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ASU scholars offer a spectrum of resources to local and state tribes

November 7, 2019

‘Doing Research in Indian Country’ conference showcases university's research in Indian Country

Some of the most innovative and groundbreaking research at Arizona State University is taking place in indigenous communities and on reservations around the Copper State and beyond.

“Tribal nations and communities are becoming more and more interested and embedded in the research process in its entirety, from the research design and implementation to large questions of data use and ownership. More importantly, they are engaged in the institutional review process,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs. 

The university has a wide breadth of research and interaction taking place in Indian Country, which was showcased at the “Doing Research in Indigenous Communities” conference held Nov. 4-5 at ASU SkySong.

“Part of our work during this conference is to hear from these tribes and communities and to connect them with universities and researchers with the hopes that some synergies will emerge and so that researchers and institutions better understand the needs and wishes of tribes in the larger arena of research," Brayboy said.

Now in its third year, the conference featured more than 130 ASU scholars, researchers, staff and students making an impact in indigenous communities in the fields of history, health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability research methodologies and higher education experiences.

Keynote speaker Malia Villegas, who helped Brayboy with the conception and birthing of the conference several years ago, said it was like watching a child grow quickly.

“I think it’s phenomenal to see how this conference has taken off. ASU has proven they are leaders when it comes to Native American research and is a place that others look to for inspiration,” said Villegas, an enrolled member of the Native Village of Afognak in Alaska who serves as the vice president of community investments at Afognak Native Corporation, overseeing shareholder services. “Looking at this from a tribal industry lens, I’m excited to see business and industry people here, tribal members, students and faculty, all showcasing the great success across Indian Country and inviting people to take a look into the research space.”

There was no shortage of research to offer up, including a first-of-its kind look on technology use on Indian lands. The paper, “Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands,” was released last month through the American Indian Policy InstituteThe American Indian Policy Institute is now a unit within the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. . It showed that many Native Americans do not have equal access to the internet and that most are using smartphones to go online, albeit at much slower speeds.

“This study gives us a clearer picture of what tribal connectivity looks like,” said Brian Howard, a research and policy analyst with the American Indian Policy Institute. “We also looked at things like affordability issues that would prevent tribal residents from accessing internet service.”

The study not only identified the issue but came up with several recommendations. They included a dedicated tribal office in the Federal Communications Commission with a permanent budget allocation, a Tribal Broadband Fund, prioritize funding for tribal lands and encouraging the FCC to engage with tribes and sovereign nations on the issue.

For Lance Sanchez, a 24-year-old member of the Tohono O’Oodham Nation and a senior at ASU, his focus is more on saving teen lives and getting them more socially and politically engaged.

Sanchez, who is double majoring in American Indian studies, and community advocacy and social policy, said Native Americans have the highest teen suicide rates in the country.

“I am looking for ways to empower youth through leadership building as well as creating different programs that focus on them bettering themselves within the community,” said Sanchez, who is also a member of the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission and United National Indian Tribal Youth. “The work has paid off because Native Americans are now taking the charge in continuing with higher education. We need more Native teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors and researchers. This conference helps create those partnerships in tribal communities.”

Denise Bates, assistant professor of leadership and interdisciplinary studies in the College of Integrative Science and Arts, is nation-building through her work by helping other tribes in the Southeast document their histories through community-driven initiatives.

“Many southern tribal communities have not been well documented, particularly during the 20th century,” Bates said. “Colonialism and racial segregation had a huge impact on southern indigenous peoples, and it has only been recently that many tribes from this region have been actively looking for opportunities to engage the public with their histories — and on their own terms.”

Bates has been working with the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana for the past decade through a variety of mediums, including accessing and digitizing archival material and recording oral histories. Bates has also a written book, “Basket Diplomacy,” (University of Nebraska Press, 2020), documenting how the Coushatta community worked together through multiple generations and leveraged opportunities so that existing and newly acquired knowledge, timing and skill worked in harmony to ensure their survival. The Coushatta is now one of the top private employers in Louisiana through their economic endeavors.

“ASU is an institution that has a lot of resources and helping other tribal nations should not be a regionally focused mission,” Bates said. “It impacts all of us because a lot of best practices often come up as a result of intertribal coalitions and support.”

In addition to nation-building, there was plenty of trust-building, said Bates. Last year ASU brought a Coushatta tribal elder and former chairman, Ernest Sickey, to the Valley to speak to faculty and staff. In return, Bates said, the Coushatta Tribe is encouraging their students to attend ASU.

“They know that ASU is a supportive place, one that not only supports its students but offers the potential to help tribal nations envision a future for their communities,” Bates said.

