The work of writing: Bojan Louis announced as inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence

January 9, 2019

Combining the artistic space of a traditional residency with the teaching and professionalization of an academic fellowship, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is proud to announce the Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence: a new, yearlong, full-time, benefits-eligible position presented in partnership with ASU’s Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ humanities division.

The inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence is Bojan Louis, an indigenous writer and Arizona native who graduated from the MFA program in 2009 with a focus in fiction. Picture of Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence Bojan Louis Bojan Louis (2009 MFA in fiction) is the inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence. Photo by Sara Sams Download Full Image

As a writer, educator and community organizer, Louis is uniquely qualified to serve as the center’s first fellow-in-residence. Widely published in multiple genres, Louis’ debut collection of poems, "Currents," received the American Book Award in 2018. Louis also has diverse and comprehensive experience in the classroom, having taught across the Valley since 2012. Throughout, Louis has given back to the community through extensive volunteer and organizing work, playing foundational roles in journals like Waxwing and RED INK while connecting and advocating for indigenous writers in the state of Arizona and the national field. 

While the position has some analogues and other points of reference in the academic and creative writing fields — the Stegner fellowship at Stanford University for one — the Piper fellow-in-residence is unique in spirit and design, reflecting and embodying the values of outreach, inclusion, public service and social embeddedness that distinguish ASU and its creative writing program.

Over the course of a year, the Piper fellow-in-residence will teach one creative writing course a semester to undergraduate students through the Department of English and present talks, readings and other programs for the public through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Candidates for the fellowship are drawn exclusively from alumni of ASU’s MFA in creative writing program. 

“The English Department is delighted to welcome Bojan Louis as the inaugural Piper fellow-in-residence,” said Department Chair Krista Ratcliffe. “His teaching will support our creative writing students interested in writing poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.”

Louis’ class, “The Narrative and Poetic Forms of Work and Apprenticeship” is a multi-genre creative writing and English literature undergraduate class exploring the narratives, themes and poetics of what it means to work. In modern society, Louis explains, it’s easy to forget the people who build and design the products and experiences we enjoy.

“So the texts I had in mind are these people who are involved in work and have sort of vainglorious dreams of becoming something more, or not. Maybe they don’t want to, or maybe they’re just stuck. The poetic stuff is getting into the language of work and how we use terminology and words, (and) how they affect not just the person working with them but the audience or people they’re directed at. So through this I want my students to then become apprentices of taking apart these stories to sort of write their own.”

As a nontraditional student from a working-class background — Louis spent years working as a general contractor and electrician before entering the MFA program at the age of 26 and continued with the profession throughout graduate school and his own teaching — he hopes the class will create a haven for people who may not feel comfortable in academic spaces. 

“There’s such a disconnect between this working class and intellectualism,” Louis said. “Especially with this sort of presidency, this divide has gotten really big. Sometimes we throw all of these terms around in the academy like equity and unity and diversity and intersectionality, and at some point it stops meaning anything once you get outside of the academic circle.”

While Louis is still thinking about his programs, he’s already figuring out ways to empower young people, particularly those who come from community colleges or are otherwise nontraditional students. 

“How do we create conversations with people who might feel invisible?” he asked. “And before that, how do we get to students who are interested in community college and don’t know what to do? A lot of this comes with self-reflection, so giving them a moment or a workshop where they can self-reflect, so it’s not me telling them what to do or being all motivational, but asking them who they are and what they see.”

Louis is also thinking about a translation project with the Navajo Nation as a way to continue and advance his work with Native American communities. 

Whatever they end up being, Louis’ programs will be developed organically as the fellowship unfolds, as Louis and the center assess various community needs.

“His initiatives are by purpose designed to be new to the world,” explained Alberto Ríos, a Regents’ Professor of English who directs the Piper Center. “They’re going to, I hope, startle us in the obviousness of how good they are — they’ve been right in front of us all this time, and now we get to act on them. It’s rare today to be able to get the wherewithal to do something that isn’t already being done. They’re going to take some thinking through.”

Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is excited about the new fellowship's possibilities.

“I believe that the best future for the humanities involves working to ensure that the field better resembles and resonates with the students attending universities like ASU — students who represent the future of the United States,” he said. “They deserve a humanities that attends to them — and talented writers like Bojan Louis are creating exactly that.”

Jake Friedman

Coordinator, Virginia G. Piper for Creative Writing


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New online degree takes hassle out of getting a tassel

January 3, 2019

ASU’s School of Social Transformation will offer master's degree in indigenous education to graduate students in remote areas

Putting mortarboards on Native Americans has historically been a challenge for colleges and universities.

Indigenous peoples’ pathways to higher education are littered with hurdles: Many live in remote areas, commutes can take hours and access to the internet is difficult. That especially rings true for Native American graduate students, who often work and stay in their communities after graduation.

Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation and the Center for Indian Education have figured out a way to bring the campus to the reservation (and other remote parts of the world) with a new online master’s degree program that will debut this month.

“The center develops programs that first begin with a conversation: listening to the needs of indigenous communities who are seeking support to provide new opportunities that meet the needs of their own individual communities,” said Deborah Chadwick, interim co-director of the Center for Indian Education.

ASU Now spoke to Chadwick about the new program, which starts this semester.

Question: How did the idea for this program come about, and how long did it take to develop it?

Answer: The idea for creating an online MA in Indigenous Education program was first prompted by tribal communities and nations located within Arizona and outside the state. In conversations with them, they stressed a need for a graduate program in indigenous education that would allow potential students to stay in their Native communities and/or jobs while earning a graduate degree. This online program provides students the opportunity to stay within their own communities while strengthening their ability to work in the field of Indian education and within tribal nations’ education programs. 

Although initial conversations about developing an online program started in the fall of 2012, the actual development of the indigenous education program of study began in spring 2016 by a core of indigenous faculty from the School of Social Transformation and other faculty and staff with many years of experience working with tribal communities and Native students. This group of individuals were mindful in the development of a program of study that engages individuals who are either interested in or currently working with and in indigenous communities or schools serving indigenous children.

