A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Doctor Flyswithhawks helps others by teaching tolerance

Jim Callagy
Dr. Brenda Flyswithhawks has been everything from a war nurse in Vietnam to an advocate for indigenous people’s rights. She has been described as a hands-on teacher who never hesitates to help a student that’s struggling.

Dr. Brenda Flyswithhawks identifies as Tsalagi – an eastern band of the Cherokee nation – of the bird clan. She’s driven by lessons her mother and grandmother taught her about always helping others.

She joined the U.S. Air Force as a medical technician during the Vietnam War, helping soldiers get back safely without trouble on her tour.

She went on to medical school to study to be a nurse, but switched to clinical psychology despite being a semester away from completing the nursing program.

She originally planned to get her bachelor’s degree before heading back to the reservation but she met a teacher who quickly became her mentor. She then continued her education to get her master’s degree in clinical psychology, where she became an expert witness in court cases involving indigenous peoples. She never thought about getting her doctorate in psychology until one case she lost due to the judge siding with the opposition.

“[It] involved recommending an alcohol and substance treatment program for a young Native American man, instead of prison. I got denied simply because I had a master’s degree, and not a doctorate” Flyswithhawks said. “At that time, the judge hearing the case was sensitive to the cultural elements I was presenting on behalf of our client; however, he felt that the prosecuting attorney’s clinical witness, who had a Ph.D., [his] recommendation carried more weight because he had his doctorate.” She went back to school so she’d never have to lose a case due to lack of credentials again.

Flyswithhawks was the director of the Behavioral Health Department at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project, an organization dedicated to providing medical services for Native Americans in the county, for seven years. She had her own private practice for a number of years and was invited in 1989 to teach. She’s been teaching for 27 years since.

In the past, Flyswithhawks faced mixed feedback from some students who showed racism. Students describe her as hands-on and with a comfortable style of teaching. Joaquin Iturbe, criminal justice major, said, “She can be very hands on during mentoring hour and I really like her style of teaching.”

Flyswithhawks has said she’s “tough but fair” and she’s willing to give a helping hand after class for students having trouble understanding the subject matter. She also assists with food for students in need to “get themselves a hot meal” from time to time. “There is nothing worse than students sitting in class on an empty stomach or they haven’t eaten in days,” she said. “So, I do it to help.”

She’s helped out in other sections of the school, like the “Arts & Lectures” series on native culture and discrimination. Although she rarely lets herself be recorded, she did help with the Work of Literary Merit lecture series for the books ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and tracks by Louis Erdrich.

Talking about her time in Vietnam and storytelling, Flyswithhawks said, “It provided a personal opportunity for me to leave a piece of my work for my daughter and future grandchildren to have.”

She’s a member of Promoting and Supporting Student Athlete Success, a group on campus trying to help athletes succeed in school academically. “It is great working with her,” said Filomena Avila, SRJC athletics counselor. “She really believes in making education a viable option for students and is a huge advocate for student success. I have encountered students in her classes who might be experiencing difficult situations outside the classroom environment that may be affecting their classroom performance. It’s not uncommon for Brenda to reach out to the student.”

Flyswithhawks is adamant about avoiding stereotypes, like “all jocks are dumb” or “dumb blondes,” and is an avid supporter of gay rights and sex education in schools.

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About the Contributor
Arthur Gonzalez-Martin
Arthur Gonzalez-Martin, Staff Writer
Arthur Gonzalez-Martin is a left-leaning social libertarian/Blue Dog who's been going to the SRJC for nine years, exploring everything it has to offer till he took a journalism class and decided to stick with it. After four semesters at The Oak Leaf, one of which he was senior photographer, he's continued as an intern for the program. In his spare time, Arthur writes short stories, including a collection of which he's trying to get published; playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, board games and video games; and taking long hikes into nature.

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  • K

    Kerry RegoMar 9, 2018 at 11:20 am

    I took a “Race and Ethnicity” class from Dr. Flyswithhawks in the late 90’s and have remembered the impact she had on me. She opened my eyes to inclusive thinking and I learned a tremendous amount through her personal stories about her nation and that of other Native Americans. A teacher I’ll never forget!

    • P

      Peter BertashJan 2, 2022 at 8:33 am

      She has been outed by major Native American geneologists and activists as just another “Ward Churchill” style fraud. The only tribe she has ever been a member of, or can truthfuly claim descent from is the “Wannabee Tribe” She is listed on the “Pretendian List”.