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Tracie Benally

Tracie Benally is a POLS student who graduates in June.
“My education isn’t for me, it’s for the women who raised me.”

Tracie Benally,
MA '24 Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies

Building on the past for a better future

When Tracie Benally received her bachelor's degree in 2018, she immediately gave it to her mom to keep. In 2023, when she accepted her offer to join a master’s program at the GSE, it was her mom who tapped OK to confirm her choice. And when she graduates in June, she plans on honoring her mother by improving how students learn in her community.

“My education isn’t for me, it’s for the women who raised me,” said Benally, a student from Crownpoint, New Mexico, in the GSE’s Policy, Organization and Leadership Studies (POLS) program. “And my story is inextricably linked to my small town and the reservation that I came from.” 

Prior to coming to the GSE, she was a teacher in her hometown, where gaps she saw in the Native education system — ones that mirrored her own growing up on the Navajo reservation — spurred her to work in Congress as a legislative fellow. In that role she advocated to increase funding for the Bureau for Indian Education, which serves more than 40,000 students on 64 U.S. reservations.

“We pulled tiny policy levers to make sure that Native schools didn’t have to wait until the summer to get their funding,” she said.

While at the GSE, she’s created a curriculum for the Indigenous Adolescent Girls Empowerment Network as part of her POLS field project, a degree requirement that has students apply what they’ve learned to real-world problems.

“If there’s one issue I will die trying to fight, it’s to make sure people think about the Indigenous kids in their classroom, whose culture and history need to be learned,” she said.

After graduating Benally plans to either work on legislation tied to Native American education, or in her tribe’s education department working on curriculum and assessment.

“Whenever I enter any space, I keep in mind that I’m standing on the shoulders of my ancestors,” Benally said. “I am a mosaic of the women who have shaped me, and because of that, I must ensure that my life is about bettering the lives of those who come after.”

May 13, 2024
Photo: Joleen Richards | Words: Olivia Peterkin

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