Q: Since this is an online degree, who will be your audience and what is your reach? 

A: We have marketed this online program throughout the U.S. and internationally. We envision people will come to the program from multiple backgrounds — education, social science, human services, environmental studies, tourism, tribal and state government entities — with an interest in building their knowledge base that focuses on indigenous education.

The primary audience for this degree are those working in indigenous education, those working for tribal nations with education programs, those businesses working on tribal land for or with tribal members and those interested in American Indian education. 

Interest in our program has come from as far away as a high school administrator and science teacher in the Philippines. We have received applications from prospective students from Ohio, Washington and Arizona. We foresee the demographics of students will broaden, as recruiting students will be ongoing.

Q: What is the benefit of learning this particular material online?

A: The online format of delivery of the indigenous education program is a way to reach a greater audience of potential students that might not have the opportunity to leave their community. I believe online courses are more accessible to students who do not have the privilege to leave their communities due to family responsibilities, employment and desire to continue supporting their tribal community.

This online program will focus on indigenous knowledge systems, current issues in American Indian education, history of American Indian education, issues of indigenous language and culture, American Indian education policy, American Indians in higher education and critical indigenous research methodologies and community-based participatory action research. 

Q: Is there a central theme in this program?

A: The MA in Indigenous Education program seeks to explore differences between the indigenous educational processes, or the ways knowledge has been passed down through generations, and Western institutions of schooling.

The goal of this degree is to provide students with an advanced theoretical foundation and current practices in indigenous education, strengthening their ability to work in the field of Indian education and within tribal nations with education programs.

Learn more about the degree on the ASU Online site. Top photo: Deborah Chadwick, project director and senior research professional at the Center for Indian Education, is leading a new online master's degree program, the MA Online Indigenous Education, with three courses being offered in the spring. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Cultural relevance laying foundation for meaningful engineering education

December 11, 2018

Support from a National Science Foundation CAREER award aids professor's efforts to draw Navajo students to STEM subjects

Shawn Jordan took a risk five years ago with his proposal for a project he hoped would earn one of the most sought-after National Science Foundation awards granted to young academic researchers.

Jordan knew the proposed endeavor to partner with Navajo Nation educators to develop engineering curriculum for their schools would challenge him both as a researcher and educator.

To understand the Navajo culture deeply enough to design effective curriculum “was going to present me with a very large learning curve,” he said. “So that was the risk.”

But based on the knack for innovative approaches Jordan was demonstrating as a young faculty member in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the NSF decided to throw its support behind his aspirations.

In 2014, Jordan received the NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which recognizes university faculty members deemed to have the potential to become leading researchers and educators in their areas of expertise.

The award has funded Jordan’s collaboration with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education specialists with the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education’s Office of Diné School Improvement (Diné is what many Navajo people traditionally call themselves) to introduce middle school students to the engineering design process.

The challenge isn’t about bringing conventional approaches to teaching engineering to Diné students. The idea has been to develop culturally relevant ways of instructing youngsters in the fundamental technical and conceptual aspects of engineering while also instilling in them a sense of the rewarding possibilities STEM studies could make happen in their futures.

The goal is also “to teach engineering in a way that each individual discovers and defines for themselves what it means to be both Diné and an engineer,” Jordan said.

“Navajo culture is grounded in Diné epistemology and guided by traditional teachings that influence our societal and environmental values,” said Colin Ben, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a postdoctoral research scholar in the Fulton Schools and ASU’s School of Social Transformation.

“Navajos evaluate projects and potential partnerships based on how the end product will improve the quality of life for our people, strengthen economic stability and/or enhance educational services for our youth, but only if it is carried out with respect and sensitivity to Diné protocols,” said Ben, who is doing research on Navajo education

“Culturally, today’s decisions are made with the understanding that it will impact future generations of Navajos,” Ben said. “Therefore, the decisions require high-quality outcomes that will last for a long time.”

Similar thinking guides the Navajos’ outlook on subjects such as natural-resource extraction.

“Land is sacred in the Navajo culture,” Jordan said. “So, if you are using engineering in mining or drilling, even if it’s very efficient and profitable, it can be seen as a horrible travesty if it violates their traditional relationship to the land.”

A group of teachers from the Navajo Nation participate in a hands-on training workshop on culturally relevant engineering curriculum modules in preparation for piloting the modules in their schools. Photo by Shawn Jordan/ASU

Those factors are why designing curriculum for Navajo Nation schools won’t work if it’s based on one-size-fits-all models of education.

Jordan’s NSF project has led to ongoing pilot programs in Navajo middle schools that involve culturally relevant engineering design studies. The programs are showing encouraging results.

Students are demonstrating an understanding of how skills in engineering and other STEM fields can serve the interests of the nation and be pathways to improving the lives of those in their communities.

Jordan said the project is proving the effectiveness of focusing on cultural relevance as a cornerstone of a solid foundation for educational improvement, especially in underserved communities. 

“Periodic interventions to improve curriculum are not going to change the paths of education systems,” Jordan said. “We need holistic approaches that establish the connections between what and how students are being taught and the challenges they face in the communities they are living in.”

One of the major outcomes of the project is the work now underway to support Navajo Nation middle schools to become certified as STEM schools. The certification provides schools professional guidance and support to boost the quality of their education programs.

Jordan said results so far are showing educators can bridge cultural divides and bring lessons from each other’s experiences into efforts to improve education.

“I think my research could be used as a model for how to successfully and respectfully carry out research and curriculum development in partnership with cultural or ethnic groups that the researchers and scholars involved are not a part of,” Jordan said.

Jordan is also spending some of his time on sabbatical during the 2018-19 academic year learning new methods he can use to help schools spark students’ interest in STEM subjects.

Through studies at the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Jordan will develop a framework for using oral storytelling as a tool for engineering education.

He wants to help engineers and students learn how to craft and tell the stories of their own pathways into the profession.

The approach is contrary yet also complementary to the way engineering education is often marketed by colleges and universities.

“The focus is usually on degree programs and academic disciplines and the skills they give you and the jobs they prepare you for. The focus should instead be more on people who do engineering and the positive impacts they are making in society,” he said. “We can use storytelling to help young students envision a life as an engineer and the impact they can have in their communities.”

Fulton Schools Associate Professor Shawn Jordan gives a presentation about his project, "Career Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community and Society," to a gathering of the Trustees of Arizona State University and ASU President Michael Crow. Jordan is helping to develop engineering curriculum for Navajo Nation middle school students. Photo by Jamie Ell/ASU

Jordan’s work has been gaining interest among his peers.

He has given talks, presentations and workshops at gatherings of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the National Indian Education Association, the ASU Office of American Indian Initiatives, at an NSF Engineering Education meeting and at the Innovation Arizona Summit, among other events.

In 2017, Jordan’s contributions to engineering education earned him the NSF Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, which recognizes innovative research and community service leadership in education and community outreach.

From a big-picture viewpoint, Jordan said the Navajo Nation education project is one of many undertakings that could eventually bring different sociological and cultural perspectives into the practice of engineering — and the NSF is trying to encourage that change by supporting efforts to bring diversity into the engineering workforce.

“That would make the engineering profession more inclusive,” Jordan said, “which in the end will make for better engineering.”

Shawn Jordan shares credit for his progress on the Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community and Society research project with the ASU students and staff members who have been on his research team in recent years:

  • Christina Foster, who earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and a doctoral degree in engineering education at ASU.
  • Ieshya Anderson, who is Tohono O’odham and Navajo, and a doctoral student in the Fulton Schools’ Engineering Education Systems and Design program.
  • Courtney Betoney, who recently earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical systems engineering at ASU and is now working for Raytheon.
  • Tyrine Pangan, who recently earned an undergraduate degree in software engineering at ASU and will pursue a doctoral degree in engineering education.
  • Project manager Jay Fernandez, who earned an undergraduate degree in electrical systems engineering at ASU.

Top photo: Shawn Jordan (standing) has directed a series of STEAM Machines programs that integrate science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics by applying concepts from each of those disciplines to the design and construction of chain-reaction machines. Jordan is pictured working with students in ASU’s INSPIRE program for American Indian high school students. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU group's work with Navajo Nation recognized for innovative community planning

November 16, 2018

The Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association recently held their annual conference, during which members from Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning were recognized for their project with the Navajo Nation’s Dilkon Chapter.

David Pijawka, professor of planning and senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has a long history of working with indigenous communities to ensure Native culture, customs and traditions are considered in community planning. Pijawka and Jonathan Davis, a geography PhD student, recently worked alongside the Dilkon Chapter to successfully complete a community land-use plan. It is for this outstanding work that Pijawka, Davis and the Dilkon chapter were recognized on Nov. 8 for special recognition for a public outreach plan. Jonathan Davis (left) and David Pijawka (second from right) are joined by members of the Dilkon Chapter and the Navajo Nation Office of Government Development as they accept their award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association. Download Full Image

The Dilkon Chapter of the Navajo Nation, located in the northeastern region of Arizona, is an active and engaged community that desired to compete for funding for further economic, housing and public service development within their community. In order to better compete for funding for these initiatives, the Dilkon Chapter needed to update their community land-use plan, as dictated by the Navajo Nation. Teaming up with Pijawka and Davis, the chapter began to utilize a new approach help create their plan

In February 2017, a community-based land use plan was created through the use of "geodesign."

Geodesign is primarily guided by the principle that land-use planning is complex, therefore to effectively design a resilient and sustainable community or place, it requires a collaborative approach between GIS (geographic information systems) experts, planning professionals, geographic scientists, community members and other stakeholders such as environmental, development and housing experts.

“Geodesign leading to a land-use plan incorporates community participation and visioning of a different and viable future based on community-shared goals and needs that leads to consensus on the type of land uses, their location and connections,” Pijawka explained. “We found that the idea of a community working together to reach a consensus of a future connected well with indigenous approaches to planning communities. The exchange of ideas and knowledge, through the use of computer GIS systems for communicating among community groups was original and innovative.”

The Dilkon Chapter’s project is the first known application of geodesign as a planning framework in an American Indian community.

In order to complete this effort, the Dilkon Chapter, Pijawka and Davis, along with members from the Office of Navajo Government Development, completed a two-day long workshop where eight different data development groups were created based on their area of interest and expertise, including economic development, public services, conservation (both cultural and environmental), transportation, infrastructure, grazing and housing. During the workshop community members were able to consult with experts and design land-use designations using the land suitability maps, their local knowledge and their cultural and traditional sensibilities.

As soon as these designs were contributed, the ideas were immediately shared with the other data development groups through the geodesign software. At the end of the first day, eight unique land-use plans had been developed from over 100 potential land-use designations contributed by Dilkon community members. The group then worked to prioritize and combine the plans until they were ultimately able to complete one final land-use plan that incorporated community feedback and that was built through consensus and compromise.

The final land-use plan incorporated a cultural conservation map with an explanation from Dilkon Chapter elders on why certain areas in the community are culturally and traditionally important, identification of recreation areas within the town that could serve as a community area to interact with nature and designation of a potential solar field to reduce energy costs for the community. A transportation plan was also created, designating five miles of road for paving, five miles of road for sidewalk and three additional crosswalks.

One of the most important aspects of the geodesign workshop is that planners from Arizona State University and the Office of Navajo Government development were able to provide their expertise to the community when called upon, but final decisions on land designations were up to the community members. The effort also incorporated planners from the Navajo Nation, promoted public participation within the Dilkon Chapter and used Navajo GIS analysts as technical assistants. With the successful results from this exercise, it is now believed that the geodesign planning framework can serve as a future planning model for American Indian communities by leveraging Western planning with a strong influence of community values and traditions.

“(Dr. Pijawka and Jonathan Davis) provided technical and professional support to our community to empower us to create a land-use plan that will guide our community into the future,” said Lorenzo Lee Sr., president of the Dilkon Chapter. “The use of geodesign to create a land-use plan allowed our community members to engage with each other and actively participate in the planning process which allowed us to propose alternate futures for Dilkon.”

