FLAGSTAFF, Arizona — Ivan Sidney, president of the governing board at Hopi Junior/Senior High School, received an honorary degree from Northern Arizona University during its December 15 midterm graduation.
NAU president Clara Lovett presented Sidney with a Doctorate of Humanities Honorary Degree because of the services he has provided to the collegiate and educational community. She emphasized that he has served a vital role in helping Native American students from kindergarten through college. Aside from his presidency at Hopi Junior/Senior High School, Sidney also serves on the Northland Pioneer College Governing Board and works as community service administrator at First Mesa Consolidated Village.
Sidney, a former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, has also worked as an assistant to the president at NAU and served on the Hopi Board of Education.
“Ivan had good relations with all people at NAU when he worked here,” she recalled. “I’m personally delighted that we’re honoring the first Hopi to be given an Honorary Degree by an Arizona University.”
While Sidney is the first Hopi to get such a degree in Arizona, he is not the first Native American. NAU has previously so honored Clinton Pattea, R.C. Gorman, Carlos Nakai and David Johns. “This makes Ivan part of a distinguished group,” she said.
Lovett said Sidney, due to his contacts with Congress and the White House, has been instrumental in helping NAU. She said he has been particularly instrumental in helping NAU with tribal relations throughout Arizona.
Prior to the graduation ceremony, Lovett explained that honorary degrees go to those who contribute to education by helping students or universities . She said some honorary degrees go to famous scholars, but many go to those who provide public service.
Lovett said anybody can recommend someone for these honorary degrees and then the proposal goes to a selection committee with the president of the college having final approval. She liked the selection committee’s choice of Sidney because he has distinguished record as a tribal leader and for helping Native American students at NAU.
Lovett particularly praised Sidney’s creation of the Institute for Native Americans at NAU — a place where Native American students could go for help when they ran into any problems at the university.
Lovett boasted that 7.1 percent of the students attending NAU are Native Americans. That’s among the highest in the country. “Few universities have that presence,” she continued. “That’s important to us because we are in Indian country.”
Lovett is also proud that the retention rate— which has been poor in the past — and the graduation rate among Native American students at NAU is improving. She added that a 1999 survey shows that NAU is number one in the country for Native Americans earning a Master’s and engineering degrees.
Sidney said the Honorary Degree humbled him because he never dreamed he would be honored in this manner.
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“I especially want to thank my immediate family, my wife, my children and Dr. Lovett,” he said. “I will dedicate myself to providing a better education to students. I want to make it better for Native American students and I can continue to do that as president of the board at Hopi Junior/ Senior High School. That will be my way of saying thank you for today.”
The day also had special meaning for Sidney as his daughter -in-law Lucille Sidney, was one of the graduates and she has already signed a contract to teach social studies at Hopi Junior/ Senior High School.
“I’m very proud of my daughter-in-law, especially knowing that she is a graduate of Hopi High School and will be going back to teach,” he said. “I was proud to be on the stage with her today. The accomplishments were the doings of our creator. He was responsible for the joint credit. It strengthens our family — and we all need to do that.”
Sidney emphasized that he hopes to use his degree to better Hopi Junior/Senior High School as the board and administration continues to lobby for additional facilities, including a new junior high school building and an activities center.
“I hope this opens the door for funds,” he said.
After the ceremony, Hopi Vice Chairman Philip Quochytewa, Director of NAU’s Native American Institute Al Henderson and NAU Assistant to the President Laurence Gishey praised Sidney.
Vice Chairman Quochytewa said Sidney deserved the award because he has taken a lot of criticism for his accomplishments. “It takes courage and guts — and support from your family to go through all the negatives to achieve what he achieved,” the vice-chairman said. “Credit goes to his family because without the family support politicians are nothing.”
Henderson said Sidney has proven to be an anchor for Native Americans in education because he is trusted and respected.
Gishey said many Native Americans who graduated on this day would not have done so without the foundation laid by Sidney. He added that Sidney made it possible for the university to start teaching indigenous studies