Skakel McCooey

When students return to campus in the fall, members of Yale’s youngest cultural center will see not one, but two fresh faces at its helm.

Beginning this year, the Native American Cultural Center will be led by NACC director and assistant dean of Yale College Matthew Makomenaw and NACC assistant director Diana Onco-Ingyadet. Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard announced their appointment in a June 4 email to his colleagues at the Yale College Dean’s Office, and the two assumed their new positions in mid-July following the departures of former NACC director Kelly Fayard and assistant director Kapi’olani Laronal.

“I’m grateful to Dean Howard and the search committee for their excellent work,” Yale College Dean Marvin Chun wrote in an email to the News. “We’re all excited to welcome Matthew Makomenaw and Diana Onco-Ingyadet to the NACC, and to Yale.”

Makomenaw has previously served as an assistant professor of Native American Studies at Montana State University, director of the American Indian Resource Center at the University of Utah, director of Native American programs at Central Michigan University and, most recently, the college pathways manager at the American Indian College Fund. 

Makomenaw holds three degrees — a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education-Student Affairs and a Ph.D. in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education — from Michigan State University, where he wrote his dissertation on tribal college transfer student success at four-year predominantly white institutions.

Over the course of his career, Makomenaw has developed and implemented programs to promote Native education and cultural knowledge, and has worked with Native students and communities on initiatives to improve college retention, access and overall success.

“I have always worked to help support students pursue their dreams of higher education,” Makomenaw wrote in an email to the News. “I was excited to continue working with Native students and communities.”

Onco-Ingyadet — who is Navajo, Kiowa, and Comanche, of the Reed People Clan and born for the Comanche Nation — is the center’s second-ever assistant director. She has worked as a classroom teacher, school director and tribal relations coordinator for Teach for America and the program coordinator at Northern Arizona University’s Office of Indigenous Student Success. In her role at Northern Arizona University, she worked on retention of and outreach to Native students, supervised a peer mentorship program for indiginous students and facilitated student workshops on academic, personal, cultural and career exploration.

Onco-Ingyadet graduated from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff with a BA in Applied Indiginous Studies and from Arizona State University, Tempe with a Master of Education in Higher and Postsecondary Education. Later this year, she will defend her dissertation on Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California. 

Her “curiosity” and “hope for impact” along with her “passion to see Indigenous students succeed academically, socially, and culturally” led her to accept the new position, Onco-Ingyadet said.

“I was fortunate enough to have a place like the Native American Cultural Center at each of my institutions as an undergraduate and graduate student,” Onco-Ingyadet wrote in an email to the News. “So I personally understand the influence that a place like the NACC at Yale can have on students, faculty, staff, and the community at large. I was really excited to learn about the ways in which a university like Yale was approaching Indigenous students in higher education.”

The new leadership joins the NACC after a dual staff departure last semester. Laronal’s announcement in February in particular prompted dissatisfied students to pen letters to Chun and Howard that criticized the “one-two punch of letting go of Laronal as the director leaves” and described the negative consequences that could have for the Native community. In response, Chun and Howard hosted a listening session at the NACC in which students further voiced their concerns.

Still, students at the center are excited to work with the new leadership. Specifically, the new leadership provides an opportunity to develop a “shared vision” for the center given that both a director and assistant director have come to the center at the same time, said Andy DeGuglielmo ’18 LAW ’21, a member of the Native community who held leadership positions with the Association of Native Americans at Yale as an undergraduate and served on the search committee for the center’s new director. 

“It’s really a relief to me to see that Matthew and Diana are who we ended up with, because to the extent that this shook the community up, there’s also a road to re-stabilizing it, so to say,” DeGuglielmo said. “I think there is definitely the possibility that people would go into this year holding their breath, but having met and interacted with Matthew and Diana, I think everyone feels a little more at ease about it, and I think that we are all excited, instead of apprehensive … I can’t wait to see how we grow and develop in the ways we’ve that been trying to but also to see what new perspectives these individuals bring to the table and what their visions and ideas are and how we can all work together.”

ANAAY President Gabriella Blatt ’21 and ANAAY bonding coordinator and NACC house staffer Meghan Gupta ’21 both said that while they were sad to see Fayard and Laronal go, they look forward to welcoming the new leaders, and working with them on ANAAY’s long-term goals.

One major example of these goals, Gupta said, would be bolstering institutional support from the University for ANAAY’s annual powwow. Although some Yale-funded student organizations have co-sponsored the event in the past, ANAAY hopes to secure direct funding and support resources from the Yale administration. Given Makomenaw’s and Onco-Ingyadet’s “really solid experience with administrative work” and the willingness to listen that Yale administrators like Chun and Howard have shown, Gupta said she is hopeful that ANAAY will see progress on achieving this goal.

DeGuglielmo added that pushing for credit for an array of indiginous languages, getting the University to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day and continuing to ensure that Native students feel welcome are some other long-standing goals among Native students that he hopes the new leadership will help further.

“As a member of the Native community on campus, I’m looking forward to help introduce [the new directors] to traditions around the house and to see what they imagine the space looking like,” Blatt said. “Dean Fayard and Kapi’olani really helped to establish a foundation for our community and I can’t wait to see how Matthew and Diana continue to build upon it.”

For the new leaders, the feeling of excitement is mutual.

“I am really looking forward to seeing the students in the fall!” Onco-Ingyadet said. “I got to chat with many of them during the interviewing process and I just can’t wait to get to know them even more. The students truly are the reason why I do what I do and I feel so honored to share this space with them for the upcoming academic year.”

The NACC’s building at 26 High Street first opened its doors in 2013.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu