January in Tucson 2024 Breaks Records for Second Year Running

Feb. 22, 2024

The flagship educational event for the UArizona Indigenous Governance Program attracted 159 students from 80 Tribes and Native nations.

Desi Smal-Rodriguez smiles in front of a full classroom with a Zoom grid of virtual attendees projected behind her. To her left, PhD student William Carson stands behind a desk ready to help.

Desi Smal-Rodriguez (Northern Cheyenne Nation) leads a packed IDSov course with support from Public Health Ph.D. student William Carson (Ohkay Owingeh).

Photo by Craig Baker

2024 was another record breaking year for January in Tucson (JIT)!

Following a banner 2023 event that saw the number of students registered for the accelerated, master-level courses offered every January by UArizona’s Indigenous Governance Program top triple digits for the first time ever (116 students in total), 2024 saw yet another surge in demand and an accompanying boost in engagement and enthusiasm from those in attendance.

JIT welcomed 159 students in 2024 – 37 percent more than the record set the previous year!

The JIT program, which is managed as a partnership between the Native Nations Institute and the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program, offers UArizona students the chance to earn up to 12 graduate credits over the course of just three weeks. Non-students can earn a Continuing Education Certificate in Indigenous Governance during the program and CLE credits are available to legal professionals who attend.

Participants praised the expertise of, and access they had to, their world-class JIT instructors, as well as the experience of learning in small classes with engaged peers and colleagues from around the world.

JIT 2024 By the Numbers

Steve Cornell in a dark blue plaid shirt holds a digital microphone to a student who is speaking during his Intro to Native Nation Building course.

NNI co-founder and former Udall Center Director Steve Cornell's hybrid 'Intro to Native Nation Building' course was in high demand in 2024.

Despite construction taking place at the James E. Rogers College of Law during the event, by all accounts 2024 was likely the smoothest-running and most successful iteration of the JIT program since it began in 2012.

Students earned a total of 307 credits in 16 courses over the course of the three-week program in 2024.

This year’s student cohort included:

  • 159 registrants
  • 96 enrolled Tribal members 
  • 80 individual Tribes/Native Nations represented
  • 19 Tribal professionals
  • 58 graduate and doctoral students
  • 18 UArizona students

The 2024 JIT faculty saw a handful of new additions and was equally diverse, featuring:

  • 25 individual expert instructors
  • 15 enrolled Tribal members 
  • 16 Tribes and Native nations represented
  • 9 UArizona faculty members, staff members and researchers
  • 5 international guest instructors

Taken as a whole, 2024 JIT faculty and students included representatives of at least 25 non-governmental organizations, 28 colleges and universities and 29 government agencies.

2024 JIT Speaker Series

Maggie Cunningham wears a cream-colored shirt open over a gold turtleneck and large turquoise necklace. A large screen behind her features a black and white image of a young woman working a ciematic camera with the text "Cherokee Film" overlaid in white.

Cherokee Film Production Manager Maggie Cunningham (Pawnee) came to Tucson for a special screening of the docuseries 'Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.'

Photo by Craig Baker

Experts and thought leaders on various hot topics in Indigenous governance are invited to speak every Wednesday afternoon during the JIT program as part of the annual January in Tucson Speaker Series.

All JIT Speaker Series events are free to attend, open to the public and include a free lunch service for those in attendance.

This year’s talks featured:

  • Dr. Jim Diamond, Interim Director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program
  • Dr. Elizabeth Rule (Chickasaw Nation), Deputy Secretary for First Nations for the State of New York and Assistant Professor at American University
  • Prof. Deron Marquez, former Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and current Director of the Tribal Administration Certificate Program at Claremont Graduate University

A surprise addition was also made to this year’s speaker series to welcome one of the producers behind Cherokee Film’s multiple-award-winning docuseries, Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.

Cherokee Film Production Manager Maggie Cunningham (Pawnee) made a guest appearance in NNI Senior Researcher Miriam Jorgensen’s “Making Change Happen” course before screening an episode of Osiyo for attendees and delivering an engaging presentation about Cherokee Film’s approach to the subject of narrative sovereignty.

The Student Take

A young woman in an elaborate set of turquoise jewelry and black tank top speaks to the group during a JIT course.

Jordan Big Plume (Tsuut'ina Nation) addresses her class during JIT 2024.

Photo by Craig Baker

There was an energy coursing through this year’s JIT program that seemed to make community building more of a breeze than ever before.

“The energy and enthusiasm levels, from students to faculty, were just off the charts,” said IGP Manager Tory Fodder (Taos Pueblo), adding that “None of this would be possible without the tremendous team of staff and faculty members that we have in place, who all pull together to deliver a world-class educational experience for the students and participants joining us annually from around the world.”

Crystal Cavalier-Keck wears glasses, large earrings shaped like fish skeletons, a white t-shirt that reads "Matriarch" and a necklace with a curved brown pendant as she stands in front of what looks like an agricultural field.

A welcome mixer at No Anchovies! pizza on University Boulevard packed the second floor of the venue on Friday night after the conclusion of the first week of classes, giving students, faculty and staff a chance to make new connections, foster existing ones and to mingle and socialize as peers in a fun and relaxed setting.

The addition of three in-demand Indigenous Data Sovereignty courses brought a host of research professionals to JIT, including the first-ever Indigenous DataSET Fellows cohort.  

2024 also saw the largest NNI Tribal Professionals Cohort (TPC) in history at JIT, along with dedicated cohorts from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada; the Minnesota Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources; United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.; and professionals and educators from all three publics universities in the state of Arizona.

Crystal Cavalier-Keck (Saponi Nation) was a 2024 TPC inductee and JIT participant. She is also the CEO and co-founder of the non-profit 7 Directions of Service and an Adjunct Professor in the Social Sciences department at Salem College in Winston Salem, N.C.

“January in Tucson is intense, but I love it.” says Cavalier-Keck.

“Networking and meeting people from different nations gives me perspective on what others are doing.. in their communities so I can bring that back to my community,” says Cavalier-Keck of the connections she made at JIT. “I’ve met so many people from all across Turtle Island that… bring different experiences to the cohort from different regions,” she said.

“The framework that I’ve learned in the short week and a half since I’ve been here has broadened my horizons to the point that I’m actually just a little bit dangerous (in conversations with lawyers),” Cavalier-Keck says half-jokingly. She says it’s been enough to convince her to continue taking classes at UArizona in order to earn her Master of Professional Studies in Indigenous Governance.

“Having this experience in the IGP is going to allow me to be able to tell our stories to our people and have our perspective on it, and that is the most important thing,” she says.

Save the Date for 2025!

Two students write on a whiteboard during a JIT class. A glare can be seen on the glass between the camera and the subjects.

Students engage in group work during a JIT 2024 course.

Now that the 2024 chapter of JIT is in the rearview mirror, organizers are already looking ahead at how they can improve the program even more for 2025.

Fodder, J.D., S.J.D. (Taos Pueblo)

“With JIT 2024 in the books, we are so pleased to have hosted our largest educational event to date,” said Fodder. “Each year, our team looks for new ways to make the program better. In the coming months, I look forward to working with our team to implement the new ideas that have been suggested, and that will keep our program at the vanguard of Indigenous governance education. Stay tuned!”

Courses have already been selected and the process of lining up faculty and speakers for next year is currently underway.

If you are interested in taking JIT courses in 2025, mark your calendar for January 6-25, 2025 when the program will return for its 14th season.

Registration will open in the fall of 2024.

Get the latest

Sign up for NNI News