The Institute for Intercultural Studies

MARGARET MEAD (1901-1978)

Biography | Bibliography | 2001 Centennial

Mead 2001 Centennial Awards
2000 Award Winner

AIO’s Ambassador Program
Wins Second Margaret Mead Centennial Award

If Margaret Mead were alive, Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) would be a favorite of hers. Its staff has remained small (six to seven). Rather than consolidate and fatten itself, AIO has chosen to nurture individuals and fledgling organizations, and send them out into their own communities to navigate among the pressures and pleasures of modern Native American life. “Our principal talent,” says Laura Harris, executive vice president, “is the ability to identify needs in the community, bring together experts, and facilitate to help the community find solutions.”

The AIO Ambassadors meet with members of a Mayan village in Guatemala in 1999.

AIO never loses sight of its roots. Founder LaDonna Harris, a Comanche, is the granddaughter of an Eagle Medicine Man and a devout Christian grandmother. Her daughter Laura attends classes in Comanche once a week. AIO reflects tradition, passing along a love of kinship, tolerance, and tribal wisdom from generation to generation. But it is not nostalgic or sentimental. Even the name, Americans for Indian Opportunity, bespeaks an acceptance of the here and now, the desire to work with the world as it is. To broaden its view, AIO has established a self-perpetuating advisory system, routinely calling on Native American idea-makers as well as African-American, Anglo, Latino, and other non-Indian leaders. It asks, “How might this affect Native Americans?” “What would your community envision?” and applies the answers to the Native American landscape.

The Council of Energy Resource Tribes, National Indian Housing Council, National Tribal Environment Council, Laguna Education Foundation, Tribal Issues Management System, California Land Trust, and Native Arts Alliance all started with the help of AIO. But the group’s recent centerpiece has been its Ambassadors Program, this summer’s winner of the Mead2001 Award. Launched in 1993 to foster leadership, the program now has 122 “graduates” and is the only national leadership training program to weave traditional tribal values with contemporary reality. Each Ambassador serves for a year, working on his or her community project and meeting with other Ambassadors, for a week, four times during the year. Ivan Posey (Eastern Shoshone), for instance, did his Ambassador work on suicides among his people. He was working for the Forest Service and, taking his leadership training to heart, ran for and won a seat on the tribal council. Rebecca Alegria’s project under AIO was to find old photographs of Menominee life. She not only found pictures but discovered their importance to a lawsuit for reparations for timber harvests. She’s now a tribal researcher for Menominee historic preservation.

Rob Lieb (Winnebago, class of ’94) with elder from the Pueblo of Jemez.

One of the four yearly Ambassadors meetings occurs in another nation (Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela) and expands the sometimes-held parochial view that Indians with deep and important values live only in the American West. Their meetings aren’t “development.” They are learning programs, philosophical exchanges with often remarkable communities. “The Mayans of Guatemala,” for example, say the Harrises, “are extraordinarily well organized when it comes to publishing their literature in their own language,” something the North American Indian community lacks. Antigua has strong political activism and structure, a model “self-advocating” culture. So the Ambassadors travel, not to change or repair what they find, but to share values and absorb, absorb, absorb. “All Native Americans fall prey to occasional myopia,” Laura Harris says candidly. Inevitably, though, the young Ambassadors come back “re-wired,” eager to change the domestic climate, and broader-minded about a native world far larger than their tribes.

One attribute Margaret Mead envisioned in small groups that change the world was that they offer models that others could learn from and replicate. AIO—focused, generating new organizations and projects, nurturing imagination, and applying philosophical muscle—keeps native traditions alive and vibrant by molding values to the realities of today’s world.

How to contact AIO
681 Juniper Hill Road
Bernalillo, NM 87004

Read more in the Summer 2000 issue of Whole Earth magazine.

Recipients of the Mead Award and Special Recognition Awards





MARGARET MEAD: Biography | Bibliography | 2001 Centennial
Home | Resources | Current Projects | Gregory Bateson
In the Field | Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for your interest in the Institute for Intercultural Studies . We encourage you to use this website to connect to the many resources available to answer your inquiry about Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and their intellectual legacy.  However, The Institute for Intercultural Studies, founded by Margaret Mead in 1944, has closed its doors as of December 31, 2009; no further contact information is available.  For contact about permissions please see the Publishing Permission or Literary Rights section of the website.

©1999-2009 The Institute for Intercultural Studies, Inc.
All rights reserved. Mead/Bateson photo ©Fred Roll.