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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Vernon Miller named director of new Indigenous Center

The Indigenous Center on 112 Packard Ave. is pictured on Feb. 22.

In a Tufts Community Union Senate meeting on Feb. 6, TCU Diversity Officer Jaden Pena announced the creation of a seat for the newest senator of the Indigenous Center. In addition, Student Life sent out an email on Feb. 10 introducing the new Indigenous Center director, Vernon Miller.

Adding a new community senator seat requires obtaining a petition with 250 supporting signatures. This requirement was added under a previous amendment to the TCU Constitution. Pena, a junior, explained that although this process is outdated, the petition will not hinder the search process, and he hopes to address some of these outdated processes in the upcoming election cycle.

“A petition with 250 signatures is one of the requirements to create a new community senator seat,” Pena wrote in an email to the Daily. “While I have called this an ‘outdated’ requirement — this is relatively pretty easy … I hope to have a referendum concurrently with the TCU Presidential election this year, that addresses the 'outdatedness' of some of these requirements and processes.”

To find candidates for the position, Pena explained that he will be working closely with the Indigenous Students’ Organization at Tufts, while also publicizing the position.

 “I will collaborate with [the organization] to find a student representative (or multiple), to then participate in a school-wide election this spring (roughly the first week of April, when we elect our next senate),” Pena wrote. “This search process will be filled with many social media posts, [and] publicity.”

Hannah Norton, co-president and founding member of the Indigenous Students’ Organization, spoke about the importance of having Indigenous representation within the Senate.

“It really is helpful to have the Indigenous voice in [the Senate] ... because we do have a lot of people that are of course willing to help us, but willing to help us is different from having the representation,” Norton, a junior, said.

Jonah Apo, founding member and co-president of the organization, echoed these sentiments, explaining that an Indigenous representative will allow for clearer communication about the needs of Indigenous students on campus.

“It’s important to have representation in the Senate and have a member with a seat that is Indigenous and more focused on what Indigenous students would need,” Apo, a senior, said. “[The representative] would be able to be that voice to help us out through the Senate.”

Pena highlighted the positive feedback that the TCU Senate has received in response to this announcement. 

“I have heard quite literally only positive feedback throughout this entire process,” Pena wrote. “We have the full support from the Senate, the DSDI, and everyone else I've spoken with about it.”

Miller’s appointment as director of the Indigenous Center follows the establishment of the Indigenous Center as the newest of eight identity centers on Tufts Medford/Somerville campus in October 2021. 

According to the email, Miller is a member of the Thunder Clan from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa, and served as the tribal chairman of the Omaha Tribe in 2014. In addition, he previously worked at Cornell, where he served as the residence hall director of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program house.

Members of the Indigenous Students’ Organization were involved in the interview process for the new coordinator and were able to give feedback about potential candidates. Apo spoke about Miller’s positive reputation and the skills he believes will benefit the Indigenous Center. 

“I think he has a really great track record with his time at Cornell," Apo said. "We've heard good things from the natives at Cornell too, and also [about] his work within his tribe as a tribal council member and a tribal chair ... We're excited for him to get on campus and sit down to really work with him more.”

Norton spoke about their excitement about getting to meet Miller and welcome him to Tufts. 

“We're all extremely excited because a lot of his experience seems very applicable to us, and … he just really seems like he cares about the students,” Norton said. “We’re excited that we were able to interview him, meet him and see the beginning of his journey at Tufts.”