Nation & World

An echo of Harvard in New Mexico

7 min read

Coordinator suggests students look east during visits to Native American high schools

My name is Jason. I am Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Jemez, Laguna. I was born here. This is my home, said Jason Packineau, community coordinator for the Harvard University Native American Program, as he opened his presentation at the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque in typical fashion by naming his tribal affiliations.

The Albuquerque academy was one of four schools that Packineau and I visited on a recent trip to New Mexico. We also stopped at Bernalillo High School outside Albuquerque, at the Santa Fe Indian School, and at the Walatowa Charter High School in Jemez Pueblo, one of 19 pueblos that are self-governing entities in New Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to generate interest for Harvard among Native American students, as well as to host a Harvard booth at the National Indian Education Association conference in Albuquerque. As a photographer with Harvard Public Affairs & Communications, I went along to document Harvard’s stepped-up recruitment efforts in the Southwest.

For many of the high school students we visited, the Harvard name was simply an abstraction. But when they learned the College waives tuition for families earning less than $65,000, and will even fly out prospective students who have been accepted, you could almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they gathered up more Harvard literature from the table.

One particularly motivated, pony-tailed girl at Bernalillo High School had brought along her transcript for Packineau to assess. Standing nearby, her student counselor looked on, smiling ever so slightly like a proud parent. “If not this year,” the counselor said, “then next — we’ll send one of these students to Harvard, you just wait and see.”

A Native American student at Bernalillo High School looks over a Harvard brochure. The fact that Harvard waives tuition entirely for families earning less than $65,000 makes it a more viable option than the University of New Mexico or even a local tribal college for low-income families. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
A roadside church graces the route from Albuquerque to Jemez Pueblo. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Jemez Red Rocks outside Jemez Pueblo. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
The seal for Jemez Pueblo is one of 19 that decorate the walls of the Santa Fe Indian School, representing the various pueblos of New Mexico. The pueblos have their own tribal government, and many have languages that are distinct from the other pueblos. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
The Walatowa Charter School sits across the highway from Jemez Pueblo. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Arrow Wilkinson, principal at the Walatowa Charter High School at Jemez Pueblo, is proud of his students' improved reading scores, but acknowledges they still lag behind their white counterparts. Part of the problem is the lack of any homework ethic for young Native American children before they arrive at Walatowa. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP) Community Coordinator Jason Packineau assists a student at Walatowa Charter High School, Jemez Pueblo. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
The administration building at the Walatowa Charter High School is composed of modular units. Despite the stark, impersonal modular structures, there is a friendly, can-do spirit among students and staff. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
A wall mural at Bernalillo High School, which has a high proportion of Native American students, overlooks the parking lot. Bernalillo is a short drive from Albuquerque. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
After briefly describing Harvard College to students at Bernalillo High School, Packineau speaks about the difficulty that native people have in leaving home, as he tries to prepare them for a possible giant leap from New Mexico to Cambridge or some other distant university destination. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
It is one thing, Packineau cautions, to leave the cozy confines of the pueblo for the newness of a local tribal college or even the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where Native Americans see similar faces walking the streets. But it is altogether a different experience to transplant oneself across the continent to the metropolitan Northeast, where native people can seem an anomaly. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Native American artifacts at Nativo Lodge, a Native American-owned motel in Albuquerque. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Jason Packineau speaks with a particularly motivated Bernalillo student who has brought her transcript for him to assess. Two students from Bernalillo have previously attended Harvard. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Jason Packineau speaks with a student at Bernalillo High School, as Native American student counselor Tom Williams looks on. Williams is hopeful that one of his students, either this year or next, will be accepted at Harvard. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Detail of Indian sculpture at Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
John LaVelle '87, professor of law and director of the Indian Law Program at the University of New Mexico School of Law, speaks about his feelings of isolation at Harvard in the late '70s. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
A sign welcomes visitors to the Santa Fe Indian School, originally founded as a boarding school in 1890 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Throughout the school’s early history, young Native American children were removed from their families and forced to attend. Now the school is a much sought-after destination for youths both in and out of state who want a quality education. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Against a backdrop of circular shields representing the pueblos of New Mexico, Jason Packineau prepares to address students at the Santa Fe Indian School. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
A seal on the wall of the Santa Fe Indian School overlooks a conference room where Jason Packineau presents college information to students. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Jason Packineau stands in front of the central building at the Santa Fe Indian School. The building is named for Pete Domenici, the longest-serving U.S. senator in New Mexico's history. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Walter Dasheno, governor of Santa Clara Pueblo, leads the opening ceremonies at the National Indian Education Association convention. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Singers and dancers perform in traditional formal clothing at the opening ceremonies of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) conference. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Mary Jane Oatman Wak-Wak, president of NIEA, addresses the National Indian Education Association conference. On a personal note, she spoke of the flood of feelings brought on by coming back to the place she calls home, her emotions underscoring her words as they briefly got the best of her. Coming home has special meaning for Native people, who are often torn at leaving their tight-knit communities for school or jobs where they feel cut off from their roots and traditions. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
A couple listens to a speaker on stage at the National Indian Education Association conference in Albuquerque. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Native American watercolor painting. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Jason Packineau mans the HUNAP booth at the National Indian Education Association conference. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Tim Begaye, Ed.M. ’97, Ed.D. ’03, addresses the National Indian Education Association conference. Begaye was one of four candidates elected to an NIEA board position. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
At the National Indian Education Association conference, Jason Packineau speaks with a woman inquiring about graduate school. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
With the Sandia Mountains in the background, Jason Packineau loads a travel case packed with admissions literature into his car after a visit to Bernalillo High School. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer