BEMIDJI-It may have taken several years, but Delana Smith finally gets to return to Bemidji State University after landing a position as a professor.
Smith will join the Department of Professional Education, the oldest program at the university, where she'll teach on the same campus where she earned her bachelor's and masters' degrees. As an Native instructor, though, she hopes to help bring a new perspective to the department.
"I actually have been applying for every position they've had available in professional education for the last three years," Smith said. "I looked at it as it wasn't my time to shine... I wasn't disappointed or discouraged. I just kept applying, kept applying. I was persistent."
The job finally arrived at her doorstep at roughly the same time she finished her doctorate in educational administration and leadership from St. Cloud State.
Prior to BSU, Smith was teaching early childhood education at Leech Lake Tribal College.
Although she just recently became a faculty member, she was already helping influence the university in other ways. She served as president of the American Indian Alumni Chapter from 2012 to 2016. She also was part of the Native American Advisory Council, which consults with the university's leadership.
As a member of the advisory council, she recently had a chance to meet with some of the faculty from the Department of Professional Education who she studied under when she was a student.
"Some of them were my professors from when I was at school here. I was like 'Hey, guess what: I'm almost done with my doctorate," Smith said.
As a Native instructor in the university's education department, Smith hopes she will be able to help future teachers understand and connect with students of different backgrounds. For example, she said that means teachers need to learn how students learn.
American Indian Resource Center Director Bill Blackwell Jr. said having Smith as an instructor will help solidify the university as place of Native scholarship.
"Our goal is to become a destination university for American Indian students nationwide," Blackwell said in a statement about Smith joining the university. "The addition of Dr. Smith allows us to diversity the courses we teach in education, and will allow us to attract more American Indian majors."
To that end, Smith was one of the best candidates. A Red Lake band member herself, she also has had experience with people from multiple other indigenous communities.
In 2004, she won the Miss Indian World Pageant, becoming the first Ojibwe person and the first Minnesotan to claim the honor. Aside from the recognition, though, the opportunity gave her exposure to tribal members from across the spectrum. At one point, that even took her to a South American rainforest.
"I was able to participate in cultural events that not everybody gets to see in the mainstream," Smith said.
She hopes to incorporate that understanding of the broader indigenous community into her work teaching future teachers.
"The pageant taught me about the beauty of indigenous people regardless of your tribe. That's what I've been bringing into my current teachings here at BSU," she said in a statement from the university.