The footsteps of the Dawa-Chindi club

By: Taylor Notah

Tribal affiliation: Diné

’18 BA Journalism

*Note: Due to the limited pool of Dawa-Chindi members available for this story, I interviewed my father, Ferdinand Notah.

Seventy-one years after Arizona State University first opened its doors in 1886, Native American students and supporters debuted the university’s first and largest Native student organization called the Dawa-Chindi Indian Club.

The footsteps of Dawa-Chindi show a bold history of self-determination in higher education that set the foundation for an abundance of resources, organizations and spaces for students today.

Organized in 1957, Dawa-Chindi was geared toward providing resources for Indigenous college students attending ASU. Its mission was to promote the “academic, social and general well-being of its members through mutual respect and understanding,” according to ASU Archives documents. The club was sponsored by Robert Roessell, Jr. (founding director of the Indian Education Center, now known as Center for Indian Education) and Irving W. Stout (Dean of the Graduate College in 1958).

Inclusive to both Natives and non-Natives, the club provided scholarship and counseling resources as well as academic encouragement. New attendees were welcomed with an initiation.

“The first thing the club did was like an acquaintance meeting and having a picnic at Salt River,” said Pliny Draper (Diné), an alum who joined Dawa-Chindi in 1969 during his freshman year. “(About 40 of us) went out there, had a picnic and volleyball game.”

Dawa-Chindi also hosted cultural campus events where songs and dances from home were celebrated at the Memorial Union. Annual conferences were hosted by the club for university, tribal and state entities, and Annie Wauneka (Diné) commended the students at the Fourth Annual Indian Education Conference on March 22, 1963.

“(With) the Dawa-Chindi Club, you can see that the Indian students like to keep their values, so they’re forming these clubs to communicate as best they know how,” Wauneka, then-chairwoman of the Navajo Health Committee on the Navajo Tribal Council, said. “So you can see that the values are present, regardless of where the Indian is.”

Rezball was even introduced to campus where teams such as the Renegades, Indian Devils and Cindi-ettes appealed to current and prospective Native Sun Devils, according to Ferdinand Notah (Diné) who joined in 1971.

“The attractive thing about Dawa-Chindi was the idea of setting up a basketball team. The mission was to go out and play games on reservations, tournaments and all that,” said Notah, a ’75 alum. “We used to play other sororities’ teams. Our strategy was, ‘Let’s play reservation ball with them.’ It’s called Run-n-Gun. You run down the court, shoot the ball, get the ball back, run on back. Everyone runs full speed. All of the sorority people couldn’t stand that pace. They get all tired, start substituting, then we start running them off the court. We had a pretty good record of winning games.”

The groundwork of the club’s creation also showcased the humble yet mighty beginnings of Native student voices championing for visibility.

“It’s a long story of the Native students finding Dawa-Chindi and how we came here,” Draper said. “(They’re) little stories of struggling and fighting.”

With the club’s presence, Native student visibility began rising within the student body in the following decades.

“Back in ’69, the homecoming queen was a big deal,” Draper said. “In our tiny club of 69 members, we started a campaign for (Lauren King of Shiprock, New Mexico). Our campaign was ‘Too many Greeks, not enough Indians’ because we were competing against other Greek sororities. Come to vote at election, and she lost by 17 votes out of 26,000 students. She came in second. I thought, ‘Wow, our tiny Dawa-Chindi group did this. So we can do it.’ It’s the little stories of our Sun Devil fighting spirit that shows students can do anything. The numbers are against us, but it’s our intent in being here that strives us.”

Six decades and many name changes later, Dawa-Chindi and its legacy can still be seen in today’s Alliance of Indigenous Peoples. Its footsteps highlight that Indigenous advocacy in institutions have enabled today’s Native students to succeed in their higher education journeys today and tomorrow.

“The world really is yours to take. Don’t confine yourself to just graduating from ASU. That’s just a starting point,” Draper said. “Use all of this knowledge of yours and pass it on.”

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