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Indigenous Students Achieving Greatness: Conor Handley

Posted By PowWow Articles May 10th, 2015 Last Updated on: January 19th, 2022

Indigenous Students Achieving Greatness: Conor Handley

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(Conor Handley outside the United Nations building in NY)

Conor Handley is Yaqui, and a Jr. at Humboldt State University in Arcata CA. He is majoring in Native American Studies with a minor in Range Land Resource Science and Environmental Ethics. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Conor at the Native American Activism Conference that I attended back in November (Read article here), and knew that he was a student to watch. He was already achieving so much for his Indigenous community at school, I knew he was headed toward great things.

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(Students protesting at HSU in November 2014)

For the past 30 years, Humboldt State University has been in a rapid state of decline when it came to the treatment and cultural understanding of Native communities and treatment of students. Conor Handley was a driving force in the student’s decision to protest and organize the University’s largest walk out and protest since the Vietnam war. The students occupied the Forum for a total of 35 days when the President of the University agreed to negotiate directly with them and listen to their demands. Since then the University’s President, Vice President, and Dean have met with the Students and agreed to be educated on the school’s misconceptions, and with the students have organized a Native American Advisory Committee that represents the 11 local tribes, Native Staff, and the Native students that will oversee all Indian Programs. This is HUGE. This is the first time in history that HSU has made such a profound move to right wrong doings and to work hand in hand with students to fix problems brought up by protesters. The University has also agreed to re-name the “Thanksgiving Break” to “Fall Break”, and has voted in a new 1% tax on campus food items that is all donated to a scholarship fund for Native Students. Conor told me that he is deeply moved by the progress Native American students and their many collaborators have made at the school and hopes to continue changing the university though openness and understanding. The administration are ready to be educated and continue to be educated for the betterment of ALL of their students at HSU.

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(Conor on the right with fellow students in Times Square NY)

Conor is also a part time employee at a non profit organization called 7th Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples. (7genfund.org) On April 15th he was able to travel with this organization to the United Nations in New York, and represent the Indigenous youth of our nation in front of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus. He helped other Indigenous youth from across the globe to draft a statement that will be read on the floor of the United Nations. Part of his statement drew attention to the Human Rights violations against his Yaqui tribe. Traditional Authorities from the Yaqui tribe were also at the UN speaking on the Human Rights violations and Conor was able to be present as support to the Traditional Authorities. The Yaqui tribe is a river people that span across southern AZ and down into Mexico. The tribe was separated by the US and Mexico border but shared the Yaqui river which ran through AZ and down into Vicam Mexico. The Yaqui River was diverted by the Independence Aqueduct that sends water from the Yaqui people in Vicam, to Hermosillo Mexico. Yaqui people have almost no water. They are forced to import their water and 1 bucket of water is all that is rationed for a family of 6 to bathe with. Conor addressed his tribe’s struggles in his statement he gave and hopes that the UN will step in for his people.

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Conor was also recently awarded a “Native American Artist” award from Indigenous Warrior Enterprise, and plays in a band called “Into the Current” (Link to Facebook) (Link to sound cloud) he feels that his art is his creative medium for coping with the struggles he faces and unites students around the important issues they face.


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