Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is one of two new members joining the University of California's Board of Regents.
Word came as something of a surprise, Sarris said.
"I was interviewed a year, maybe two years ago and I thought, well, I'll either get on the board or I won't, and I just kind of though, 'oh well, maybe they weren't interested or, I wasn't sure," Sarris said. "And then, when I heard this I was overwhelmed, surprised and honored, humbled, all at once."
Sarris, with degrees from UCLA and Stanford who also served as a professor at Loyola Marymount and UCLA, says he brings a well-rounded perspective to the 26-member body. Asked if he had priorities or reforms in mind:
"It's a little early, let me get there and kind of see and digest what issues are, let's say, on the table," Sarris said.
But he does have a focus.
"There's a lot of issues around inclusivity and diversity that I'll be particularly interested in as an American Indian and an American Indian leader," said Sarris.
Sarris told KRCB News education is just as critical for individuals as society as a whole.
"It's so important now, more than ever, that we create and work to help facilitate great leaders for the future,” said Sarris. “We're in an era where we don't even agree on the facts anymore. So, more than ever, I think education can play a role in ensuring the stability of a great democracy."
While separate from the UC, Sarris said one key issue for education is low pay.
"Right now, our teachers are paid so little, they're overworked, particularly in the poor neighborhoods," Sarris said. "So, it's a larger issue that needs to be addressed."
That's something he takes personally.
"If you look at countries like Japan and others, teachers are paid very, very well, and it's reflected in the outcome," Sarris said. "Here, I have people working in the casino, taking part time jobs, who are teachers, just to make ends meet. That shouldn't have to happen."