American Indian Affairs chooses White Earth Nation educator for elder in residence

The office of American Indian Affairs and College of Education honored this year’s elder in residence Thursday. 

Audrey Thayer is a member of the White Earth Tribal nation in Bemidji where she teaches at Leech Lake Tribal College and serves on the city council. Despite not being employed with Minnesota State, she accepts a monthly invitation to speak with MSU students about various topics of her choosing.

According to Megan Heutmaker, director of American Indian Affairs at MSU, her chosen topics range from Native American boarding schools, the casino industry and tribal sovereignty to self care as a college student. She began Thursday’s conversation by speaking on the upcoming National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls on May 5.

“Many Native American women have not lived on Native American land, so they’re even more invisible in urban areas when they are missing,” Thayer said. “You’ll see that it’s one of the most challenging aspects of contemporary Indian life.”

2023 is the third year of the Office of American Indian Affairs, American Indigenous Studies and College of Education co-sponsoring this series. It began at the beginning of the pandemic after MSU received the GEER grant (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief), according to Heutmaker. She said the series’ purpose is to connect students with Indigenous elders and learn about their lived experiences as members of the American Indian community.

Thayer was honored Thursday afternoon over a Zoom call that included her, Heutmaker, Dr. Chelsea Mead, who teaches American Indigenous Studies and partners with Heutmaker on elder selection, and an audience of students and community members. The nature of the pandemic grant meant it originally had to be held over Zoom, but they decided to continue holding the ceremonies online because it provides more flexibility with elder selections and participants.

“For as much as we have hated being virtual and wanted to be back in person, I think there has been some innovation and some really cool opportunities that have been able to happen because of us having to adapt. So it is a positive spin out of all of that,” Heutmaker said.

The Office of American Indian Affairs, American Indigenous Studies and the College of Education co-sponsor the series and chose an elder with education experience. The three offices share the Zoom link with their affiliated students as they believe both can benefit from these conversations with Indigenous elders.

“We think it’s a great thing to continue in helping our students in education be able to hear from an elder in different communities about different topics connected to the American Indian community,” Heutmaker said. “Also it’s a great way for our Indigenous students to hear from an elder about their lived experiences. Having a conversation, hearing what they have to share, is something that is exciting for our students to be able to learn from.”

Header photo: Audrey Thayer speaks with MSU students once a month about a topic of her choosing. Thayer shares her stories over Zoom in order to reach a broader audience about her teachings. (Photo courtesy of Megan Heutmaker)

Write to Carly Bahr at

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