N.E.R.D.S or Native Education Raising Dedicated Students is a growing peer-to-peer mentoring organization for Native youth. Focusing on 7th-12th grade Native students, N.E.R.D.S provides a safe place for them to empower and support each other on both personal and academic levels. It allows them to engage in conversations surrounding the issues that contribute to high drop out rates, suicide, and bullying among native students and come up with viable solutions.

It is an incredible program that has not only encouraged students to stay in school, but has increased the number of Native students who graduate on time. Currently, there are nine chapters throughout California to serve the growing number of Native youth taking advantage of their services, which include a summer school program and youth conference. But what makes N.E.R.D.S  even more amazing is that it was founded by a then 8th grader named Dahkota Franklin Kicking Bear Brown.

“NERDS was created in 2012. I was in 8th grade and I noticed that some of my friends and cousins weren’t doing the best in school. I wanted to make a difference and began to help them. Not soon after, more students began to come in and thus NERDS was born.”

Now 17 years old, Dahkota, a member of the Wilton Miwok Rancheria, is a senior at Argonaut High School. He’s involved with various school clubs and organizations, such as Drama, Student Council and, of course, N.E.R.D.S. Like any teenager, he enjoys hanging out with his friends, listening to music, going to movies, beading, learning his Miwok language and spending time with his family. However, Dahkota is not the average teenager.

In fact, it’s often hard to remember that he is just 17 years old when you look at the scope of work that he has done on addressing the issues that face Native youth. He’s been invited to the White House and has met the President on numerous occasions. He was in the inaugural class of the Center for Native American Youth’s Champions for Change and he was featured in MTV’s promo video for Generation Indigenous. He also played an integral role in the passing of AB-30, also known as the California Racial Mascots Act, and his testimony on the harmful impact of Native mascots was an integral part of  The Center for American Progress’s report, Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth.  Time and time again, this young man has proved himself to be a great role model, advocate, and leader with a level of maturity and grace that most adults fail to embody.

Being familiar with who he is as an outstanding advocate, we wanted to know more about Dahkota the Indigenerd. So, we threw him a few questions and here is what he had to say.

What do you predict will come next for N.E.R.D.S 5 years down the line?
N.E.R.D.S has been a pretty unpredictable journey so far. I would like to see us receive some grants so that we are able to open an actual N.E.R.D.S Center fully equipped with a kitchen, classrooms, and computer lab. I also see N.E.R.D.S possibly growing large enough to where we may hire an Executive Director and other positions. N.E.R.D.S also has the possibility of growing and expanding to open chapters outside of California which would be huge.

What does Indigenerdity mean to you?
The term “Indigenerdity” is probably my new favorite word. Shakespeare created almost 2000 words and none of them compare to “Indigenerdity.” I may be a little biased since NERD is worked into the term, but honestly I love what it stands for. Indigenerdity, to me, means a brighter future for our Native people. By getting involved in STEM, we have a chance to save the world and prove theories we’ve been stating for a long time. Also, I think Native geek culture is something that everyone can relate to bit.

Who is the  creator of Battlestar Galactica and what other fandom was the creator responsible for? 
Glen A. Larson is responsible for a plethora of groundbreaking shows. Battlestar Galactica was one of the greats, but Buck Rogers, Magnum P.I., and Knight Rider were all monumental, because everyone needs a KITT in their life. Also, I may be a bit partial to Duck Rogers, instead of Buck Rogers, but that’s mainly because I’m a huge Looney Tunes fan.

origins4What was your first gaming system and what is current preference in gaming consoles?
I believe my first gaming console was a Playstation and my current console is the Playstation 4, so I’ve stayed pretty loyal. However, I did have a couple Gameboys and a Wii at one time.

Are you into comics and if so, what is your favorite mainstream comic series or superhero?
I’m not huge into comic books, but my best friend is all about Marvel, so I hear a lot from him. I’ve also heard that the Walking Dead comic book series is pretty good. As for mainstream superheroes, my go to superhero would have to be the Hulk. That’s mainly because of Bruce Banner’s love for science and his ultimate badass-ness. Plus, Mark Ruffalo.

What is your favorite native comic series or superhero?
My favorite Native comic book series would probably be Shaman’s Tears. Like I said, I’m not huge into comic books, but my dad has a couple copies of the Shaman’s Tears comic books and used to read them back in the 90s.

What do you think the biggest difference is between native superheroes and geek culture and mainstream superheroes and geek culture?
I think the biggest difference between Native superheroes and mainline superheroes and their relation to geek culture would be the fact that you never really see anybody at comic-con or other similar events dressed up as Native comic book characters or superheroes. I guess that’s kind of a good thing because of the whole Native appropriation thing, though.

What is the heaviest element that a star can produce through fusion, before going supernova?
I’d really like to answer “Champagne”, however I know that’s not the answer and not everyone is a fan of Oasis. I know that it’s a metal, and I’m pretty sure it’s Iron.

To learn more about N.E.R.D.S, visit their website.

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About The Author

Johnnie Jae

Johnnie Jae is of the Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw tribes of Oklahoma. She is the managing partner of Native Max Magazine, founder of A Tribe Called Geek, and contributor to Native News Online. She is the manager and producer for the Success Native Style Radio Network, where she hosts the Indigenous Flame and A Tribe Called Geek radio shows. She is also a founding board member of Not Your Mascots. Known as the "Brown Ball of Fury," Jae seamlessly shifts from humor and pop culture to advocacy and digital media, which has made her a much-sought after speaker and commentator. Her work has been discussed in many media outlets, such as Indian Country Today, ATPN, CBC, USA Today, BBC, Global Post, Women’s E-News, Takepart.com and Upworthy. She has been a guest on several radio shows, including Native America Calling, Native Trailblazers, BBC World Have Your Say and ICI Radio.

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