Shurene Premo, citizen of Newe-Numa Nation and the Tosawihi Band of Western Shoshone, first came to SDSU as an undergraduate transfer student from Cuyamaca College. From the moment she arrived at SDSU, her sights were on graduate school as she double-majored in social work and American Indian Studies. Premo was interested in pursuing social work as a career in order to support healing within Native American communities. She worked closely with mentor Tamara Strohauer, SERVE Indigenous Social Workers for Change Project Coordinator, throughout her time at SDSU in preparation for her career in social work. She presented with Strohauer on historical trauma and the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) at national and statewide conferences, including the Calling Upon the Warrior Spirit to Heal Historical Trauma Conference and Ceremony at Viejas Resort in 2018 and the SDSU Native Truth and Healing California Genocide Conference in 2019. In addition, Premo was invited to give talks on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) at the 2020 HT-RADAR conference on human trafficking, and the upcoming Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma (IVAT) conference. Her ultimate goal is to one day build a Native American drug and alcohol recovery and treatment center for her people on the Shoshone reservation in Duck Valley, Nevada.
“The issues that we’re facing right now in Indian Country are (that) families are broken. The family unit is broken. It stems from historical trauma, which turns into intergenerational trauma.” The result, she said, has been long histories of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, depression, mental illness and suicide, as well as child abuse and neglect.
“I want to use the Westernized way of counseling, with its therapy and psychology,” Premo said, “but we are going to bring in Native American healing and traditions.” The idea is to incorporate Native American church, sweat lodge, sun dance, smudging ceremonies and talking circles, she explained. “My whole belief is that if we go back to our ancient traditions, language (and) ceremonies, we’re going to heal from this alcohol and drug epidemic.” Shurene integrated Native healing practices even in her senior year internship at the Stepping Stone treatment center, where she facilitated Wellbriety Circles for its LGBTQ+ clients.
Shurene finished her undergraduate career with multiple honors including the Outstanding Graduating Senior of American Indian Studies, and was named the winner of SDSU’s 2019 Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award, the highest honor at SDSU awarded to just one graduating senior within the entire university. Shurene was chosen for her commitment to, and innovative concepts she developed around, Native healing centers for Indigenous communities, as well as her dedication to adapting her undergraduate education to include studying her Native Shoshone language. Loss of language among Native people is a result of colonization and forced assimilation, and the committee was impressed not only with her goals, but her innovative spirit as a student.
Following her undergraduate experience, Premo pursued her Master of Social Work (MSW) through SDSU’s competitive one-year Advanced Standing Program, where she took part in the Title IV-E Child Welfare program. As a masters student, Premo helped create SDSU’s Indigenous Social Work Alliance (ISWA), and also served as the club’s vice president. In addition, Premo was a three-time consecutive awardee of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Birdwoman Scholarship. This monetary grant is awarded to Native American/Native Alaskan master’s or bachelor’s social work degree candidates in California. She completed her MSW Program in the spring of 2020, and has recently been named as Chair of the NASW Native American Council, a role in which she will continue to serve as a strong advocate and source of support for Native American students who are pursuing careers in social work.
We extend our deepest and most sincere congratulations to Shurene on her many accomplishments to date, and look forward to seeing all that she accomplishes in the years ahead.