Native In Nashville: Indigenous Advocacy with Katey Parham

By Jenna Holland

Juggling the responsibilities of working, being a full-time student, and leading an advocacy organization simultaneously may not be the ideal situation, but Katey Parham has succeeded. As a rising senior at Vanderbilt University, Katey has undoubtedly left a mark on our campus culture by influencing others to advocate for all.   

Double-majoring and working alongside the Vanderbilt Commodores football team was both challenging and fulfilling for Katey, but advocacy gave her a different purpose, something deeply personal to her identity. As a proud member of the Choctaw Nation, Katey has been influenced by the strength and struggles of her people to work toward bettering her communities, and “leaving every space better for the next generation of Natives”.

Since moving to Nashville and studying at Vanderbilt, Katey has significantly impacted both campus and the greater Nashville community with her passionate efforts. Katey has been an essential part of the Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG), as both a senator and committee chair. During her tenure with the group, she oversaw the adoption of VSG’s land acknowledgment bill, ensuring that the organization recognized and respected the ancestral lands of the Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek peoples and other indigenous peoples. Additionally, Katey held the position of Vice President in the Indigenous Scholars Organization (ISO), a group that aims to promote cultural knowledge and community involvement through its student members in the Nashville area. During her time with ISO, Katey launched a letter-writing campaign in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Office of Undergraduate Admissions. The project was intended to support prospective Indigenous students and welcome them to the campus community.

Currently, Katey has shifted her focus to individual advocacy efforts, apart from any specific campus organization. This past spring, she had the chance to meet with the Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Daniel Diermeier. In her meeting, she stated the importance of adopting a university-wide land acknowledgment, creating a Native studies program, and establishing a dedicated Native community space on campus. 

Reflecting on the experience, Katey remarked, “Since my meeting with Chancellor Diermeier, I am excited to find new, innovative ways to create change and leave Vanderbilt better for the next generation of Natives”. 

Katey leading a protest during her time with Protect Kids, Not Guns (TN), during the spring of 2023.

Even with all of her time and energy spent advocating at Vanderbilt, Katey also pursued activism efforts outside of the campus realm. In the wake of the tragedy at the Covenant School, Katey was compelled to take her advocacy efforts to the state capitol. She quickly stepped up to a leadership role in the movement where she organized peaceful and powerful assemblies in addition to serving as a media liaison. Through her work, she was able to receive mentorship from State Representative Justin Jones, and had the opportunity to share the issues impacting young Tennesseans with Senator Bernie Sanders. 

Katey on field as an equipment manager at Vanderbilt’s First Bank Stadium.

Outside of her activism endeavors, Katey also takes pride in working within the athletics department at Vanderbilt. Born and raised in the South, football has been a big part of Katey’s life as long as she’s remembered. Through watermelon suppers, chilly autumn ball games, and the intense Red River rivalry in her household, she fell in love with the sport and its culture. So naturally, she was bound to become a part of the Commodore football program. Stepping into her role as equipment manager, you could often catch Katey on the sidelines of many practices and SEC games, diligently working, and cheering on her players.

Off the football field, Katey was able to merge her interests and assist the athletics department with creating inclusive and supportive programs as a DEI intern this past year. Going forward, she plans on staying involved with the department as an intern with the Sports and Society Initiative, and leading a corresponding student organization. 

This past summer, Katey completed an internship with Nike N7 at their world headquarters in Oregon. N7 is a division of Nike dedicated to honoring and uplifting the Indigenous community. As part of her internship, she was able to travel and give back to several different Indigenous communities. As part of her capstone project, she had the honor of presenting the history of N7 to the President of the Navajo Nation, Buu Nygren, and former president and CEO of Nike, Mark Parker. Since wrapping up her time in Beaverton, the impact of her experiences at Nike can be felt through her continued efforts of advocacy in Nashville.

Katey with President Buu Nygren of the Navajo Nation and former Nike CEO and President, Mark Parker, this July, 2023.

Since being back on campus this fall, Katey had the opportunity to work on Freddie O’Connell’s campaign, and now serves as a communications intern for the Democratic Governors Association. Looking forward, Katey will be graduating in 2024 with Bachelor’s degrees in public policy and anthropology and hopes to continue her advocacy efforts post-grad.