Natalia Shaw ’17

Southern California
Environmental Science major

Natalia Shaw ’17 is committed to building support and awareness for Native students at Redlands. An environmental science major and head of the Native American Student Union, Shaw was able to extend her desire to help native populations to South America during a recent 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 is 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 continues those efforts on campus through the Native American Student Union, and she finds 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, is that “we often find ourselves speaking for Native people in general, and we are 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 have a student here from White Earth Ojibwe and our accents are quite different.” 

As president of the Union, Shaw leads meetings in the Bulldog Room every week, as well as cultural workshops. Open to non-Natives, the workshops teach 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’re coming from the reservation or an inner city community it can be difficult for Native students to adjust to a different culture. It’s nice to have that support space where you can be with people you can relate to. Together we are immersed in this higher education and can take that knowledge to people back home.”