Dwanna McKay, assistant professor of Indigenous Studies in Colorado College’s Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies program, recently was honored as Elder of the Year at the 10th Annual Garden of the Gods Rock Ledge Ranch Powwow.
McKay, who says she was “incredibly honored and humbled to be chosen as Elder of the Year,” is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation whose research focuses on social inequality and Indigenous identity.
Culturally raised within the boundaries of her tribal nation in Oklahoma, McKay understands the disadvantage of growing up in an area steeped in discrimination, and how that manifests in environmental racism and constrained access to basic needs such as housing, healthcare, employment opportunities, and equitable education for Native and Indigenous people. In naming her Elder of the Year, the powwow committee noted that McKay works “to inspire others to understand, disrupt, and overcome such obstacles, and therefore centers her teaching, research, service, and activism on an overall commitment to social justice.”
McKay says for Native people, “elder” isn't just someone who has reached a certain age.
“‘Elder’ is a term used to convey respect and affection for someone’s accomplishment, wisdom, and service to community,” she says. “So, to be recognized by the powwow committee and the greater community of indigenous people for my work in higher education and my efforts toward social justice validates much of the sacrifice that it took to get here.”
Numerous Colorado College students, faculty, and staff attended the ceremony. McKay was presented with gifts and a blanket, and an honor song was performed for her.
“To have CC Indigenous/Native students, and other students I've taught or mentored, arrive to honor me by dancing behind me around the arena was incredibly meaningful,” she says. “It’s a memory I will always cherish.”
McKay joined the Colorado College faculty in 2016. She led the effort to create the new Indigenous Studies thematic minor, and worked on behalf of a land acknowledgement policy as well as other reconciliation efforts. She is an active member of the Colorado Springs Indigenous Community, lobbies the City Council to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, and speaks at social justice events such as International Women’s Day, A Day without a Woman, and Standing for Standing Rock.
McKay currently serves on the national advisory committee for the Native American Student Advocacy Institute, as a co-advisor for the Indigenous Studies minor at CC, and on multiple other committees to advance indigenous peoples. McKay previously held an appointment as Secretary of Education for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and served as a member of the Native American Advisory Committee for the Office of the Governor of Kansas and the former vice-chair for the Mvskoke Women’s Leadership Institute. She was also a planning committee member for the Third Annual Native American Nutrition Conference.
Her research has been published in numerous scholarly journals, including Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, American Indian Quarterly, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, and the European Sociological Review. She has authored multiple published book chapters, poems, essays, and opinion editorials. McKay was a regular columnist for Indian Country Today for five years, served as the executive producer for the 2017 documentary film, “Force/Resistance: From Standing Rock to Colorado Springs,” and has been featured on radio shows such as “Calling Native America,” “Mixed Race Radio,” and on Minnesota’s National Public Radio.
McKay holds a Ph.D. in sociology and a graduate certificate in Indigenous Studies, an M.S. in sociology, an MBA in management science, and a B.A. in political science. McKay received the 2019 Lloyd E. Worner Teacher of the Year Award and the 2017 Rochelle T. Mason Outstanding Event Contributing to the Empowerment of Communities of Color Award.