June 14, 2016, photo shows the University of Wyoming campus
in Laramie, Wyo.
LARAMIE, WY As an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho
tribe, University of Wyoming student Piram Duran plans to eventually
return to the Wind River Indian Reservation and use the knowledge
he gained at UW to improve the quality of life there.
While in Laramie, however, Duran and other native students are
working to make campus a more welcoming place for students like
"My whole thing is helping people," he said. "I always wanted
to help people growing up. It tends to cause some trouble or get
me in trouble because I tend to put others before me."
Aiming for a psychology major and a business management minor,
Duran said he hopes to work on the reservation one day as a psychologist.
"I really want to get back home," he told the Laramie Boomerang.
"I want to go back and work for the reservation on drug and alcohol
He added he might face some challenges in trying to serve the
native people, who sometimes view psychologists skeptically. Duran
said many on the reservation view psychologists as people who simply
patronize their patients or just want to "pump you full of medications"
but as a member of their community, Duran said he can overcome
"Psychologists they're not looked at very well," Duran
said. "But there's a lot of people who are like, 'I'm OK with it
because you're Piram.' I already have that trust. I definitely don't
want to steer them wrong or nothing, but I definitely want to incorporate
some new mentalities to better the community."
Before he can return to the reservation though, Duran must earn
his degrees. And while he is working toward those credentials, Duran
and other interns at the Native American Education, Research and
Cultural Center are working to provide support and community to
their fellow native students at UW.
"There's not a lot of us," said Christie Wildcat, who also serves
as an intern for the center. "Numbers are improving which
is good because you're building diversity, and President (Laurie)
Nichols is doing a wonderful job working with the native students
but I think the students, our peers, in general should be
more aware of . native students on campus."
The center opened in September during a ceremony attended
by tribal leaders, Gov. Matt Mead and other state officials
is the most visible initiative enacted since Nichols took office
in May 2016 and began concerted efforts to attract and support Native
The president has made frequent visits to the Wind River Indian
Reservation, meeting with tribal leaders and visiting the high school,
and established a Native American Advisory Committee to counsel
her on the university's relationship with native students and the
reservation's two tribes, Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone.
In June, UW hosted its inaugural Native American Summer Institute
a program bringing native high school students to campus
for a weeklong preview of college life. In December, UW hired its
first Native American program adviser, who is tasked with aiding
native students at the university.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed, said Stephin Littleshield,
an enrolled Northern Arapaho student who also interns at the center.
"President Nichols has done so much during her short time here,"
he said. "It's actually really impressive."
Littleshield began his higher education at Dartmouth College
in New Hampshire before transferring to UW in 2015.
"Native Americans they're very familial, they're very
close with their family," he said. "So, being that far away, I didn't
much like that and I had gone through my own existential crisis,
struggling with faith and whatnot. So, it was nice to get home.
Once I got home, I decided I wasn't going to go back."
Littleshield enrolled at UW in 2015 and was surprised at the
lack of support for Native Americans.
"You have a reservation here, but there wasn't a whole lot going
on for native students," he said. "Even when I was at Dartmouth,
they had just an impressive center and they had students who live
there. Montana, Colorado, Utah all these places they
do quite a bit for their native citizens. I came to Laramie and
it's not what I had experienced throughout my life."
That perception began to shift, Littleshield said, when he found
the Keepers of the Fire a campus group for Native American
students and as the university started doing more for native
"I was a little concerned about how I would handle being so far
away, even though Laramie's in the backyard," he said. "So, that
was a little concerning, but I found the group on campus and they
just kept me busy and they're all familial people."
Like Littleshield, Wildcat said she was always planning on going
to college. She said her parents were young and still students themselves
when she was born, so she grew up partially on the Haskell Indian
Nations University campus.
"I remember going to chemistry with my dad and just sitting
in the back, just playing with coloring books," she said.
This early exposure to higher education helped Wildcat's vision
for her own future, she said.
"Right from the beginning, (my parents) funneled me onto that
path for higher education and to go to college," Wildcat said. "I
don't think I've ever had second thoughts about going to college."
She said she continued on the college trajectory despite the
racial tension present at Riverton High School, which borders the
reservation, and in defiance of the stereotype that Native Americans
don't go to college.
"I wanted to break that barrier and say, 'Yes, I'm going to
graduate high school and I'm going to go to college,'" she said.
"Here, the barrier or challenge I would say, is being
one of the few natives in class or the only native in class. You're
kind of expected to know the things other students (don't)."
The new center and her internship there have allowed Wildcat
to find and help build a community, she said.
"This really has become my second home," she said. "If I'm not
around on campus, you can find me here. I get a new motivation when
I step into this house."
The center also serves as a launch-off point for collaborations
and projects to broaden the experience of native students on campus
and enhance Laramie more generally.
Unlike Littleshield and Wildcat, Duran was not always college-bound.
"I went to Riverton High, but I was a dropout," he said. "High
school wasn't really my thing, but I'm an intelligent guy, so I
just decided to . get my GED (the same year)," he said. "Since then,
I just was a line cook basically. I worked at the Wind River Casino
as a third-shift chef."
Duran received an associate's degree from Central Wyoming College
and transferred to UW in spring 2017, motivated by a desire to one
day offer psychological services on the reservation.
A 35-year-old non-traditional student, he is now working to
improve his current community of Laramie, attempting to set up regular
sweats religious, stress-relieving ceremonies performed by
many Native American tribes with the Cathedral Home for Children.
"The steam takes the negative energies from us, and when we
open up that door, it releases," Duran said. "It's really going
to help native members and even non-native members. It helps mentally,
physically and just helps keep us grounded to the reservation."
In a similar vein, Littleshield is working to develop talks
with faculty and administrators across campus during which
people from different backgrounds can share their stories
though the plan is still in its early stages.
"We're hoping to do some leadership talks with various people
across UW," he said.
The Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center
houses the American Indian Studies program, as well as the High
Plains American Indian Research Institute.