Drover Alum Since Day One: Johnna James

Johnna James
Johnna James

A 2005 graduate of the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma, Johnna James' journey from a business administration major to a passionate advocate for Indigenous communities is a testament to her resilience, persistence and commitment to making a positive impact.

Growing up in Chickasha, James made the choice to attend USAO as it was the local university and also where her mother had graduated. Although it took her a long time to earn her bachelor’s degree due to life events, Johnna’s professors encouraged her and pushed her to do well all the way to graduation. She learned that if she just kept going, she would find success. 

And throughout her career, success is what she has found. After graduating from USAO, James went on to earn a master’s degree in Native American leadership from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Southern Nazarene University, researching historical trauma, American Indian education, and culturally responsive teaching.

“When I graduated from USAO, I was able to carry with me a broader view of the world,” she said. “I graduated ready to advocate for others and be a change maker.”

A proud member of the Chickasaw Nation, James serves on the Indigenous Community Response Team for the Opioid Response Network where she consults with local, state, tribal, and federal governments, providing collaboration and technical assistance. She is a member of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and the National Indian Education Association. In 2021, she served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations for the 65th Commission on the Status of Women.

“I have enjoyed my service to Tribal Nations,” she said. “Being able to help in the behavioral health field to address hard issues such as suicide and the opioid epidemic has been rewarding."

Johnna's remarkable contributions also include a decade as the co-founder of "Standing Our Ground," an organization dedicated to reuniting and rehabilitating families caught in unethical adoptions and unnecessary separations. She actively encourages compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), raises awareness about the importance of first families and culture, and plays a pivotal role in advocating for legislation supporting children's civil rights to be with their natural families whenever possible.

The University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma takes pride in Johnna James, a distinguished alumna making a significant impact in the field of Indigenous advocacy and leadership.

About the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma

As Oklahoma’s liberal arts college, the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma provides a distinctive education in the liberal arts and sciences, supporting both its interdisciplinary core curriculum and major fields of study with superior teaching. USAO fosters diversity of thought and practice to help students realize meaningful, purposeful and productive lives as global citizens in a rapidly-changing world.