Passions can be inexplicable.
Nebraska Wesleyan University student Emily Clement uncovered her passion for Native American heritage early. So it was only natural for her to spend her college years pursuing that interest even further.
Since her first year at Nebraska Wesleyan, the senior social work major from Lincoln, Neb., has studied all she can about Native American culture, completing all courses the university offers on the topic—including professor Jeff Mohr’s course "Field Studies: Native American Life." The course — which includes a trip to the Winnebago and Omaha Indian reservations — sparked her purpose.
Offered every summer, the social work professor takes a group of NWU students to the reservations for several days to submerge them in the Native American lifestyle and reveal the hardships they face.
“I am just fascinated by the culture, but I am angry at the injustices done towards Native Americans," said Mohr. "The Winnebagos always tell me that it is important to them that the students return to their lives and tell everyone good things about Native people."
While on the class trip, Clement met Frank LaMere, a Native American activist and co-star in the documentary, “Sober Indian, Dangerous Indian.” The documentary is a story of brave men and women on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who have found empowerment through sobriety. The film also follows those still struggling to overcome addiction perpetuated by alcohol sales at nearby Whiteclay — home to four liquor stores that sell millions of cans of beer each year to residents of Pine Ridge, a dry reservation.
Though the film is revealing in its documentation of the lives of Native Americans in Pine Ridge, Clement said the film in no way compares to seeing the awfulness in person.
"I think the film does a great job of documenting the atrocities that happen in Whiteclay and the hopelessness on the reservation, but seeing it firsthand was different,” Clement said. “It's hard to believe you are in the United States of America when driving through Whiteclay and Pine Ridge."
Clement was struck by LaMere’s work, and upon learning of “Sober Indian, Dangerous Indian” and its potential impact on audiences, developed a plan to bring it to campus. Her efforts drew a crowd of more than 400 people to see the film on campus last year. The documentary returned to Nebraska Wesleyan this spring with another large turnout.
"Through the showing I hoped to get more people involved in the issue by exposing them to the horror of what is happening in Whiteclay," she said.
Developing greater awareness of Native American hardships was just the start for Clement. She continues to urge others to get involved.
“Let people know what’s going on,” she said. “Contact the government, the Senate. Write letters to our legislature.”
Clement has continued to share her knowledge and passion with fellow NWU students and faculty and puts her passion into action at activist events. She recently participated in a candlelight vigil honoring Native American lives lost to alcohol consumption, and she attended the Whiteclay Leadership Summit near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. That summit uncovered her desire to remain a part of the support system advocating for Native American rights.
"I realized that I really want to dedicate my life to not only shutting down Whiteclay, but fighting for the rights of Native people everywhere who have been oppressed and mistreated for so long."
Clement is currently completing her social work practicum with the Ponca tribe. Following her graduation in May, she plans to continue working with Native Americans and hopes to someday work with Native youth in suicide prevention.
Story by Quinn Hullett, public relations intern