How Natives at Penn President Erica Dienes Navigates Two Worlds
She discusses what it's like living on a reservation and the challenges natives face at Penn.
Interview by Katie Bontje
October 30, 2018
“I didn’t know I was different. I grew up in an atmosphere where everyone was Indian, everyone was native, so I didn’t know it was this anomaly to be where I was from,” Erica Dienes (W ’19) explained.
Before coming to Penn, Erica had a vastly different lifestyle from many of her peers on campus. As a member of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the current Natives at Penn president grew up on a reservation in Atmore, Alabama for much of her childhood before moving to Tampa, Florida at the age of thirteen.
In addition to being president of Natives at Penn, Erica is a former member of MUSE, a marketing club at Penn, a tour guide for Kite and Key, and a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority. . .Erica's goals as President of Natives at Penn are to stay true to her roots and establish a community through Natives at Penn in which future native students of all upbringings and backgrounds feel welcomed and supported.
One thing that Erica aims to put a stop to is the question she hears far too often: “What percent [native] are you?” She believes this question is inherently flawed and the answer is “irrelevant”. “How you identify is how you identify,” Erica says. Regardless of whether or not a person identifies as native or technically has any native blood, Erica wants to make it clear that Natives at Penn encourages everyone to come, learn, and support each other.
“I think there are a lot of people who are native at Penn but don’t identify as such,” Erica said. “You may be a little bit native, but let’s help you learn about where you’re from.” Erica hopes to teach people that there are so many differences between all native tribes, bands, and communities instead of all being clumped together under just the term “native.”
Read the entire article at The Daily Pennsylvanian.