Like most Haudenosaunee, Andrew Lee ’94 learned from an early age that when setting a course of action, one must consider the wisdom of seven generations who came before and the consequences that decisions will have on seven generations ahead. Lee takes that advice to heart as chairman of the board of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
“When you visit the NMAI, you have an opportunity to start learning the complexities and nuances of the American Indian experience and how it fits into the larger American experience,” says Lee, who is half Seneca. “You not only come away with a deeper understanding of some of the challenges Natives have faced, but also a newfound appreciation for just how resilient, innovative, and pioneering this population has been and continues to be.”
[Video Andrew Lee '94 visits campus]
He is particularly excited about a museum initiative called Native Knowledge 360, which incorporates technology and social media to reach young audiences who may not be able to visit the museum, transforming both the substance and delivery of what they learn about American Indians in school.
Lee has held executive positions in the fields of health care, American Indian affairs, and philanthropy, and most recently completed a six-year term as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. His experiences confirmed his belief that in order to shape their image and identity for the next seven generations, Native Americans must adopt a policy of self-determination.
“The prospects of overcoming long legacies of socioeconomic blight are much stronger when Native nations adopt a ‘just do it’ attitude and take over functions and systems that were previously controlled by outsiders. This makes sense intuitively, and the results are inspiring,” he says.
Lee points to a growing number of tribes running world-class health care systems and tribal schools where students are exceeding standard benchmarks and learning their Native languages. “That’s sovereignty in action, and the results are compelling,” he says.