The plan from the Dilkon Chapter has now been submitted to the Navajo Nation Office of Government Development for approval and marks an important milestone in a budding relationship.

“This is an important partnership that places ASU in the center of important community work with American Indian communities,” Pijawka said. “It demonstrates a successful and innovative approach to community development through the use of information technology, spatial analysis and community engagement.”

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


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The healing power of pursuing a dream

Billy Mills, winner of 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter race, speaks at ASU event.
November 15, 2018

Iconic Native American athlete visits ASU to speak about turning tradition and spirituality into motivational fire in life and sport

When Billy Mills beat the pack on a muddy cinder track in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, it was one of the greatest upsets in sports history. 

The grainy black-and-white video shows his graceful, effortless stride in the 10,000-meter race. But those steps were part of a difficult journey that left Mills, an Oglala Lakota, so despondent that he almost killed himself before he won the gold medal.

“That moment was magical to me. I felt as if I had wings on my feet,” Mills told a crowd at Arizona State University on Thursday night. He spoke at an event titled “Indigenous Identity and the Athletic Experience with Billy Mills,” sponsored by the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, the Global Sport Institute and the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The talk was held at the Tempe campus, which is on the homeland of the Akimel O’odham and Pee-Posh peoples.

Mills was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When he was 8, his mother died, and his father told him, “It takes a dream to heal broken souls. The pursuit of a dream will heal you.”

“He told me to take our culture, our traditions and spirituality and extract from them the virtues and values that empower them,” Mills said.

His father died when he was 12, but Mills found his passion in running and won an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. 

“I was not ready for the lack of understanding that Americans had for me,” he said.

He was told he could not join a fraternity or be roommates with his white and black friends. And when he was named an NCAA All-American cross-country runner, he was told to not appear in the official photograph. 

“By then I knew something inside of me was broken, but I didn’t know what. I was locked out of the American dream.”

He opened the window of his fourth-floor hotel room and looked down, but heard his father’s voice telling him not to jump. 

Then he met Patricia, to whom he has been married for 56 years.

“Instantly, I’m in love,” he said. “Now I have a partner.”

Mills earned a degree, took a commission in the Marine Corps and made the U.S. Olympic team.

At the race in Tokyo, Mills knew he was running a scorching pace, but didn’t think he could keep it up. He felt his blood sugar plummeting, his vision blurring. Also, he was in fourth place. Then he stumbled. He briefly thought of quitting, until he saw Patricia in the crowd.

“She was crying because I was pursuing a dream and she was my support team. I was pursuing a dream to keep from thinking of suicide again,” he said.

“She knew I was taking the virtues and the values of my culture, my traditions, my spiritualty and I was putting them into my Olympic pursuit and my marriage.”

He surged to the finish and was briefly confused when he won.

“Did I miscount the laps? Do I have one more lap to go?”

When Mills returned to the United States, the country was in the midst of civil rights protests.

“The games inspired me to go on a journey into my past to understand footprints laid by my indigenous ancestors and my European ancestors, and what I found is what we face today in America,” he said.

He visited the black church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls were killed by a bomb, and he studied the history of oppression against people of color, up to the “war on drugs” that fueled the growth of gangs on reservations.

He decried the backlash against former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. Mills said that as a veteran, he supported the protest.

“He’s not disrespecting me. It’s a cry for unity,” he said.

The event also featured Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo and a social worker who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that sought to revoke trademark protection of the term "Washington Redskins,” a slur against Native Americans. She said she was thrust into the world of sports when she took on the mascot issue.

“I didn’t grow up saying, ‘Someday, I’m going to take the Washington NFL team to court,’” she said. 

“A lot of times in social justice and activism, the issues just happen. We don’t seek them. They come to us.”

Blackhorse said she has always admired athletes who take a stand on political issues.

“I was delighted to hear that Billy Mills spoke out against the name of the Washington team. I thought, ‘Yes, an icon is on our side.'"

In 1986, Mills founded the nonprofit group Running Strong for American Indian Youth, and he travels more than 300 days a year, speaking to young people about healthy lifestyles and taking pride in their heritage. Now 80 years old, he said the United States is in “strange times,” but he’s optimistic.

“I know we can come together and complete the maturity of our democracy,” he said.

Top photo: Retired ASU environmental graphic designer Randy Kemp (left) shares a laugh with Billy Mills, the Sioux Olympic gold medalist who won the 1964 Tokyo 10,000 meters. Kemp took part in a 500-mile ultramarathon in 1979, sponsored in part by Mills, and had him sign his finisher's certificate. Mills later addressed around 100 people at the "Indigenous Identity and the Athletic Experience" event on the Tempe campus on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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4 at ASU honored with Regents' Professor title

November 15, 2018

Honorees are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers, with outstanding achievements in their fields

Regents’ Professors are the elite of the academic world. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

No more than 3 percent of all faculty at Arizona State University carry the distinction.

This year, four ASU faculty members are being recognized as Regents’ Professors.

One has revolutionized education through cognitive science. Another is one of the country’s foremost scholars in Native American history, pioneering the creation of a knowledge base of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives. A third is lauded as being the most significant geographer of a generation. The fourth is the world’s top expert on drylands, work vital to global sustainability.

“These four new professors recognized by their peers as being at the very zenith of their fields represent the outstanding faculty we have here at Arizona State University,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “Their transformative scholarship has contributed to our understanding of the world, and this latest honor is extremely well deserved.”

Let’s meet them.

Michelene Chi

portrait of woman
Michelene Chi

Chi is the Dorothy Bray Endowed Professor of Science and Teaching in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She has designed and implemented best-practice forms of school instruction to enhance students’ learning at the K–16 level. She has published pioneering research on such topics as conceptual change, the nature of expertise, learning from being tutored, and learning strategies.

An internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has been awarded at the highest levels, her contributions for which she has been awarded are not only transformative, but founding. She is regarded as one of the founding figures of modern learning science and has published 120 papers that garnered 48,000 citations.

