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Zhaida Wilbanks

Fort Lewis College

Political Science



Zhaida Wilbanks proudly represents their Oneida and HoChunk tribal nations and two-spirit identity as a third-year Fort Lewis College student majoring in politcal science and double minoring in environmental conservation and adaptation and Native American and Indigenous studies. He grew up in a split life from being raised by a single mother alongside their three siblings in Chicago and growing up in the rural border-town Oneida Nation reservation. Zhaida grew up within the Urban-Indigenous community where kinship was part of survival. The community he was part of united when someone needed help or uplifting in any way they were able to help; from housing, car rides to ceremonies, food, regalia for pow-wows, learning cultural songs, and dances. Moving to the reservation border town came with an incredible culture shock; Indigenous people are viewed with hostility by non-Indigenous people. Zhaida was subject to this throughout middle and high school. Non-Indigenous students would mock Zhaida’s heritage by distasteful chants and fake headdresses. Bullying tactics would not rock the foundation of culture he was rooted in. Zhaida found their power by advocating for their Indigenous community within education and upholding millennia’s long tradition of smoke dancing with their Oneida community.

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