How to meet and welcome Native students during New Student Outreach

How to meet and welcome Native students during New Student Outreach

Here are some helpful things to know about meeting Native students on campus during the New Student Outreach (NSO) season:


1. Native students generally fall into one of these categories:

  • Native students who are looking for a Native group and find it--there is an established ministry for Natives available (higher identity)
  • Native students who are looking for a Native group and there is none on campus. They tend to be super open to inclusion and diversity that they can fit into.
  • Native students who wish they knew their tribe and culture better and would welcome finding a group to help with this, but may not look hard for it (lower identity)

2. Some Native students will benefit from being a part of another ethnic focus ministry community (like Black Campus Ministries, LaFe Latino Fellowship, and Asian American Ministries) and they can use the Native online meeting called, “The Gathering,” when they want to engage in Native identity.

3. Native ministry is just good ministry. Get to know the person and ask about family. Don’t ask how do Navajos do something, but ask how does their family does things. Ask, “What’s something you enjoy? What might others enjoy that we could make for the Native community?”

4. Too much branding and conformity in posters, flyers, and websites can communicate a non-Native (Western) approach. Natives tend to prefer home-grown and authentic over high polish in communication.

5. Appreciate the unique experiences of Pasifika students (Native Hawaiian, Polynesian, Melanesian, Micronesian)

  • There might be a club or organization on the West Coast, but not much beyond that. If you meet a Pasifika student, s/he probably knows the other Pasifika students on campus.
  • Students from Hawaii are not necessarily Native Hawaiian/Pasifika, but they are a community even if they are not Native and they often gather unofficially.
  • Asian Pacific Islander—Don’t assume Pasifika students will feel comfortable at an Asian-American conference. Instead, try to create an intentional space for them. Don't call something “API” unless there is intentional space for Native Hawaiian/Polynesian/Melanesian/Micronesian students.

6. Don’t underestimate the unofficial spaces, they can be as important as official spaces. The center of the community for Native students might be off-campus, even around an elder.

7. On the continent, anybody caring about Native students is doing more than almost everyone else, so the bar is really low! The student population on most campuses is usually about 1% Native, so they are often an overlooked and underserved student group.

8. Students may need a long onramp to really believe God is calling them to start a group


Things I wish my friend understood about being Native Excerpt from “Start Something Native”

As you get to know me, don’t be in a hurry.
  • You may not always be welcomed in my community very quickly and it may take a while for me to trust you. Don’t be offended or scared off when I try to push you away. Be patient. Love well. Trust that when I am ready, I will share.
  • Native people have stereotypes about white people (especially white missionaries) just as white people have stereotypes about Native people. If you feel angry about being stereotyped, just remember -- this is what I deal with every day. Instead of "fighting back," see it as an opportunity to walk a mile in my shoes.
My family has a profound impact on my day-to-day life right down to the way I use my finances.
  • It is very likely that, unlike many college students who are asking for money from their families back home, I may be sending any extra money I can come by the home to my family.
  • It is also very likely that I am one of the first people in my family to attend college. This may create extra pressure as my home community expects me to have a job and be contributing in that way, but also may mean I’ve got a whole community back home cheering me on.
I don’t need you to become Native, but I would appreciate it if you learned more about Native history.
  • Knowing your own story is important. Understand how your history and my Native history intertwine. Learn about your culture so that your cultural identity crisis does not become my problem.
Don’t always trust what you read in books about Native religion - much of our religious knowledge is very sacred and kept private.
  • Don’t ask direct questions about what my tribe believes, the meaning of a ceremony, or a sacred story. To do so is offensive. This is the knowledge you must earn through trust and relationships. I’ll share it with you when it feels appropriate and I know I can trust you.
  • Don’t ever ask me to share about what my tribe believes, our ceremonies, or sacred stories with a group of people I don’t know.
It's not appropriate for you to apologize to me, outside of the context of relationship, for what your people have done to my people.
  • I am more interested in relationship than in words from a stranger, no matter how heartfelt.
  • When and if a specific point of hurt arises, THEN an apology may be appropriate, but please do not spend all of your time trying to overcome your guilt by putting it on my shoulders through your apology.
Although I am Native, I may or may not know very much about my culture.
  • It is much more helpful to ask me about my family than to ask me about all of my tribe or all Indians everywhere.
Please don’t be shocked by the hardships in my life.
  • It is very likely that I will know someone in prison, that either myself or someone I know has been sexually abused, that I’ve been to many funerals in my short lifetime. Don’t sensationalize this.
  • Love me through these things, help me to find solutions and deal with issues when they arise - but know that making a big deal out of these things will be polarizing for me.


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