Breaking Barriers with UN Native American Rights Committee Director Andrea Carmen ‘68

2 mins read
Carmen’s portrait from the 1967 M-A yearbook

This is the tenth article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni. Read last week’s article here.

“When I was at M-A, it was very cliquey. Everyone had their group. I was sort of running the gamut. I was a member of the Pom-Pom Girls (cheer team), the Literary Magazine Club, and I was really into biology. I showed up to get my photo taken for the National Merit Scholarship and they were like, ‘What are you doing here? Pom-Pom Girl picture day is down the hall,” said Native American rights activist Andrea Carmen. “We were one of the poor families,” she added. “I learned to sew on my mom’s sewing machine, because you’d get criticized in the Pom-Pom Girl crowd if you wore the same outfit twice in the same week. I sewed all my clothes.”

M-A has certainly changed since Carmen’s time. When she attended, the dress code prohibited girls from wearing pants. School officials made girls kneel to check that their skirts and dresses hit the floor. During Carmen’s junior year, East Palo Alto integrated into the District. She said, “Fights broke out, protests. Many of the new kids weren’t happy to be there. There was a lot of racial tension that I didn’t quite know how to navigate.” Carmen also witnessed Vietnam War protests. She and many of her classmates were involved in the 1968 presidential campaigns.

Carmen’s least favorite class was Mr. Zeppizaur’s English class, because “he kept making us rewrite papers over and over until he felt it was the very best we could do. He would mark them up and send them back and we couldn’t stand it, but at the same time, he taught me how to write, which had a big impact on the work that I do. I’d say even more than any university professor.”

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, fellow M-A alumni and founding members of the band Fleetwood Mac, played acoustic guitars at Carmen’s graduation. Carmen said she went on one date with Buckingham before he met Nicks.

After M-A, Carmen attended UC Berkeley and majored in Women’s Studies. Through her education, she became passionate about Native American advocacy. Carmen is a member of the Yaqui tribe. Her grandmother was born in Mexico and survived a massacre when she was 12 years old. She wanted to spread awareness about the issues modern Native American tribes face, so she became the director of the International Indian Treaty Council, the only Native American rights group with general consultative status at the UN.

Carmen’s advice to current M-A students: “Educate yourself about local history. Do you know the name of the Native American tribe that once lived on the land you are standing on? If not, why not? Do you know the history of your school? Do you know your family’s story? If not, why not? Don’t be passive. Learn as much as you can about the places and people you care about.”

Carmen’s organization produces educational materials for high school students, like this study guide and a message for Indigenous people’s day. Carmen was also featured in a previous M-A Chronicle article about Indigenous People’s Day.

On her favorite books, Carmen said, “I work on a lot of serious UN submission documents so I like reading fun novels. Right now I’m reading The Thread Collectors by Shaunna J. Edwards, which is really good, and I also love John Grisham’s novels.”

Disclaimer: Bears Doing Big Things is not meant to be a list ranking the most accomplished or famous M-A graduates on Earth. It is a collection of people with a wide range of expertise, opinions, and stages of life who were kindly willing to share their stories. All have wisdom, entertaining anecdotes, and book recommendations to share. There are 45,000+ additional accomplished M-A alums out there, so keep an eye out for them!

Caroline Pecore was a senior in her first year of journalism. Her column, "Bears Doing Big Things," ran every Monday. She enjoyed meeting new people through journalism and writing about the M-A community. Outside of school, she spent most of her time rowing for Norcal Crew and also enjoyed reading, drawing, and exploring the outdoors.

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