A nominator said, “She has repeatedly identified phenomena that present the critical test of competing theories. This is extremely rare and the mark of the very finest scholars. A single time makes a career, and she has done it at least three times. Modern cognitive science would not be in the advanced state it is without her work of the past 40 years.” 

Another said she has “five papers that are seminal. I wish there was a Google index for percent of papers in a field that cite a given work — I suspect it would be stunning.”   

Chi was thrilled at the news.

"I am most honored to be named a Regents' Professor,” she said. “Recognition from one’s own university is most heartening and appreciated."

Chi's current work focuses on three strands. One is devoted to how to assess different ways of engaging students cognitively, using students’ overt actions as a measure of cognitive engagement. A second strand of her research is devoted to enhancing students’ understanding of complex processes that are typically taught in science classes. The third studies new ways to deliver digitally enhanced instruction, incorporating ways that can optimize student learning. Her research has been used in ASU’s design of its blended adaptive-active learning courses for general education.

Donald Fixico

ASU Professor
Donald Fixico

Fixico is the Distinguished Foundation Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He is among the foremost scholars in North American Indian history. Fixico’s scholarly achievements are remarked as monumental, including pioneering contributions to Native American ethno-history and oral history. Internationally recognized as an expert on indigenous studies, he has led national historical organizations. Further testimony to his preeminence, the Oxford University Press has selected Fixico for its major Indian history survey. His scholarly leadership achievements include the presidency of the Western Historical Association, one of the most prestigious appointments in historical studies.

Fixico created a knowledge base of the narratives that did not exist before his research. He has shown the importance of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives in general as a necessary ingredient for the writing of not only Indian histories but American histories. His extensive research on the termination and relocation policies is regarded as the first place to begin any serious account of this critical period for American Indian peoples.

One reviewer wrote that “he is one of the three most prominent historians of Native America working in the academy today. ... Professor Fixico may in fact be the most accomplished of the three. … (He) has left an indelible mark not just on his own field but on American history as a whole.”

Fixico was pleasantly startled by the news.

"This was quite a surprise!” he said. “In fact, it was shocking news that made me feel honored that the Regents' Professor Committee, ASU administration and Regents recognized my work in the field of American Indian history and the West. I am grateful to the individuals who nominated me for this honor, and I still feel numb from the wonderful news of being named Regents' Professor."

One of his career goals has been to help people to gain a better understanding of American Indians from Native perspectives and U.S.-Indian treaties. 

“ASU has been very supportive of not only my work, but supportive of American Indian professors and Native students,” he said. “This year is a banner year. I served as the president of the Western History Association — the most important organization for my field — published my 15th book, and the WHA honored me with an annual book award: the Donald L. Fixico Award for the best book on presenting an indigenous perspective in the U.S. and Canada.”

Stewart Fotheringham

ASU Professor
Stewart Fotheringham

Fotheringham, a Foundation Professor of Computational Spatial Science in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, works at the triple junction of geographical information science, statistical analysis and spatial modeling. He has authored or co-authored 12 books, 36 book chapters and more than 100 research articles. In recognition of his contributions to science, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and the UK Academy of Social Sciences. He also was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship (the U.K. equivalent of a Guggenheim).

His crowning achievement is the development of a tool called geographically weighted regression. This tool is at the essence of geographical thinking and has been widely embraced by geographers and incorporated into commercial Geographical Information Systems software packages.

Of his many achievements, one reviewer said, “The significance of his work cannot be overstated. For example, these approaches have been implemented in a series of software platforms which are used by hundreds of thousands of scholars and practioners.”

Another said, “Stewart Fotheringham is, without doubt, one of the most renowned quantitative geographers of his generation — perhaps the most renowned.”

Fotheringham was delighted to be named as a Regents' Professor.

“It is an especially great honor given the number of brilliant people here at ASU,” he said.

Osvaldo Sala

ASU Professor
Osvaldo Sala

Sala is the Julie A. Wrigley Professor and Foundation Professor in the School of Life Sciences, as well as founding director of the Global Drylands Center at ASU. He has explored several topics throughout his career from the response of arid ecosystems to climate and land‐use change to global biodiversity scenarios for the next 50 years. His work has been truly interdisciplinary, collaborating with geologists, social scientists, mathematicians and humanists and using a variety of tools from experimentation to simulation modeling. He is best known for his experimental manipulations of drylands. Sala's research has had a substantial local as well as global impact. He has carried out many experiments around the world from Patagonia to the Kalahari, from the Loess Plateau in China to the Chihuahuan Desert.

His publications are among the most cited in the fields of ecology, sustainability and biology. He has more than 200 publications and 40,000 citations.

One reviewer wrote, “Dr. Sala’s service to the scientific community is extraordinary. He is considered a world expert in biodiversity in global terrestrial ecosystems. ... He is a scientist who has been at the frontiers of knowledge in ecology his whole career.”

A second reviewer explains his pioneering contributions: “Osvaldo’s contributions to our understanding of the controls on primary production in grasslands are without equal. …. Osvaldo also developed an experimental approach for studying the consequences of drought in grasslands. The science community has broadly adopted this experimental infrastructure. Indeed, his ‘Sala Shelters’ are integral to climate change studies in a wide variety of ecosystems worldwide.”

Sala said he cherishes the honor.

“I feel honored and humbled to be among ASU’s Regents' Professors who encompass excellence in so many fields of study,” he said. “My day-to-day work focuses on drylands that range from deserts to grasslands and savannas. I use field experimentation together with mathematical models in my quest to provide the necessary knowledge to achieve drylands sustainability, which is essential to achieve global sustainability.”

Being named Regents’ Professor is a triple distinction, Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle said.

“Being named Regents’ Professor is not only a recognition of excellence by the Arizona Board of Regents and the university, it is a recognition by their peers in the field,” Searle said. “Their pioneering research and scholarly achievements go beyond elevating only their own work, but also that of their respective fields. We celebrate their great achievement.”

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Students reimagine ASU campus with designs that better reflect Native cultures

November 13, 2018

Their work is gathered into new book, 'Indigenous Placekeeping,' launched Tuesday evening at workshop

Arizona State University has more than 3,000 Native American students, and a group of them has created a powerful proposal to redesign the campus to reflect their culture. The ideas include adding pottery symbols to Sun Devil Stadium, building a “welcome wall” to include the languages of the 22 tribes in Arizona, and building a storytelling pavilion and gathering place.

