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Amber Morning Star Byars Gives Keynote Speech at 2024 Spring IAIA President’s Convocation

Feb 8, 2024

Amber Morning Star Byars (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) ’18

On Thursday, January 25, the 2024 Spring President’s Convocation and Campus Blessing welcomed new and returning students to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) campus. Outside in the cool air of the Dance Circle, Associated Student Government (ASG) President Laura Ten Fingers (Oglala Sioux Tribe) gave the land acknowledgment and introduced the faculty, staff, and students who would conduct a campus blessing.

Attendees faced the four directions as Academic Dean Dr. Jessie Ryker-Crawford (White Earth Chippewa) gave a blessing toward the North, student Christian Yellow Kidney (Blackfeet) gave a blessing toward the East, Land-Grant Gardener Paul Quintana (Cochiti Pueblo) gave a blessing toward the South, and ASG Vice President Sareya Taylor (White Mountain Apache and Navajo) gave a blessing toward the West.

Afterward, students, staff, and faculty headed to the Performing Arts and Fitness Center (PAFC) Gym, where they were served lunch by the staff of Café Bon Appétit, who provided red chile buffalo short-rib tamales, green chile butternut squash and sweet pepper tamale pie, wild rice, ranchero beans, fruit salad, garden salad, and beverages.

Ten Fingers introduced IAIA President Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee Nation). After Dr. Martin gave his welcome address, IAIA Board of Trustees Vice-Chair Beverly Morris (Aleut) shared words with the audience. Next, the keynote speaker, IAIA Alum and IAIA Alumni Council Vice President Amber Morning Star Byars (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) ’18, shared a vulnerable, heartfelt speech that resonated with many attendees.

“The duality of this reality is a difficult thing to navigate, but it is after all natural law that says that we would not know what daylight felt like if it weren’t for the night,” said Byars. “So, in the mornings when I first wake up, if I’m feeling the heaviness in this world, I tell myself, ‘Get up, start your day, and go find the light, because it’s out there, and this is the time to find it.’”

After her speech, Dr. Martin and Ten Fingers wrapped Byars with an IAIA Pendleton blanket. Dr. Martin also introduced Cabinet members, and then new staff and faculty introduced themselves.