Alumni Profile: Maka Akannajin Clifford

posted on June 26, 2012

This profile is part of an ongoing series about particular Red Cloud alumni, and what they have done since graduating.

1. Talk a little bit about your childhood: where you grew up, where you went to school, how many years you attended Red Cloud, etc.

I grew up in the small township of Manderson in the Wounded Knee district. It’s known as the “ghetto” of the reservation and in some ways it lives up to its name. I went to school there from pre-school all the way through 6th grade. Following that I jumped around a little; a year in Rapid City, a year at Wolf Creek, and a year in Taos, New Mexico. It was my sophomore year of high school when I finally came to Red Cloud.

2. What have you been doing academically and professionally since graduating from Red Cloud? What have been some of the high points?

When I graduated from Red Cloud in 2005 I immediately went to the University of San Francisco (USF), which is a Jesuit University. I really enjoyed my Jesuit education, despite not being Christian. Initially I entered as a Performance Art and Social Justice major, which is the sole program of its kind in the nation, but I found my true passion in global politics and societies. I graduated with my B.A. in International Studies with a focus on Asia and Politics. I was fortunate and blessed to study abroad in Tokyo for a semester and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Upon graduation, I spent a year teaching English in Japan to middle and elementary school students through the prestigious JET Program. It was another profoundly rewarding experience that further cemented my dream of becoming a teacher.

3. Please describe what are you currently doing academically or professionally.

I would have stayed longer in Japan teaching if I had not been accepted to Teacher’s College, Columbia University in New York City, where I am currently pursuing an M.A. in International Educational Development with a focus in Peace Education. In my studies now I am focusing on the development of an international theory of indigenous education. I hope this can be developed further as I do more research. Upon graduation I have several options for which I am currently applying; a Fulbright academic research grant, continuing my education toward the Ph.D. level, or taking a break from academia to teach at either the secondary or tertiary level.

4. Describe the path you took to get from graduating from Red Cloud to where you are today. How did you develop an interest in what you are doing nowadays, and how did you make your dream a reality?

When I graduated from Red Cloud my initial thoughts were just to get away for a while, with the goal of eventually returning home. I entered as a theater major at USF because I thought I wanted to be a performance art teacher. It actually wasn’t until I studied abroad in Tokyo my junior year of college that I realized it wasn’t theater I was passionate about. I was passionate about global justice and human rights development. When I returned I changed my major. It took me an extra year to graduate but I knew I made the right decision. Being a teacher had always been a goal for me, but going to teach English in Japan really solidified that pursuit and getting accepted to Teacher’s College, Columbia University, the graduate school of education for Columbia University, is bringing me closer to that realization.

5. What obstacles did you have to overcome, or what were the greatest roadblocks you encountered?

Perhaps the most obvious is financial limitations. I was lucky to receive that Gates Millennium Scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when I graduated from Red Cloud and that has what has helped me get my education in many ways and I am very thankful for it. But there are other expenses associated with school that are a mystery to the poor until you get there. Money for daily expenses was limited, and when I studied abroad to Tokyo, I didn’t realize that scholarship wouldn’t cover my flight there and back or my daily expenses while living there – one of the most expensive cities in the world. I was lucky to be awarded the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship award through the Department of State to help with my study abroad expenses. The resources are out there, but they’re limited. I am very lucky to have received the aid that I did or none of it would have been possible.

6. What do you see yourself doing over the next year? The next five years? Ten years? What are your greatest hopes and aspirations for yourself?

When I graduate from Columbia University the possibilities are still endless. I hope to one day have a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. I want to continue my exploration of Indigenous Education from the international perspective and help to bring my own community into the fold of the international discussion on human rights. I want to be a teacher of course. Perhaps I see myself teaching at Red Cloud and simultaneously at Oglala Lakota College where I can impart my knowledge to my community. The greatest aspiration of course is to assist in changing the social and political landscape of the reservation.

7. How did your educational experience at Red Cloud prepare you for the life you live today, in terms of skills, values, attitudes, etc.

Red Cloud paved the way for my entrance into the post-secondary institutions I would encounter. I appreciated the Jesuit education which encouraged critical thinking and forays into philosophy, ethics and theology. What makes Red Cloud unique of course is its inclusion of Lakota theology, philosophy and ethics into its curriculum. I found the skills I gained were adequate for college rigor. And of course, Red Cloud encouraged academic pursuits in all their students and I felt immense support in my pursuits.

8. How does Red Cloud continue to be a part of your life?

Red Cloud is still a major part of my personal life as I keep in touch with most of my friends, now also alumni. I was given the opportunity of presenting to students about my study abroad experience and show them that even a kid from the “ghetto” of the reservation could have these experiences and why these experiences are valuable. I keep up with the website and follow Red Cloud on Facebook and Twitter.

9. Please talk about anything else that you feel is important to know about you.

I’ve already said too much!