The concepts came from six Native American students who took a studio course last year with Wanda Dalla Costa, Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Dalla Costa said that when she came to ASU three years ago to teach construction management, she didn’t see any Native American representation.

“To be honest, I looked around and said, ‘Where are the historical markers of the people who lived in this place?’ I could only see them when I drive on the highways,” she said.

So the students worked on ways to use design to bring representation to the campus and came up with 16 proposals. Their work, and Dalla Costa’s ethic of “design sovereignty,” has been gathered into a new book, titled “Indigenous Placekeeping: Campus Design + Planning.”

Dalla Costa, a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta, Canada, and the first First Nations woman to become an architect in Canada, believes that local communities should control the design practice.

“The community has to drive the priorities, and they should also drive the process,” she said.

Dalla Costa and the students held a design workshop on Tuesday evening to unveil the new book and to engage the community in their ideas. The event was part of Native American Heritage Month, co-sponsored by ASU Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The original studio course was sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of American Indian Initiatives.

professor with group of students, one of who is holding a book
From left: Brian Skeet, Rhonda Harvey, Institute Professor Wanda Dalla Costa, Lauren Slim and Selina Martinez stand with their book, "Indigenous Placekeeping: Campus Design + Planning" during a design workshop held Tuesday to unveil the new book and to engage the community in their ideas. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Several of the students’ designs incorporated imagery of the map of canals created by the Hohokam Indians, which led to the creation of Phoenix. The map is on the cover of the book as well.

“This is the most important aspect of the city. The canals still exist,” Dalla Costa said.

“The Hohokam people used sticks to dig canals to bring water. They are the original placemakers.”

Among the 16 projects is an idea by architecture student Selina Martinez, a Pascua Yaqui tribe member, to embed the canal map in the glass façade of the Arizona Room in Hayden Library, which is currently being renovated.

Other concepts by the class included having Native artists paint murals on campus, adding multi-lingual signage using local indigenous languages and transforming existing walkways into interpretive artworks.

Lauren Slim, a landscape architecture graduate student, proposed a “welcome wall,” which would include a phrase of welcome from each of the 22 tribes in Arizona.

“It’s super simple and super feasible,” said Slim, who is Navajo.

Brian Skeet, a Navajo student who is majoring in industrial design, proposed a multi-level structure based on the traditional maze design. Each level would be dedicated to a different activity, including congregation, rejuvenation and celebration. 

“This is basically where people can come and feel like they’re at home,” he said.

“It’s inspired by the maze because it’s about your journey through life. With each level, you’re going through different phases of life.”

Rhonda Harvey, a graduate student in urban planning and architecture, proposed a storytelling pavilion gathering space, which would look like a basket and from above would look like a rug.

“It’s inspired by Navajo rug weaving, which is one of the ways tribes tell stories,” said Harvey, who is Navajo.

“I wanted to do an outside space to emphasize the relationship with nature and keep it grounded.”

professor and student hugging
Rhonda Harvey, an ASU graduate student studying architecture and urban planning, gives a teary-eyed hug to Professor Wanda Dalla Costa at the "Indigenous Placekeeping" event Tuesday in Tempe. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Not all of the proposals were visual. Ravenna Curley, an industrial design student and Navajo, reworked ASU’s design aspirations into “Indigenizing ASU’s Design Aspirations,” to be used to rework degree programs and coursework to incorporate indigenous cultures.

“I had a hard time finding my place at ASU. It was a whole culture shock coming from the rez,” she said.

For example, the design aspiration “leveraging our place” becomes “Acknowledging local people of this land and recognizing that this campus is on indigenous lands included on all course syllabi.”

“This is Native land,” Curley said, “and we don’t acknowledge it anywhere on campus, and that’s kind of sad.”

To buy a hard copy or online version of “Indigenous Placekeeping: Campus Design + Planning,” contact Dalla Costa at

Top photo: Selina Martinez, an ASU graduate student studying architecture, speaks Tuesday evening about her design for creating a more inclusive space for indigenous students on the ASU Tempe campus. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU scholars, students embed in indigenous communities with research in Indian Country

November 7, 2018

Sun Devil researchers are making an impact for indigenous peoples around Arizona

NCAA college basketball rarely makes it to the far reaches of the Navajo Nation. But this weekend, the Arizona State University women’s basketball team will take on national powerhouse Baylor University in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

Organized in conjunction with ASU’s Office of American Indian Initiatives, the “Showdown on the Rez” will take place on Veterans Day and serve as a celebration of Native American Heritage Month, as well as provide a platform to recognize and honor Native Americans who served in the armed forces.

Watch: ESPN2 will broadcast the Showdown on the Rez on Sunday

But athletes aren’t the only members of the Sun Devil family making an impact on indigenous communities around Arizona. The university also boasts another VIP team — faculty, staff, researchers and students who contribute to the well-being and advancement of the 22 tribes in Arizona.

Health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability, research methodologies, higher education experiences: ASU has a wide breadth of research and interaction taking place in Indian Country. And this is evident throughout the year, not just in November.

“One of the hallmarks at ASU for our work with tribal communities and Native students is about building capacity and creating futures of their own making,” 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. “Our goal is to interface with all 22 tribes and nations and every Native person in Arizona if we can.”

They’re making a good dent in the Navajo Nation. Lamont Yazzie is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the justice studies program in the School of Social Transformation, where his dissertation work on research methodologies is helping advance Diné learners.

Specifically, his research compares the space between Western society in America and indigenous communities, the structural oppression that exists and how their people have responded to education hurdles in the past.

“It’s paying homage to the knowledge systems of our ancestors because everything we have needed has always been there,” Yazzie said. “Looking at education through a Navajo lens, we can legitimize our thought process, legitimize our perspective and legitimize our way of life.”

