Though born and raised in Syracuse NY, I’ve always referred to Pleasant Point, ME as “home”. My mom’s side of the family is Passamaquoddy, an American Indian tribe, and our family is from the reservation at Pleasant Point along the beautiful northeast coast of Maine. Each summer when I was a kid, my mother would pack my sister and I into the car and drive to the rez for our tribe’s powwow. When we couldn’t make it to Maine, we would visit with Native family living in Connecticut, or attend in tribe-organized activities on the Onondaga reservation just outside of Syracuse.
With a number of Native voices in the spotlight lately, including the recent Mall of America flash mob organized by Canadian environmental justice group Idle No More, and the Proud to Be commercial that aired during the NBA finals this year, I was excited to see the American Indian College Fund‘s “Think Indian” button design come down the production line recently. Being Native American is a huge part of my identity, so I was eager to hear more about the inspiration behind the button.
The American Indian College Fund is the largest provider of scholarships to Native students, awarding over $6 million to students at tribal, public, and private colleges last year. The Think Indian campaign began in 2009 to raise awareness for College Fund’s programs supporting Native college students.
Patrick McTee, College Fund’s Director of Student Success Services, explained that the inspiration behind the slogan: “We wanted people to think about the ways American Indians’ traditional knowledge and contemporary knowledge meld to provide solutions to many of the issues facing us as a society in contemporary times; and how tribal colleges foster both forms of knowledge in an academic setting.”
The American Indian College Fund decided that buttons would be a great way to reach Native youth and spread the word about the campaign. “We thought it would be an easy and inexpensive way to spread our campaign message,” Patrick said, “while also promoting awareness of the College Fund and tribal colleges.” College Fund distributed the buttons when visiting colleges and high schools to promote their scholarships.
Despite the original “Think Indian” campaign wrapping up a couple years ago, the buttons have remained popular. McTee says that they “are pretty much a stand alone piece now.” He continued, “We’ve found that the ‘Think Indian’ concept resonates well with Native students and thus the buttons live on.”
You can keep up with the College Fund’s latest happenings by signing up for their email list. Thanks to Patrick for answering all of my questions, and thanks for all the American Indian College Fund does for Native students across the nation!
See how another non-profit, Chicago’s Mikva Challenge, is using buttons to support community-building among young people.