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HERC Member Insight: Recruiting Native American Talent

By Higher Education Recruitment Consortium
November 16, 2017
An image of diversity consultant Simone Brown Thunder and her family.

In honor of National American Indian Heritage Month, we reached out to HERC member, Simone Brown Thunder, an enrolled member of the Karuk tribe of California and a diversity and inclusion recruiting expert at the University of Minnesota to share her best practices for supporting and recruiting Native American talent. 

HERC: Tell us a little bit about the Native American community in your state.

Simone Brown Thunder: Minnesota is comprised of tribal members from 11 tribes (seven Anishinaabe [Chippewa, Ojibwe] reservations and four Dakota communities) as well as tribal members from neighboring states of Wisconsin and North/South Dakota. In addition, we have a large urban Native American population. Our urban Native American population is comprised of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. This has created a rich Native American community, as each tribe is a sovereign nation with its own language, customs, and form of government.


HERC: What are some recruitment challenges and solutions specific to Native American faculty or staff?

Simone Brown Thunder: We are working to strengthen our awareness as an employer of choice of Minnesota’s (and beyond) Native American community and create an inclusive environment. A barrier to Native Americans is persuading those that are living in their community or working within a tribal organization, to leave and work for the University. If a tribal member has a choice to work with their tribal community/organization or to work with the U of M, we have to recognize that choice can be a barrier. Creating a strong employee value proposition, along with a sense of what it is like to work at the U of M, helps to sway potential candidates. Also, enlisting current Native American staff and faculty to be recruitment ambassadors is an effective solution to enhancing the recruitment efforts.


HERC: How do you include the Native American perspective or voice in the work that you do?

Simone Brown Thunder: Through outreach and education, I have the opportunity to bring attention to our Native American culture and voice when meeting with the faculty and staff in our administrative units and colleges, as well as other organizations outside of the University. Because the Native American population is a smaller percentage of the demographic, it’s important to bring an awareness of our communities. My primary message to our stakeholders is that with a collective of voices that are diverse, we are more innovative and effective.


HERC: How does your institution support local Native American communities? Native American students or faculty and staff?

Simone Brown Thunder: From an employee recruitment perspective, the U of M supports the Native American community by focusing on recruitment and retention of faculty and staff. In 2015, our Vice President of Human Resources hired our diversity and inclusion recruitment team to focus on increasing the diversity of our faculty and staff, including a focus on the Native American community. One way the U of M provides support to current faculty and staff is through our affinity groups, including one specifically for Native Americans. This group hosts events for faculty and staff for opportunities to network, discuss events, and meet new employees. We have numerous other events on and off campus that bring awareness of important issues facing Native Americans.

In addition to having a dedicated recruitment coordinator for recruiting Native American students to the University, support for Native American student recruitment and retention occurs by providing opportunities to connect with faculty, staff, and other students, making event participation available through University programs, such as the Circle of Indigenous Nations, the American Indian Cultural House, the American Indian Learning Resource Center (Duluth), the American Indian Science & Engineering Society and the American Indian Cultural House Living Learning Community. Lastly, Native American students are provided a tuition waiver to attend college at the University of Minnesota – Morris.

The University also has the nation's oldest American Indian Studies program with departmental status, where the students can study indigenous languages (Dakota or Ojibwe), literature, art, philosophy, and socioeconomic issues.


HERC: What is one advice you would give to other recruiters that would like to increase outreach to Native American communities?

Simone Brown Thunder: Develop partnerships with tribal communities, tribal colleges, and tribal organizations. Establish trust. Be creative and committed to hiring diversity. It is important for higher education to create best practices to hire, promote, and retain the diverse staff and faculty that does exist. Lastly, change how you are currently recruiting for diversity, unless you have created an effective plan. With the changing demographics (increased diversity in our workforce and student population), reduced workforce, and the data we have about the effectiveness of diverse teams, recruiting diversity should be a top priority for higher education institutions.



Simone Brown Thunder is an enrolled member of the Karuk tribe of California. She relocated to Minnesota 10 years ago with her spouse (Ho-Chunk and Lakota) and three daughters. She has been working in the Office of Human Resources for five years and more recently as a diversity and inclusion recruiting consultant, helping units and colleges increase their staff diversity. Her past experience includes a career with Indian Health Service, a federal agency that supports tribes and health clinics. Her job as a diversity and inclusion recruiting consultant allows her to utilize her many contacts in the community as part of her networking. “Our knowledge is expanded when we interact with people who are different than ourselves," Simone says. "For me, helping to create a diverse workforce is helping to expand our knowledge, for both University staff and students. It also gives me the opportunity to connect people to a career with the University. This is truly rewarding work."

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