Two Arizona State University students have been named 2022 Champions of Change by the Center for Native American Youth for their work to make a positive impact in their communities.
Triston Black and Maria Walker are part of a cohort of only five young adults across the country. Center for Native American Youth Program Manager Cheyenne Brady says the selection of two ASU students is remarkable.
“For the school, it shows the dedication they have and should continue to have to their Indigenous students,” Brady said. “It shows that at this institution, there are amazing young individuals willing to be the change needed to create a better world.”
Inspired by a 2011 White House initiative, the Champions for Change program develops young Native leaders to showcase positive stories of impact made in Indian Country through experience-based learning and tailored advocacy training. Those chosen as champions take part in a yearlong series of events with the center in Washington, D.C., and have access to a variety of resources to enhance their advocacy skills. The goal is to empower and encourage young Native leaders to maintain strong culture and traditions.
Black is a ASU Online graduate student studying Indigenous education through The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a participant in the ASU American Indian Policy Institute's Indigenous Leadership Academy. He is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a projects and legislative aide at Diné College, the first tribally controlled college in the U.S.
"Finding volunteer opportunity on the Navajo Nation has its challenges, but that did not stop me from helping my people or be involved in youth organizations, so I appreciate the support of the Office of Diné Youth, my alma mater, Navajo Preparatory School, and Diné College for allowing me to be a volunteer,” said Black, who is also a member of the New Mexico Indigenous Youth Council.
Black, who encourages other young people to “relearn their culture, language, and ceremonial practices,” said his family and community have helped him get to this point.
"In our Navajo culture, we have four clans that represent our maternal lineage as people, so I credit my family roots and Navajo culture for always disciplining me and supporting me on this journey called life and guiding my path into the future," he said.
Walker is pursuing a master’s degree in the science of health care delivery in the College of Health Solutions after earning a Bachelor of Science in health science from the college. She is part of the White Mountain Apache community and is a member of the American Medical Student Association and Pre-Physician Assistant Club at ASU.
She works as a research program assistant with the infectious diseases team for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for American Indian Health. She has been on several studies, most recently a Pfizer booster trial and a study looking at how COVID-19 affects individuals long term.
Brady said the two champions are leading by example by taking pride in their culture and working to change lives for the better.
“They are developing programs and opportunities for other Native youth in their region, and they are advocating for the needs of their community,” Brady said.