Colin Ben, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a postdoctoral research scholar in the School of Social Transformation, is also researching Navajo education. His paper, “Navajo Student Decision Making,” was presented at the “Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" conference, a partnership between ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and the Office of American Indian Initiatives that was held Nov. 1–2 at ASU SkySong.

His research examines decision-making factors influencing Diné students’ pursuit of doctoral education and their experiences of persisting in graduate school despite difficult and discouraging experiences.

Ben discovered that indigenous students face more hurdles than most, including cultural transitions, isolation, financing programs, obligations to the tribal community, taking care of elderly parents, driving long distances to school and maintaining a full-time job.

“There’s a toll that it takes on them, not only financially but physically and mentally. It was wearing them out,” Ben said. “But what pushed them through was the fact that they wanted these advanced skill sets to enhance their career opportunities and trajectory. Also, they had a strong desire to give back to their community.”

Ben said he has shared his findings with his tribal elders, as well as with ASU administrators to address policy issues to better serve Native students.

That’s exactly what Deborah Chadwick is doing in her work as project director of the Center for Indian Education. In 2014, she developed a first-of-its-kind program that trains future teachers on their home reservation with a focus on tribal history and keeping alive the Akimel O’otham language. The first master's cohort graduated in spring 2018.

This year Chadwick is thinking beyond the borders of the Akimel O’otham reservation and has been an integral part of the newly offered online master’s degree program in indigenous education being launched next spring. The 30-credit program will be taught by mostly indigenous faculty and is specifically geared toward Native Americans who live in remote sites and on reservations.

“It’s not just for people in Arizona but nationally and internationally,” Chadwick said. “We’ve had inquiries from around the world.”

Tennille Marley, a citizen of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and an assistant professor in the American Indian Studies program, recently finished research on two papers dealing with diabetes in tribal communities and data sovereignty in the research process.

Her paper “History: A Determinant of American Indian Health” examined how history has impacted diabetes. She said colonization, especially by the U.S. government, heavily influenced dietary practices of Native Americans by placing them on reservations and introducing rations, which many were forced to take for survival.

“They replaced our traditional diets. For example, fry bread and tortillas, which are not traditional dishes, are now a staple,” Marley said. “I’m hoping the paper will encourage Native American communities to go back to our traditional dietary practices and to help health care providers and research better understand diabetes in Native American communities.”

She has a willing ear in David R. Wilson, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and an ASU doctoral graduate. Wilson is the first director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which was established in 2015.

Wilson also attended the conference at ASU SkySong, which was a gathering of approximately 175 Native American faculty and researchers at ASU and visitors. Wilson was a keynote speaker, but he was also there to communicate the work that happens across the NIH with tribal nations.

“The overall goal of the NIH’s engagement in this event is to not only introduce the Tribal Health Research Office but also to convey the importance of the NIH’s commitment to health in tribal communities through research,” Wilson said. “An important part of that is to increase opportunities for professional development to the Native American student base that exists here. Also, to collaborate with tribes that are interested in research. The best way to accomplish this is to increase communications between the university, the NIH and tribal nations. A successful collaboration will lead to a more diverse biomedical research community that also understands the cultural competencies that are important and respectful to ethical research in the tribal communities.”

While most of the research being conducted by indigenous scholars at ASU is being carried out in the field and in the classroom, some of it is being done in labs. Gary F. MooreMoore was the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER grant, a prestigious grant to support emerging academic scholars. This year, he was one of three doctoral advisers recognized nationally as an exceptional mentor by the ARCS Foundation., an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, studies what plants can teach us about solar energy storage, which currently is too expensive to use on a mass scale.

“My research group is investigating the molecular science required to produce fuels and other valuable chemicals from sunlight, water and air, thereby replacing fossil inputs and creating renewable processes,” said Moore, a chemist from the Powhatan Pamunkey tribe in Virginia. He is researching methods to harness sustainable energy using approaches inspired by nature’s process of photosynthesis.

He said that although his lab is not currently working with an Arizona tribe, he believes this type of approach has great appeal to nations looking to harness energy in a decentralized fashion and with minimal environmental disruption.

“Each house could become its own power plant,” Moore said. “It’s an approach that could potentially fit well with tribal communities if those communities are willing and receptive to adopting such technologies.”  

Read: New magazine, ASU initiatives help Native students reach a ‘Turning Point’

Top photo: ASU Associate Professor Angela Gonzales speaks during a panel discussion on "What is indigenous research? What does research in indigenous communities look like?" The panel was part of the two-day conference on "Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" at ASU SkySong on Nov. 1–2. The morning panel discussion drew around 60 people including several ASU students. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

ASU announces series of events celebrating indigenous culture in April 2019

October 9, 2018

In April 2019, ASU will celebrate indigenous culture with the ASU Pow Wow and the premiere of a new theatrical experience, "Native Nation," both of which will honor spiritual legacy and be an opportunity to share traditions and honor the past as well as celebrate the future. American Indian culture continues to play an important role in the development of the Americas and a significant role in Arizona. 

“ASU’s commitment to indigenous communities, nations, and our students, staff and faculty is clear," said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy (Lumbee), President’s Professor, senior adviser to ASU President Michael Crow and director of the Center for Indian Education. "We are here to create futures of their own making and do so with a connection to place. Both the ASU Pow Wow and 'Native Nation' allow us to assert our commitment to the future and to place. We continue to strive to be an institution where Indigenous peoples see themselves as mattering.”   Kinsale Hueston performs in "Urban Rez." Photo by Kevin Michael Campbell Download Full Image

ASU Pow Wow to be first cultural festival at the new Sun Devil Stadium

April 12–14, 2019

American Indian dancers and singing groups from across the United States and Canada will be featured at this social gathering that reinforces the common bond and spirituality existing between individuals from many North American nations through singing and dancing. The cultural diffusion that takes place at the ASU Pow Wow helps bridge existing gaps in any misunderstanding of tradition and respect. The Pow Wow at Arizona State University is a culmination of American Indian beliefs and traditions that inspire, communicate and support American Indian culture. American Indians represent an increasing percentage of the student population at ASU and with pride seek academic and cultural enrichment by maintaining and sharing heritage and traditions with the community. 

