowledging Connections

The practice of acknowledgements for Indigenous peoples and lands has taken root around the world. While some have adopted this practice, most individuals, organizations and educational institutions have not done so or are not aware of its importance. The Honor Native Land Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture website provides A Guide and Call to Acknowledgement.

Acknowledgement is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth. Imagine this practice widely adopted: imagine cultural venues, classrooms, conference settings, places of worship, sports stadiums, and town halls, acknowledging traditional lands. Millions would be exposed—many for the first time—to the names of the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of the lands they are on, inspiring them to ongoing awareness and action.

Native American culture is born of the land, and I gratefully acknowledge the Aranama, Piguique, Manos de Perro, Tamique, Tawakoni and Tonkawa peoples whose ancestral homelands I visited on my recent journey to South Texas. Today, I also acknowledge that my home and place of work are on Indigenous lands of the Coahuiltecan, Jumanos and Tonkawa as well as all other American Indian and Indigenous peoples communities that have been part of this land.

Here are some resources to help those who want to develop and use land acknowledgements:

Text-Based Information:

Recognizing the original inhabitants of the spaces we occupy through awareness-building and land acknowledgment practices is only a first step toward equity, but it is an important one. A new SMS bot developed by Code for Anchorage with information provided by the Canadian nonprofit Native Land encourages land acknowledgment by making it easier for those in the US to learn which Indigenous territories they’re standing on. Just text your zip code or your city and state (separated by a comma) to (907) 312-5085 and the bot will respond with the names of the Native lands that correspond to that region. (The service currently only works for US residents, but may be available for other countries in the future.)


You can use this site directly by entering your address, or by mousing or clicking around on the map to see the relevant territories in a location. Once you click, a number of links will appear with different nation names. By clicking on those links, you will be taken to a page specifically about that nation, language, or treaty, where you can view some sources, give feedback, and learn a little more.

You can also export the map to a printable image file, turn map labels on or off to see non-Indigenous borders and towns, and select or search from a dropdown of territories, treaties, and languages.

We also have mobile apps available for iOS and Android. To use these, you can enter an address into the search bar at the top of the app, or you can press anywhere on the map to “drop a pin” and see more about the location you’ve selected.

ACC has had a few faculty and staff members use acknowledgements, but there is currently no established process, policy or material. To support these efforts, TLED initially reached out to a Native American organization that provides regional maps identifying tribal and Indigenous lands and solicited a quote for maps to represent each of our campuses. Cost considerations made us rethink this plan and, instead, we opted to involve our very own faculty and students to support this initiative.

We met last month with the Department Chair of Anthropology, Dr. Carleen Sanchez; Department Chair of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Stephanie Long; and Department Chair of Visual Communications, Gail Bayeta to begin the conversation on ways to integrate this service project into capstone or related courses during the Spring and Summer 2022 semesters. The project would include identifying the tribal lands and boundaries to create maps for each of the ACC campuses, researching land acknowledgements and developing versions for each campus, including audio examples for appropriate pronunciation of tribal names, and creating a comprehensive website to house these materials. We may also include video interviews of tribal members. Additional departments will be invited to participate with funding and support from TLED and in collaboration with the Equity Council and Truth Racial Healing and Transformation Center.

Intertwined Futures

If you have been following the Purpose and Belonging blogs, you may have noticed recurring themes that link the topics to each other. This blog is no different in our mention here of the environment, wellness, peace, creatures, spirituality and even technology. The premise of interrelationships is foundational to the culture of Native American and Indigenous peoples and embeds the ideas of connection, collaboration and care (the three c’s) in addition to including purpose and belonging as constructs in the Indigenous Wellness Framework.

Our reason for focusing on purpose and belonging continues to be supported by research and through stories. In the March 2021 seasonal story, “From Me to We: The Radically Restorative Lessons of Indigenous Wisdom,” the author speaks to the benefits of considering and embracing Indigenous culture in our efforts to make a better world.

“While Indigenous and Western epistemologies may follow different routes to draw conclusions about the world we inhabit, it’s for that very reason that they complement one another so well when used in tandem. More and more scientists — like the International Institute for Sustainable Development team — are seeing the tremendous benefits of integrating holistic Indigenous knowledge with traditional Western scientific methods. Indeed, as Western science increasingly recognizes how deeply interlaced every facet of the universe really is — from the climate to the quantum level — it’s beginning to look remarkably like the Indigenous ways of knowing it have long, and wrongfully, been scorned. But there’s still a long way to go. If we want to heal some of the social and environmental wounds we’ve wrought, we’d do well to pay even closer attention to Indigenous wisdom, especially its ethical mandates.”

Our call to action is to shorten the distance between Western and Indigenous world views. In our equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts, we can consider ways to increase support for our Native American and Indigenous peoples, foster a sense of belonging for our Native American students, and increase awareness of the historical practices that have marginalized and negatively impacted critical connections of Indigenous communities to the culture and the land. Let’s consider a greater partnership in writing the story of our future together.

In shared purpose and belonging,

Susan Thomason

Associate Vice Chancellor of Teaching and Learning Excellence

In collaboration with Terry Barksdale, Professor and Reference Librarian

Are you harnessing the power of purpose and belonging in your work at ACC?

We’d love to hear from you! Contact for opportunities to be featured on our website and blog.