Natalia Shaw ’17

Environmental science student creates space on campus for fellow Native peers

Natalia Shaw ’17 was committed to building support and awareness for Native students during her time at the University of Redlands. As an environmental science major, Native Student Programs intern, and head of the Native American Student Union, Shaw was able to extend her desire to help native populations to South America during a research trip to Peru.

Shaw and her classmates in the School for Field Studies Peru program lived in the town of Yucay near Cusco for three weeks, then in Pillcopata in the Amazon lowlands for three months where they studied conservation science, tropical ecology and other scientific topics as well as Spanish and Peruvian culture.

During the trip, Shaw, a member of the Fort William Ojibwe First Nation tribe in Ontario, Canada, was able to work with native people in the Pillcopata area. This was a valuable experience to her because she hopes to one day help native tribes all over the Americas access sustainable resources and conserve their environment.

She continued those efforts on campus through the Native American Student Union and Native Student Programs, and she found herself particularly busy during Native American Heritage Month.

“It’s nice to have a month set aside,” says Shaw, “but it’s important not to focus on our heritage only during that one month.”

One of the challenges of being part of a relatively small Native American population, she says, was that “we often found ourselves speaking for Native people in general, and we were all so different, even in our own tribe. We all have very distinct cultures.”

Though Shaw’s tribe is based in Canada, she was born and raised in California. She was happy to see that, despite the small number of Native students on campus, she met another member of the Ojibwe tribe. “The most explicit difference between tribes is our language,” she says. “In my tribe we have bands in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Canada. We had a student here from White Earth Ojibwe and our accents were quite different.” 

As president of the Union, Shaw led meetings in the Bulldog Room every week, as well as cultural workshops. Open to non-Natives, the workshops taught skills from beadwork and basket weaving to fried bread making and native games.

“I wanted to create this space where Natives can find their voice,” says Shaw. “Whether they were coming from the reservation or an inner city community it can be difficult for Native students to adjust to a different culture. It was nice to have that support space where you can be with people you can relate to. Together we were immersed in higher education and could take that knowledge to people back home.”

In addition to her work on campus, Shaw was also an ambassador for the We R Native youth program. "I was the first one in my family to attend a four year university. I got to work with other native students and encourage them to attend college," she says. 

Shaw notes that her involvement with Native students on campus presented her with many opportunities for her future. "My time at Redlands allowed me to network with many Native professionals," she says. "This summer I'll be interning with the Central Arizona Project in their Tribal Water Resources department." 

Shaw plans on continuing her education after her internship. "Because of the experience that I've had at Redlands with hydrology and environmental science, I'm prepared to attend grad school at Northern Arizona University."