Five age groups — consisting of senior men and women, adult men and women, teen boys and girls, junior boys and girls, and tiny tot boys and girls — will all be dancing and competing in different dance categories. The ASU Pow Wow will feature various American Indian arts and crafts vendors from throughout the United States and Canada. This series of annual pow wows presented by the ASU Pow Wow Committee is specifically designed to preserve the inter-tribal cultural heritage of the American Indian students at ASU and to enrich and demonstrate the cultural diversity of the ASU community and surrounding population. 

girl dancing in powwow
A young girl dances at the 32nd annual Pow Wow at ASU.

New play 'Native Nation' to be presented at Steele Indian School Park

April 27–28, 2019

ASU Gammage, in partnership with Cornerstone Theater Company, will present "Native Nation," written by Larissa FastHorse and directed by Michael John Garcés, at Steele Indian School Park at 2 and 7 p.m. April 27–28. This is an indigenous theatrical experience for the whole family with the original people of this land to see the world through their eyes. Part marketplace, cultural performance, community gathering and theater, "Native Nation" is a new experience that will forever change the way you see this land.

“We are so excited to welcome the entire community in April to celebrate and honor indigenous culture with these two incredible events at ASU," said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU vice president for cultural affairs. "With the mission of connecting communitiesASU Cultural Affairs believes cultural events facilitate building significant bonds of respect between communities, and no connection is more important than with the American Indian community.” 

Tickets for all events will be for sale on Ticketmaster. 

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Celebrating Columbus continues to be controversial

October 7, 2018

ASU scholar says federal holiday instituted in 1937 should be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day

Today millions of Americans are enjoying a day off work — a tip of the hat to Christopher Columbus, the man who history says discovered this country in 1492.

But many Native American scholars scoff at the idea of celebrating a federal holiday in honor of a man they believe was a savage, and they want the history books to be updated to reflect his atrocities and misdeeds.

Once such scholar is Leo Killsback, an Arizona State University assistant professor of American Indian studies and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Killsback said Columbus’ legacy is based on “misinformation and outright lies.”

Man in ponytail and black jacket
Leo Killsback

ASU Now spoke to Killsback about this controversial holiday and his hopes that one day it might be replaced with a tribute to indigenous people.

Question: Most Americans recognize Christopher Columbus as the man who discovered America, but recently academics — most especially Native Americans — don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory. Why? 

Answer: Columbus did not “discover” a land that was already inhabited by millions of indigenous peoples and hundreds of indigenous nations. Historical facts prove that the legacy of Christopher Columbus is based on misinformation and outright lies. For instance, Columbus never landed on the mainland, which would become the United States of America. In 1492, he arrived at the Caribbean islands, yet he believed until his dying day that he landed in the East Indies, which are located halfway around the globe in Southeast Asia. His legacy has been a topic of contention for years among American Indian scholars, yet the legitimacy of Columbus’ “discovery” did not become a mainstream issue until the quincentennial of his 1492 voyage.

Q: Native Americans have stated that Columbus had great ill will toward indigenous people. What are some examples of this?

A: It has been well documented, even in Columbus’ diaries, that he and his men committed the most inhumane and grotesque atrocities against indigenous men, women and children. Columbus and his men met the Arawak people who were indigenous to the island that is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He enslaved them in mass numbers and forced them to mine for gold. The Arawak endured violent punishments and bodily dismemberment if they did not produce a certain amount of gold in a given time.

There are also numerous accounts of sexual violence and trafficking of indigenous women and the torture and murder of indigenous children. The Arawaks resisted but could not stop the onslaught of violence. The survivors who witnessed the end of their world either committed mass suicide or were sold into slavery. When Columbus landed on the island in 1492 there were approximately 250,000 natives; by 1550 there were only 500; by 1650 the entire population was annihilated. These facts and numbers are the definition of genocide.

Q: Given what you’ve just said, how can the general public become more enlightened?

A: I have observed that most folks do not know the true history of Columbus and therefore never felt the need to question why his legacy is celebrated. If the general public were to simply rely on facts, then they would find that celebrating Columbus Day is offensive, embarrassing and completely absurd. Although history cannot be changed, we most certainly can deconstruct outdated historical narratives and revise history using facts and incorporating indigenous perspectives. The general public may then find that celebrating Columbus as an American hero is inappropriate. Other than his legacy of genocide against indigenous peoples, here are some facts:

  • He did not land on the mainland of what is now the United States.
  • He was not an American; he was Italian.
  • He did not sail for America; he sailed for Spain.
  • He did not serve the interests of America; he served the interests of two monarchs: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
  • The Americas are named after Amerigo Vespucci, who landed on the mainland in what is now South America.
  • Today the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the islands that Columbus landed on, do not celebrate Columbus Day.
  • Today Columbus Day is one of 10 U.S. federal holidays and one of three holidays that celebrate individual persons: The other two are Americans George Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Q: What are some of the topics you discuss in your courses about Columbus Day, and how can we move forward?

A: The idea that Columbus or any other European explorer could “discover” a new land was based on a legal document that completely stripped away the rights of indigenous peoples. In 1493, a year after Columbus’ first voyage, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull “Inter caetera,” which formally and legally proclaimed that any land that was not inhabited by Christians could be claimed by any Christian sovereign that “discovered” it. The “doctrine of discovery” thus became the legal mechanism to legitimize the extermination of indigenous people and the thievery of their lands.

From a modern perspective, it is completely insane to think that an entire race of people could lose their human rights simply because another race of people “discovered” them. Yet this irrational thinking is implied and reinforced when people celebrate Columbus’ supposed “discovery” of America. They are essentially celebrating the diminishment of indigenous peoples’ rights, declaring that American Indians, then and now, do not matter.

Numerous states, cities and universities across the country have joined the movement to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. Given the large populations of American Indian and indigenous peoples in the United States, their land base and their contributions, it is practical and sensible to celebrate them, their histories, cultures and legacies. Indigenous Peoples Day is simply just more positive.

Top photo: Statue of Christopher Columbus. Courtesy of Pixabay