Reflecting their shared priority to create equitable educational opportunities for students across northern Minnesota and beyond, Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College have promoted Chrissy Downwind to the position of vice president for American Indian student success & campus diversity officer. In this inaugural role, Downwind becomes the first American Indian woman to hold a vice president position at a four-year university campus in the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities.
Downwind, who has served BSU and NTC as executive director of the American Indian Resource Center since January 2020, will provide vital leadership for the ongoing BSU and NTC commitment to provide equitable educational opportunities to all students, especially low-income, first-generation, LGBTQIA+, American Indians and students of color. Her work will include elimination of all equity gaps through an intentional, systematic infusion of diverse ways of knowing, being and doing into policies, protocols, curricula and programming at both campuses.
Her appointment coincides with BSU’s recent unveiling of its Nisidotaading (pronounced “nisi-do-tah-ding”) program. This initiative, named for an Ojibwe phrase which means “having a mutual understanding,” will help to ensure that BSU students across all disciplines graduate with an opportunity to develop an understanding of Indigenous peoples and cultures and the issues they face — the idea encompassed in the program’s name.
Downwind will also continue to provide leadership for the Institute for Indigenous Education & Practice, launched this year. Funded by the Minnesota State system, the institute will serve as a regional hub for creating and distributing professional development, training and curriculum-development resources to all Minnesota State faculty and staff. These resources will bolster campus-specific action plans meant to support Indigenous students across Minnesota State’s 26 colleges and seven state universities.
Dr. John L. Hoffman, president of BSU and NTC, says Downwind is uniquely qualified to both lead the institutions in this work and, through her authentic leadership style, to ensure that student success and retention initiatives extend to all students, regardless of their ethnic, cultural or socio-economic backgrounds.
“Chrissy is a trusted and respected leader not only at BSU and NTC, but also throughout the region,” he said. “Her passion to serve underrepresented students is clear in everything she does. In this moment of our history, Chrissy will provide bold leadership that draws from Ojibwe culture and values to advance our cornerstone values of holistic student learning and success for all students through initiatives rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a valued member of my Executive Cabinet, and I look forward to working for her in this new capacity.”
Downwind accepts her new appointment having served as executive director of the AIRC since January 2020. Her tenure in that role was punctuated with a record 455 American Indian students enrolled between the institutions during the 2022–23 academic year.
“BSU and NTC have taken big steps toward righting some of the wrongs made toward the American Indian community by educating on the truths behind the history of our place,” Downwind said, referring to the responsibilities of her new appointment, the creation of the Nisidotaading program and Minnesota State’s new Institute for Indigenous Education & Practice.
Beginning in 2019, she served as the AIRC’s outreach specialist and worked to bring American Indian student groups for campus tours, guide prospective students through the application process and build relationships with BSU’s tribal college partners at Red Lake Nation College, White Earth Tribal and Community College, Leech Lake Tribal College and Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College.
Before joining the AIRC, Downwind worked for 15 years in a variety of American Indian student-support roles in northern Minnesota K-12 schools.
A 2002 BSU alumna, Downwind, who identifies as Ojibwe and Lakota, was an active member of BSU’s Council of Indian Students and served as its secretary treasurer, helped plan BSU’s annual powwow — which will be held for the 50th time on April 29, 2023, making it one of the longest-running powwows in the region — and coordinated fundraisers for the council. She was also part of the on-campus committee that advocated for the AIRC to be built in 2003.
She has a bachelor’s degree in Indian studies from BSU, a master’s degree in educational leadership from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and is currently completing a doctoral program in education with an emphasis in leadership and management at Capella University.
Her appointment at BSU and NTC was effective April 24, 2023.