Commencement at Riverside Indian School is always a big day, but this year the commencement speaker is the only Native American woman to serve in the Kansas legislature, the honorable Ponka-we Victors.
When Victors told Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach that she thought of him as an illegal immigrant, she made national headlines. Kobach, a well known anti immigration attorney who had a hand in the controversial Arizona SB 1070 that critics said encouraged racial profiling, was holding a hearing on introducing legislation to deny in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants.
Victors represents the 103rd District, a place she has lived all her life, Wichita, Kansas. Recently legislation she introduced was signed into law making the first Wednesday in February “Native American Day” at the Capital and recognizing the government-to-government relationship with the four tribes in Kansas.
Victors says she’s not only a voice for her district but also a voice for the tribes in Kansas. She said she has to remind her colleagues of the differences between the tribes and has found Governor Sam Brownback a willing partner to work with. Brownback in 2011 offered an apology to Native Americans for the wrongs and forced relocations of the tribes in Kansas.
Victors said she would like to see that apology come from the lawn of the White House as well. “That would be awesome!” she said.
Her words to the 2013 graduating class of Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma were probably not so different from many other commencements. She stood before them in her native dress and said, “Take every opportunity that comes your way, don’t worry about the nay sayers, none of that is important, what’s important is staying focused. And having a dream, a belief in yourself and a vision of what you can do.”