Joannie Suina Romero earned a Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law degree from The University of Tulsa College of Law. The online program makes it possible to work and earn a master’s degree at the same time.
The following article written by Romero talks about her career path and how The University of Tulsa played an integral part.
The Corn Pollen Path
By Joannie Suina Romero, MJIL (Pueblo of Cochiti, New Mexico)
As a full-time employee, proud mother to four small children, a wife, daughter and active Tribal member, I had every reason to say I couldn’t do it. I had every reason to make an excuse or to procrastinate from furthering my education, as though I was comfortable with where I was at in life. I had an amazing job that allowed me to travel and research, but along the way I found myself itching to dig deeper into what it meant to “give back” to my community.
I’ve always closely identified with my Cochiti Puebloan roots, though I am of mixed Irish/Pueblo heritage. My mother, a full-blood Cochiti woman whose first language was Keres, raised me to be grounded in Native values, including being connected to our community through ceremony and through the Keresan language. As a child I paid close attention to her work ethic, determination, as well as her practice of prayer- greeting the sun every morning and the moon each night as a way to remain in balance with the universe. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to appreciate how powerful prayer would become in my own life. It’s also very fitting that my maternal grandfather chose to name me Corn Pollen which is a crucial component to practicing Pueblo faith, as well as extending prayer from Earth World to Spirit World.
As I was approaching my thirties, I realized that my path yearned for something more, and I tediously began researching graduate programs. Just a year earlier I attended Graduate Horizons, which taught me what to look for in graduate programs, how to pay for school and what kind of support system I needed to keep me focused. When I came across the Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law (MJIL) Program, through The University of Tulsa College of Law, I was star struck. I found myself visiting the website, requesting information over the phone, participating in webinars and I felt content that it would be a good fit for me. And after a long talk with my family, I decided to apply. Applying to the program was an easy decision because I knew what I wanted. I wanted a different kind of education, one that taught me specific skills in how to further develop myself as an administrator, businesswoman, educator, and ambassador of our Pueblo Nations.
Last May, I had the honor of walking across the stage to receive my degree at the commencement ceremony. I proudly adorned a white manta, deer skin moccasins and a fluffy white eagle feather – the same that has carried me through many Pueblo ceremonies. I sat back in my chair and looked over at my family, my husband, my mother, my son, and my three daughters and exhaled a sigh of relief. It reverberated in my mind that I did it, but now what?
I felt moved to find a solution to all the soul searching, prayers and brainstorming. I then decided to leave my full-time job at the Institute of American Indian Arts to pursue full-time consulting. I realized that through consulting, I could still teach, research water rights, provide legal and technical briefings for Tribal leaders, strategize planning efforts to improve Tribal programming, serve as a Keres translator, partake in community events and serve as a motivational speaker to Native youth. And so, the idea of Corn Pollen Consulting, LLC. was born.
The mission of Corn Pollen Consulting, LLC. is to empower, educate and support Native communities to foster growth and development by combining alternative and innovative approaches to solve the educational, economic, political and social issues facing Indian Country in the 21st century. The MJIL degree has equipped me with such a unique skillset that only continues to enhance my existing background. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities and clients ranging from Tribal programs, nonprofit organizations, as well as state and federal agencies.
I can’t express how grateful I am to have been a part of the MJIL Program. The support of the faculty including Shonday Randall, program director, and Tim Thompson, assistant dean, is what made me feel a part of the TU family. This fall semester, at the Institute of American Indian Arts, I’ll be teaching Creative & Critical Inquiry and Federal Indian Law & Policy. It is such a dream of mine to be able to teach at a Tribal college and to teach in the Indigenous Liberal Studies Department. I feel like I’m able to get the best of both worlds — education and Native entrepreneurialism. I’m eager to see where this degree continues to take me, and I know that this is just the beginning. The impact of the MJIL degree speaks volumes of resiliency. It is honoring our Ancestors’ prayers. I am the result of those prayers, on this Corn Pollen Path, and I will continue to plant my roots and pollinate.