1st Native American is selected for post on Board of Regents
UA Community News Service
March 30, 2008
Nicole Santa Cruz
LuAnn Leonard didn't expect to be appointed to the Arizona Board of Regents. In fact, she didn't even expect a call from the governor herself, confirming that she had been the first Native American appointed to the board.
But that's exactly what she got.
"I was in shock for a little while there," Leonard said recently in her office in Kykotsmovi Village in northeastern Arizona, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the United States.
The executive director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund for the Hopi Tribe said she was intimidated when she learned that she had been named to an eight-year term on the governing body for the state's three universities.
"She is compassionate about education," said Wayne Taylor Jr., a financial adviser and former chairman and vice chairman of the Hopi Tribe. "She is driven and a hard worker."
This year, the two appointments to the board are both from areas with a population of fewer than 800,000 people, as mandated by state law. Leonard and Bob McLendon, a former Arizona House Democratic leader from Yuma, are replacing Christina Palacios and Gary Stuart, whose terms expired.
Leonard and McLendon were confirmed by the full Senate last week and served on their first meeting as voting members of the Board of Regents on Thursday and Friday.
Marnie Hodahkwen, the governor's policy adviser for tribal affairs, was instrumental in bringing Leonard's name to the table when the new regents were discussed, Leonard said.
Hodahkwen worked with Leonard on the endowment fund board and saw how diplomatic a leader she was in discussions while still being productive. Hodahkwen said she thought those skills could be helpful to the regents.
"I know she's really helped that organization flourish," Hodahkwen said.
Leonard has helped many students and families navigate the bureaucracy of college life and ultimately has made them feel more comfortable about attending college, Hodahkwen said.
"If it weren't for people like LuAnn, I think people in rural communities might be a little less inclined to send their students off to university," she added.
Leonard has a concrete understanding of a rural student's perspective because she, too, had to face the tribulation of attending college far from home, Hodahkwen said.
In 1979, the Phoenix native attended Fort Lewis College in Colorado but transferred to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff after an academic year because Colorado was too far from home. Leonard also has a daughter, Nicole, 20, who is attending college at the Hopi Satellite campus for Northland Pioneer College in Navajo County.
In addition to being a parent and a regent, Leonard will also continue to serve as the executive director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund, an organization she was instrumental in establishing.
The endowment fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education to Hopi students and the first of its kind in the United States.
Deep in the mountains of northeastern Arizona, tucked in tall beige sandstone, the Hopi Tribe receives a majority of its revenue from natural resources, mainly coal, Leonard said. The tribe does not derive revenue from gaming and does not have any casinos on its land.
Someday, the tribal money for scholarships was expected to run out, so a team including Leonard created an ordinance to establish the endowment fund as a non-profit program for the Hopi Tribe to fund educational opportunities.
As a gift, the tribe gave the organization $10 million to start.
"We had $10 million, but we had no office, no supplies, nothing," said Leonard, sitting at her desk in a trailer that serves as the office for the organization. "The first couple months I worked out of my house."
The organization held its fifth annual silent auction in Phoenix last month and raised $20,000. Since the endowment's conception in 2000, more than $7 million has been raised for the fund, all while providing more than $800,000 per year in scholarships and workshops for native students. Leonard is a big part of that, said Marvin Yoyokie, the fund's president.
Not only has the organization been successful in raising money, it has won accolades from Harvard University's Honoring Nations program, which looks for the best practices in Indian nations. The organization is now a model for other tribes across the country.
"Her ability to communicate is the reason we are at where we are," Yoyokie said. "She's a people person. She's a good individual, a good communicator, just an overall great person to know."