Top photo: Devin Hardin, with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community Education Division, and others listen to speakers at the "Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" conference, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at ASU SkySong. More than 130 people from around the state took part in the third annual conference featuring scholars, researchers, staff and students and their impact in indigenous communities in the fields of history, health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability research methodologies and higher education experiences. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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The end is coming and we’re obsessed with it

ASU philosophers take a look at our society’s infatuation with the apocalypse and afterlife in popular TV shows


November 8, 2019

After a long day, most people choose to unwind by watching television. There are so many shows to choose from on streaming sites, networks, even web series — and in recent years, there has been an influx of shows about the apocalypse, postapocalypse and the afterlife. "The Good Place," "The Walking Dead," "The Last Man on Earth," "Miracle Workers" and "Good Omens" have all captivated audiences with their writing, plot and characters.

Odds are you’ve heard about at least one of these shows, and if you’ve seen any of them you might think you’re just relaxing and watching a funny comedy or an intense survival drama when the truth is, you’re learning all about moral ethics.  sunset with pathway going through it Image courtesy of pexels.com Download Full Image

Every single one of these shows, at its core, is a conversation about what it means to be good or bad, what it means to do the right or wrong thing. It’s a discussion every society has and tries to determine among itself. But what if being good or bad doesn’t matter —because it’s too late? 

That is where these shows come in. NBC’s "The Good Place" follows Eleanor, a recently deceased woman from Arizona who is mistakenly placed in “the Good Place” when she should have gone to “the Bad Place.” Once she realizes the mistake she asks her new friend Chidi to help her be good, but if she’s already dead, how can she become good?

Or in TBS’ "Miracle Workers," two angels must convince God there is a reason to keep the human race alive after he determined humans to have no redeeming qualities. Set on a clock, the audience watches and questions if humans can be saved in time. 

So why are we so tuned into this dilemma? Why are we fascinated by the end of our existence and where we might end up when we die? Can philosophy help us understand personal change and how mistakes define humans?

Maura Preist

Maura Priest, assistant philosophy professor

“Let me begin with this, philosophers disagree,” said philosophy Assistant Professor Maura Priest. “They disagree a lot and disagree with intensity. Virtue ethicists believe that the core of ethics is character, i.e., what kind of character traits make someone a good person or a bad person and relatedly, what can we do to acquire character traits that will make us better people? What should we avoid if we wish to avoid the degeneration of our character from good, or at least decent, to bad?”

According to Aristotle, who some say is the founder of virtue ethics, if we are capable of change, that change comes through habituation. This means that before we can be good people, we must act like good people.

“Suppose that we know one of our character flaws is selfishness with our own time,” Priest said. “We can start to change by saying, ‘yes,’ when asked to volunteer our time. We might not want to say yes, but we should both say yes and act as if this is what we wanted to do.”

A change can be difficult at first, but if a pattern is followed, it can become easier to emerge as a better person without realizing it. Practice makes perfect, right?

Saying yes and trying to be nicer is one thing, but what about when our emotions come into play?

“There are times to be angry and during those times, the virtuous person must learn to not only be angry, but to have the proper degree of anger for the proper amount of time,” Priest said. “Anyone who wants to be a better person, then, must focus not merely on what they do, but also on what they feel.”

This is, of course, easier said than done. In watching shows such as "The Walking Dead," viewers are thrown into a world where people don’t have to control their emotions as well as they do in regular society: A whole new idea of how to be good comes into play. 

Even in a zombie-ridden society, the characters are fighting to bring good back into their world despite their conditions. Yet they struggle and can end up bringing harm and bad to the world around them. We are no different. 

“In spite of the fact that most of us care about being a good person, we also do things that bring bad into the world and make us worse persons,” Priest said. “But why would someone who cares about goodness promote what is bad? Because humans are complicated.”

We can be good in our day-to-day lives and try to be good people in practice. Yet in falling short or doing something that hurts another in an attempt to gain something for ourselves, we become bad. 

There are many forms of media that play on our desire to be good. So why are we all so drawn to death and despair? 

Shawn Klein

Shawn Klein, philosophy lecturer

As philosophy lecturer Shawn Klein puts it, by putting characters in an afterlife of sorts, whether it be literal or physical, the choices characters make are heightened and have a greater weight.

“Since being good means consistently doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons and at the right time, it is all too easy to go wrong,” Klein said. “There are many spots along the way to misstep.” 

As characters in these shows come to realize they have made a lot of mistakes in their lives, it is easy for viewers to reflect on their own lives and wonder where they have gone wrong. But with so many ways to go wrong, it can be a bit unsettling to think about.

“First, we are reminded of how easy it is to make a mistake and how these missteps can accumulate, and if we don’t change, we could send ourselves, as Yoda (from 'Star Wars') warns, towards the Dark Side,” Klein said. “Second, we can’t rely on our expectations that the angel or superhero is the good person. We are forced to think about the characters and evaluate them based on their choices and actions.”

Good and bad can be blurred at times, but that is where ethics comes in. Media can help bring us these discussions. As Klein said, “These stories expand our moral imagination, giving us chances to experience kinds of ‘what to do in this case’ (scenarios) that we might never experience in our lives.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies