Geography student discovers passion and community at ASU


May 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Often students arrive at college with set plans on what path they want to take over the next four years. Abigail Johnson was one of those students, but as she prepares to graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this spring, she advises others to not be afraid to change up their plans. Abigail Johnson Abigail Johnson will graduate with her bachelor's degree in geography from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“Follow what you think is right. There was a time that I really thought one major (journalism) was right for me and since I wanted it so bad and did an internship in it, I thought I would disappoint my family if I switched,” explained Johnson, who is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in geography from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “But when something doesn’t feel right, I think you should change your mind and really think within yourself and reflect.”

As a first-generation student, Johnson said she benefited from a number of resources in high school and while at ASU. One of those resources was AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

“(AVID) helps students who don’t have the tools for college, many are first-generation students. I didn’t know about the SAT, ACT and they tell you about those things and advise you to get involved,” she said.

During Johnson’s junior year at ASU, she was invited to speak to high schoolers at an AVID event.

I was so proud to be asked to speak at the conference. I loved it, just because I know what it’s like, I’ve been there in that exact same chair. It was really cool to be able to be the one to help them.”

Helping others was a consistent theme during Johnson’s time at ASU. She worked with elementary school students through America Reads during her freshman and sophomore years, frequently volunteered for events through American Indian Student Support Services and got involved with community gardening at the Polytechnic campus, which then led to work at the nonprofit organization Native Health. As an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Johnson said this work, in particular, was meaningful.

“To be around my people and to teach them about what I’ve learned at ASU about plants, it’s very fun.”

Johnson answered some questions about her time at ASU and shared what she has planned next.

Question: What’s your Sun Devil story?

Answer: I’m from El Mirage, Arizona, and grew up going back and forth to the Navajo Nation. I’m a first-generation student so my whole life I’ve been excited to go to university. I worked hard every single day in high school; I did community service and became really passionate about those kinds of things. Eventually, I made it here and really enjoyed it.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I took GPH 111 with Erin Saffell. I walked into class and saw how passionate she was about the subject and I loved being in her class. I was taking journalism classes and realized I was looking more forward to going to that class than the journalism classes. I had office hours with her and told her I really loved physical geography and she told me to think about majoring in it and that’s when I decided to switch over.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: When I moved here I realized how being a first-generation student, I was always the one to lead my family. When I came here I met a lot of people and didn’t feel like I had so much weight on my shoulders. I think something surprising that I learned was that you really need people, and when you have the right people you can create better results than you could by yourself.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Saffell. She taught me how to study and how each class is different. It can be hard as a freshman to build up the confidence to walk into office hours. I got over that barrier with her, she was very calm and I felt very comfortable in her environment. I’d ask her questions and from then on I wasn’t afraid to ask questions to other professors or TAs.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Students come here for their major but this is an opportunity for you to know yourself. Do something out of your major, like a club. For me, I love geography and maps but I had an interest in plants so I started doing those classes and I met my best friends there. Do something out of your element and nourish that. Create a hobby for yourself.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the American Indian Students Services room, it’s a very safe space for me. It’s in Discovery Hall and on the walk there, there are beautiful trees leading the way.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My husband is in medical school and starting his rotations so we’ll be traveling around the United States. I’m planning to intern at some urban planning firms or work as a GIS analyst.

Q: What would you say to someone considering ASU?

A: Do it, it’s a very great school. There are so many opportunities here, including employment opportunities. It’s very good for someone getting out of high school, especially when they don’t know anything because there’s a good community once you’re here.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-8986

 
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The College welcomes new leaders to three distinctive social science units

May 1, 2019

Whether used to explore the nuances of human evolution or to examine the political, ecological and cultural facets shaping the human experience today, the social sciences give us the tools to decipher our world.

To Elizabeth Wentz, dean of social sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, creating academic units capable of capturing that breadth is both a challenge and an opportunity.

“We have social science faculty whose research and classes are closer to physical sciences, and others that are very much in line with the humanities,” she said. “Leading these units requires a 30,000-foot view to bring people together who conduct their work in very different ways.”

That big-picture outlook is only continuing to grow as the School of Social Transformation, the School of Transborder Studies and the American Indian Studies program gain new leadership this July.

Each unit possesses qualities that are unique to ASU. The School of Transborder Studies is the only unit of its kind in the country. The American Indian Studies program is distinguished by its autonomy from other schools and broad range of research, faculty and degree tracks. The School of Social Transformation serves as a platform where a multitude of disciplines spanning anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and social justice come together under one roof.

“These are three very interdisciplinary schools where faculty from many backgrounds come together around particular themes like inequality and the social, political, historical and cultural drivers behind it,” Wentz said. “We wanted to find leaders who fit into that field and also aligned with the access and impact-minded mission of the ASU charter.”

With 13 total units, the social sciences account for the largest division in The College — which is itself the largest academic body at ASU — and incorporate components of anthropology, sociology, justice studies, urban planning, communication and more.

Wentz said identifying how all those components fit into the larger ASU ecosystem keeps them in a constant state of evolution.

“Social sciences are all over the university, and while we can define ourselves by discipline, we can also define ourselves based on the problems we solve,” she said. “These new leaders present a chance to launch their schools into a new era.”

Stephanie Fitzgerald, American Indian Studies

Stephanie Fitzgerald will take over the helm as director of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' American Indian Studies program.

Stephanie Fitzgerald is a Cree tribal member who comes to the American Indian Studies program after overseeing a similar unit at the University of Kansas. Her research explores the relationships between indigenous groups, land tenure, climate change and tribal, state and federal law.

She is the author of “Native Women and Land: Narratives of Dispossession and Resurgence” and the co-editor of “Keepers of the Morning Star: An Anthology of Native Women's Theater,” among other publications.

While other universities have indigenous and Native American studies programs, they are often integrated into umbrella departments like English, anthropology and history. By contrast, Wentz said dedicating an autonomous unit to the American Indian Studies program allows interdisciplinary academics and research to thrive.  

“Our physical position in the United States with the number of tribal nations here really demands that we have an independent program at ASU,” Wentz said. “Stephanie Fitzgerald brings an incredible level of scholarship, but also an appreciation for the expansive goals of the program.”

Fitzgerald also highlighted the unit’s size and focused platform as being key aspects that brought her to ASU.

“This is a vibrant program with strong support from the public and the ASU administration, in a state with 22 tribal nations,” she said. “I see coming to ASU as a chance to continue building that up.”

Pardis Mahdavi, School of Social Transformation

Pardris Mahdavi will take the helm as director of the School of Social Transformation at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Pardis Mahdavi is a medical anthropologist whose research has focused on sexual and gender politics and their interaction with labor migration and social movements across the Middle East and Asia.

She is the author of several publications on the subjects, including her first, “Passionate Uprising, Iran’s Sexual Revolution,” in 2008, and her most recent, “Crossing the Gulf: Love and Family in Migrant Lives,” in 2016.

She comes to ASU from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. As part of The College, she hopes to help drive global platforms forward through international research collaborations and dual-degree programs.

“One of the things that drew me to this program is that it has transcended the idea of interdisciplinarity,” she said. “People inside The College are doing something that I consider to be a next-level intersectionality among the studies.”

Mahdavi will succeed Bryan Brayboy, a professor in the School of Transformation who has served as its interim director over the last year.

“The aspiration of social transformation and the global perspective it hopes to reach is huge,” Wentz said. “Bryan BrayboyBryan Brayboy also serves as the director of ASU's Center for Indian Education and the special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs, a position created by ASU President Michael Crow to oversee university initiatives related to Native American and indigenous issues and programs. has really been a steady hand in opening up the pathway to get this unit to a collaborative place I believe Pardis Mahdavi wants to continue to shape.” 

Irasema Coronado, School of Transborder Studies

Incoming School of Transborder Studies Director Irasema Coronado.

Irasema Coronado comes to ASU from an endowed professorship in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas in El Paso.

Raised in the border-hugging city of Nogales, Arizona, she has spent over 25 years studying cross-border resource management, water rights and environmental policies, in addition to immigration, asylum and deportation in the Arizona-Sonora region.

Coming to ASU was a chance to continue that work and help increase the impact of the School of Transborder Studies.

“This is the only doctoral program in the country for border studies, which is my specialty,” she said. “I also believe research should be measured by the difference it makes in people’s lives, and I think The College and this school exemplify that.”

Developed in 2011, the School of Transborder Studies looks at the borderland as a concept in itself. Whether it’s the international line between the U.S. and Mexico, or the boundary separating North and South Korea, faculty and students within the school explore the ecological, historical and social components that make these areas unique.

“There are people doing fabulous research on Mexican American issues, and the School of Transborder Studies itself emerged from a form of Chicana/o studies, but that’s not necessarily doing research on the border itself,” Wentz said. “Irasema Coronado is truly a border scholar, and that is really what she brings to the table.”

Top photo: Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus is the new headquarters for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. With 13 programs and schools that transcend traditional studies, the social sciences are the largest division within The College. This summer, three of its units will welcome new leaders. 

Writer , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Interdisciplinary studies graduate from Hopi Nation finds passion to serve Native youth


April 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Nu áaqawsi yan matsiwa,
Nu kyashwungwa pu pew katsinwungwa.
Nu Oraivit ank’Ö. ASU interdisciplinary studies graduate Daniell Albert Interdisciplinary studies graduate Daniell Albert is passionate about cross-cultural sharing and understanding. Download Full Image

Daniell June Albert is from the Hopi Tribe in Northern Arizona. Her Hopi name is áaqawsi, which translates to Sunflower, and she is Parrot and Kachina clans from the village of Old Oraibi, Third Mesa. 

Albert is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in special events management and in communication. She chose these concentrations to support her determination to make an impact with youth in Indian Country about opportunities and resources related to education.

“I found a passion in helping Native students, in bringing the resources to them and educating youth about what the 'outside’ world looks like, including the opportunities that are out there for them.

“Ideally, after graduating I would love to move back to the Flagstaff area, to work with my hometown’s American Indian youth population, providing optimized content and events that bring outside resources and/or local references that are useful in maintaining and recruiting an impactful youth networking system," Albert said.

She has special interest in developing events and programming focused on high school completion, knowledge of the many pathways to higher education and opening opportunities that can help students “balance the two worlds of cultural and modern relations.”

Albert has found that through her dedication to interdisciplinary studies, she has also been able to connect with others who want to learn more about her culture, and the cultures around them. For Albert, the best part of her major is how it allows her to express herself: “My favorite part is the creative aspect, because I get to share stories through my artwork and make connections to my culture.”

After graduation she will continue to make connections to other cultures, as she will be going to Beijing for a summer internship with the public relations and marketing company Pingo Space.

“They give a mobile platform to Chinese clients who are wanting to gain new knowledge of different cultures, perspectives and experiences from around the world without leaving their homes," Albert explained. “The company’s name originates from the Chinese Píng xíng guómeaning parallel worlds. I hope to share my own culture, perspective and experiences with the company and create events that can highlight the focus of the company.”

She recently shared reflections with ASU Now about some of her college experiences and dreams for the future.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: One thing that I have learned while at ASU was the acceptance in leaving my comfort zones and moving away from my village but gaining the confidence in sharing who I am as a person as well as the heritage and culture that I carry with me from within. Growing up, I felt myself pushing aside who I am from the cultural point of view, but once I was at ASU — which stands on the home land of the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) peoples — I felt the need to step back and realize that I am among the 2% of Native Americans at the university and I need to be one who makes an impact for all tribes and indigenous people.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because they showed a real commitment to all, but not limited to, the 22 tribal nations in Arizona. They embrace the respective lands that the university resides on, as well as making connections to the tribal communities and committing to the success of American Indian students. The university works to cross disciplines, integrate indigenous knowledge and engage the ASU community in welcoming the cultures that are developing on and off the campus.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The one who taught me the most important lesson while at ASU is not a professor but a student herself, working toward a PhD (who) serves as director of the Office of American Indian Initiatives. Annabell Bowen focuses on the recruitment and retention of American Indian students and reaches out to tribes far and near. She taught me the true meaning of being indigenous and brought to my attention the lack of resources that are out there for many Native students in the schools. She told me during a program we were doing together that, “as long you impact one student, you are changing their mindset to plant the seeds of the future.”

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best advice I’d give to those still in school is to not forget where you come from and the stories you carry with you, because that’s what make you stand out from the rest of the world, especially as a Native student. You can impact the reservation by allowing yourself to pick up every open opportunity and embracing your culture; we can balance the two worlds. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus was the Office of American Indian Initiatives, located in Discovery Hall. It is the hub for all American Indian students and it is a great place to find new friends and cultures just like your own. It has become a home away from home. I would like to thank the staff, faculty and endless friends who have made the place a special place to be.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would help the education system and schools under the Bureau of Indian Education, to guide the work in rebuilding the academic structure and hazardous buildings, to bring them back up to or above standards. The majority of schools under the BIE are held to a low standard. Students then lack the proper education and life skills to make an impact within the modern world.

Written by Sophia Molinar, ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication senior; student marketing assistant, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

 
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Storytelling gives Navajo poet a way to 'glitter'

The transition from poetry to music was natural for ASU prof Laura Tohe.
Laura Tohe's work reflects her Navajo heritage and her personal family stories.
April 18, 2019

ASU Professor Emerita of English Laura Tohe honored with award ahead of the international premiere of her second libretto

The acronym DOWM is a trope many scholars of Western canon are familiar with. It refers to the argument that the body of literature, music, philosophy and art that represent Western culture is disproportionately dominated by the work of “dead, old white men.”

Looking back on her life, Arizona State University Professor Emerita of English Laura Tohe sees evidence to support this.

As a child growing up in the remote community of Crystal, New Mexico, in the Navajo Nation, Tohe relished trips to the library, the main form of entertainment in a household with no television. She devoured works by Edgar Allan Poe, Nancy Drew mysteries and “Batman” comic books — a literary weaning on stories about white people, written by white people.

“When I was about 12 years old, I wanted to be a writer,” Tohe recalls. “But I didn't know how I could do it. … I thought only white people could be authors.”

Later, at the University of New Mexico, she took a writing course with Rudolfo Anaya — author of the renowned Chicano coming-of-age novel “Bless Me, Ultima” — who encouraged Tohe to look to her own family’s stories for inspiration.

“This light bulb went off in my head and I realized, ‘You know, he's right. I've always been surrounded by storytellers,’” she said.

Today, Tohe is an award-winning, critically acclaimed poet who has written and co-authored five books, several essays and two librettosA libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical., the most recent of which, “Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World,” will premiere at the Rouen Opera House in France on Tuesday, April 23.

The premiere comes on the heels of her participation in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, City-County Library’s Festival of Words in March where she was honored with the Tulsa Library Trust’s “Festival of Words Writers Award,” joining the ranks of such past recipients as Leslie Marmon-Silko, Vine DeLoria Jr. and Joy Harjo.

The award is the first and only such given by a public library to honor an American Indian writer. Teresa Runnels, coordinator for the library’s American Indian Resource Center, said Tohe was chosen as this year’s recipient because of the variety and scope of her repertoire.

poet Laura tohe

English Professor Emerita Laura Tohe, Navajo Nation Poet Laureate, poses for a portrait at her Mesa home. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The purpose of the award, Runnels said, is “to give recognition to American Indian writers in the hope that more will come along, because there’s not a whole lot. And also to recognize the hard work that these writers go through to tell their stories.”

Tohe attended the daylong festival in Tulsa with her son, Dez Tillman, who accompanied her on guitar for a spoken word performance of some of her rain-themed poems. Before that, they were welcomed by a traditional drum group and a chorus of Pawnee Public School children singing renditions of The Beatles’ “Let it Be” and the theme song to “Rocky” in their native tongue.

Tohe called it “an incredible, moving and beautiful experience,” adding, “I'd never been honored quite that way before.”

Having a poet as a mother never fazed Tillman when he was young, even though he often went along with her when she led writing workshops and taught at the university. It wasn’t until he became an adult that he realized she was doing something special.

“It’s really cool to see her blossom on this journey,” he said. “It’s like she’s been planting seeds since I was a kid, and now it’s all coming to fruition and she’s being recognized for her work as one of the main voices for Native people in this country.”

Tillman sees his mother as an inspiration for American Indian writers to join in and add their part to the narrative of Native people in America. And he’s not wrong; as the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate, for the past two summers Tohe has participated in a weeklong writing institute for Navajo youth at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

“For the younger generation of Navajo writers, this is their first real opportunity to have teachers who are Navajo, who are published, who are giving these workshops, and they’re embracing that and participating in it,” she said.

Like Tohe’s most recent publication, “Code Talker Stories,” an oral history book about the remaining Navajo Code Talkers, almost all of her work is influenced by her cultural history, and much of it is influenced by her family.

Visits with her relatives were always punctuated by stories.

“When you visit family, that’s the first thing you do, is start telling stories, even if it's something minor, like, ‘On my drive into Gallup I saw a prairie dog standing on the side of the road,’” she said. “This is a way that we share our lives with each other, through storytelling.”

The first creative writing piece Tohe wrote in college relayed a story her mother told her and her siblings on childhood trips from the reservation into town for supplies. It was the tale of a brother and sister who, neglected by their parents, turned into prairie dogs; hence the animal’s human-like penchant for standing on its hind legs.

Animals often play a role in Tohe’s work. The upcoming presentations of the oratorio “Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World,” a sort of small-scale opera for which she wrote the text, will feature live animals, including an owl and a wolf.

“Nahasdzáán” translates to “Mother Earth” in Navajo, and according to their culture, the “glittering world” is the age we are presently living in. The piece confronts the Earth’s current state of climate change-induced distress and the need for it to heal.

“Animals are an integral part of this world that we live in and Native peoples have always revered them as relatives,” Tohe said. “Humans have caused a lot of destruction to the air and water and to the ground, and we need to stop and also look at how this affects not just humans but the animals as well.”

“Nahasdzáán in the Glittering World,” is her second libretto, having been commissioned by the Phoenix Symphony in 2008 to write the text for “Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio.”

The transition from poetry to music was a natural one for Tohe.

“Poetry is a lot like writing music,” she said. “You have to listen to the sound of the words, and you're concerned with line length and with the rhythm of the language.”

The realm of music is one she intends to explore further, through future collaborations with her son. Right now, they’re looking to record Tohe reading her poetry against a backdrop of original music composed by Tillman. They hope to have something completed within the year.

Top photo: ASU Professor Emerita of English Laura Tohe at her home in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 
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ASU Pow Wow makes triumphant return to Sun Devil Stadium after 33 years

April 14, 2019

Annual event draws thousands of spectators representing 100 Native tribes from around US and Canada for 3-day gathering

Thousands of people jammed Sun Devil Stadium this weekend to cheer for their home team, but it wasn’t for a football game or sporting event.

They were cheering for dancers and singing groups from Apache, Hopi, Navajo and other tribes who came from as far away as Canada to participate in the 33rd annual Pow Wow at Arizona State University, held April 12–14.

It was the first time the eventThe word “powwow” — which is spelled as both one and two words — comes from the Algonquin word “pau wau,” which was used to describe medicine men and spiritual leaders. It is a social gathering held by many different Native American communities to meet, dance, sing, socialize and celebrate their culture. had been held at the stadium since its inaugural year in 1986, according to ASU’s Annabell Bowen.

"We're very excited to bring the Pow Wow back to Sun Devil Stadium because over the years we've grown so much and our site has become too small," said Bowen, director for the American Indian Initiatives Office. "The stadium brings a new excitement level to this event."

Bowen credits its new partnership with ASU 365 Community Union for the timely move; the initiative is trying to utilize the venue more than the eight days a year the football team has home games.

“We’re in our pilot year right now, and we’ll end up hosting over 70 events this first year,” said Victor Hamburger, senior director of strategic initiatives for ASU Cultural Affairs. “We should be able to increase stadium utilization by (up to) 500% this year.”

Hamburger added that the university sees the stadium as a cultural hub and will host meetings, farmers markets, conferences, movies, meals, concerts and more. He said the ASU Pow Wow will be the largest ASU 365 Community Union event held this year at the stadium.

That’s music to Tahnee Baker’s ears, an ASU alumna and ASU Pow Wow coordinator.

“We outgrew the space at the ASU Band Practice field several years ago, but we continued to make it work because that’s all that was available,” said Baker, who approached the ASU 365 Community Union committee in December 2018 to host the event at Sun Devil Stadium. “To bring it to the stadium allows more people to celebrate our culture.”

Continuing the ASU Pow Wow is important to Baker, whose father, Lee Williams, started the tradition at the university and served as coordinator for decades until his passing in 2013.

“For him, this was a way to let American Indian students know there was a place for them on campus and to be proud of who they are,” Baker said. "He would be very happy to know this event has not only carried on but has grown in size and stature."

The contemporary Pow Wow is a link to the past that helps maintain her Navajo heritage, said Paige Sandoval, whose 8-year-old daughter, Rae Bighorse, danced several times this weekend.

“We grew up on the powwow circuit, and our entire family danced and sang at these events,” Sandoval said. “I'm now passing that tradition on to my daughter.”

Tempe resident Albert Polk, who is Apache and Quechan, also dances whenever he can.

“I’m always working, but I dance when I have time off,” said Polk, who performed in the Men’s Grass dance, which originated in the warrior societies in the Northern Great Plains. “It’s nice to see family and friends. I also come for the food.”

In addition to approximately 300 dancers and singers wearing traditional regalia and paying homage to their ancestors, the weekend-long event also included the crowning of Mr. and Ms. Indian ASU, as well as vendors selling Native American jewelry, crafts, clothes, rugs and traditional fry bread.

Calandra Etsitty was one of about 50 vendors on hand. She drove six hours on Saturday from Many Farms, Arizona, in the Navajo Nation to sell and promote her Winston Paul line of products, which includes custom jewelry, makeup bags, traditional skirts and reconstructed garments. She liked the venue because of its size and space, and also because it exposed her 2-year-old business to a new demographic.

“It’s an older crowd and I like that,” Etsitty said. “It’s good for our elders to know we’re doing something good and productive with our lives.”

Mekwaike Ojibwe tribe member Lara Lasley was dressed in lavender-colored regalia on Saturday. The 17-year-old said she made the trip from Lake Elsinore, California, to participate in the “Fancy Shawl” with about 20 other tribe members.

Lasley has participated in the ASU Pow Wow in the past but had never seen the inside of Sun Devil Stadium before.

“I didn’t mind being at the old venue,” she said, "but this is a step up.”

Top photo: Participants of the Grand Entry at the Pow Wow at ASU. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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National Native American news outlet moving to Cronkite School

April 5, 2019

Indian Country Today, the largest news site covering tribal communities across Americas, will move to ASU this summer

Indian Country Today, the national news organization devoted to coverage of Native American issues and communities, is moving from Washington to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Arizona State University announced today.

The digitally focused, nonprofit media outlet is the largest news website that covers tribes and Native people across the Americas.

“We are delighted that Indian Country Today, the iconic and influential news site, will be coming to Cronkite,” Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan said. “ICT has long been the leading voice for Native American communities across the Americas, and under the inspiring, innovative and digitally focused leadership of Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant, the future is bright. Through this partnership, we will not only be able to provide our students with more opportunities to cover these critically important stories, but also to help better serve our Native communities regionally and nationally and to grow the pipeline of young Native students who may be interested in careers in journalism.”

Callahan said the Cronkite School has been focused on increasing both the quantity and quality of Native American news coverage, which he said is too often ignored or reported in a way that lacks depth and understanding of Native communities.

The Cronkite School also is seeking to create pathways for American Indian high school students to study journalism and enter the field. Callahan pointed to a recent American Society of News Editors survey that found Native Americans represent just 0.37 percent of U.S. journalists, even though Native Americans make up nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population and 6 percent of Arizona residents.

Cronkite News, the student-powered, faculty-led news organization of Arizona PBS, has made Native American coverage a prime area of focus through its news vertical, Indian Country. The school also is in the process of a search for the nation’s first named professorship focused on the intersection of Native Americans and the news media. Cronkite also is working to create one of the first student chapters of the Native American Journalists Association.

“We hope through these initiatives we will be able to recruit more young Native American students to journalism programs like ours while helping to provide deeper and richer news coverage,” Callahan said.

Trahant (pictured above) said expansion plans for the news outlet include the creation of the first-ever national television news program by and about Native Americans.

“We all know the stereotypes and narratives that come out of Hollywood and Washington,” Trahant said. “So a news program, one that reaches millions of people via public television stations, has the chance to change the story, showing the beauty, intelligence and aspirations of Native people.”

Trahant said the move to Cronkite is “game-changing” for Indian Country Today. It “builds on so much of the work that ASU is already doing” with its Native and borderlands coverage, the new research professor and the school’s commitment to diversity in news organizations. He added that the “Cronkite School has become a magnet for great journalism with Cronkite News, Arizona PBS and other innovative programs.”

The majority of the Indian Country Today operation will move to ASU this summer. ICT will keep its digital team in Washington, D.C.

Top photo: Indian Country Today, a nonprofit media outlet covering tribes and Native people, is moving its newsroom to the Cronkite School under a new partnership with ASU. ICT editor Mark Trahant says the expansion is "game-changing" for the news organization and will include the first-ever national television news program by and about Native Americans. Photo by Jaynie Parrish

 
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Native American view of the Grand Canyon's centennial celebration

February 25, 2019

Indigenous peoples historically have been disrupted by the American government and left to fend for themselves where the Grand Canyon is concerned

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Most people view the Grand Canyon as a place of recreation; they go there to sightsee, hike, raft and camp. 

But the people who have lived there for millennia see it differently.

Native Americans view the Grand Canyon through myriad lenses: As a land tied to their place of origin. As a place to be both feared and revered. As a place of opportunity. As an inspiration for cultural expression. As a locale that is their history. As a holy site.

And they view it territorially among themselves.

All these elements run as deep and as wide as the canyon. 

Feb. 26, 2019, marks the centennial celebration of the Grand Canyon as a national park, but the anniversary does not mark the same experience for all peoples affected. 

“It’s the 100th anniversary of the U.S. claiming the Grand Canyon, which for indigenous communities is a moment of displacement, denial of heritage rights and political oppression,” said Theresa Avila, assistant professor of art and curator at California State University Channel Islands and the former manager of ASU’s Simon Burrow Transborder Map Collection. “We’re victims of a limited understanding of our own history as the United States, which has traditionally denied and omitted indigenous communities’ significance in the story of our country and in the process denied their presence, contributions and rights.”

Avila will be a presenter at the Mapping the Grand Canyon Conference on Feb. 28-29 at ASU’s Tempe campus. In her presentation, “Tracing the History of Native American Communities in Relation to the Grand Canyon”, she will address how historical representation of indigenous communities in relation to the Grand Canyon are typically grounded in the colonization of the Americas.

“Historically the narrative of the Grand Canyon has been presented to us through the lens of European explorers and U.S. westward expansion as Manifest Destiny," Avila said. "However, the story of the Grand Canyon is not just about the celebration of nation building; it is also about colonial practices that have historically eradicated indigenous ways of being while also creating mechanisms for the denial of their civic rights and social justice.”

Uranium mine

The Orphan Lode Mine is located on the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about two miles west of Grand Canyon Village. A former "rich grade" uranium ore mine, productive from 1956 to 1969, and a present-day highly contaminated radioactive waste site, the mine was opened in 1893 by Daniel L. Hogan as a copper claim and converted to the mining of U308

Chaos in the canyon's backyard

Archaeologists generally agree that ancient humans have been living in and around the Grand Canyon for approximately 10,000 years. Native American inhabitance of the Grand Canyon dates roughly to 200 B.C., when the Ancestral Puebloan people (commonly known as the Anasazi) lived within the boundaries of the Four Corners region and migrated toward the Grand Canyon. It was around this time that the Anasazi also migrated from the east and existed within the canyon. The Anasazi Granary, carved in the Redwall Limestone near the foot of the Nankoweap Trail, is an example of ancient seed- and food-storage facilities that can still be seen today. 

Though still murky to historians, it’s believed the Anasazi collapsed as a civilization around A.D. 1110. 

When the Anasazi vanished, other Native American tribes moved into the canyon and began to live there year-round, migrating between the inner canyon and upper plateau. Hardships began to emerge in the mid-1800s. The new frontier brought with it brutal wars, conflicts, murders and forced relocation as settlers moved to the West, put down stakes and mined the land for gold, silver, copper, zinc, asbestos and uranium. 

Treaties and relocation efforts by the U.S. government were not advantageous to American Indians, forcing them to other regions where they had to start over again. Those decisions have caused economic hardships for tribes for centuries.

“Of the 374 total U.S.-Indian treaties, 229 of these agreements involved the Indian nations surrendering tribal lands and 99 treaties promised reservations in exchange,” said Donald L. Fixico, Regents’ and Distinguished Foundation Professor of history. “Today there are 327 reservations and nearly 600 federally recognized tribes, and 22 of them live in Arizona.”

The two most prevalent tribes that reside on reservations at the Grand Canyon today are the Havasupai and the Hualapai. The canyon is also described as the place of emergence for the Navajo, Hopi, Paiute and Zuni. Today, Grand Canyon National Park recognizes 11 affiliated American Indian tribes from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and UtahThe 11 federally recognized tribes are the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Paiute Indian Tribes of Utah, Shivwits Band of Paiute, Moapa Paiute, Las Vegas Paiute, San Juan Southern Paiute and Yavapai-Apache..

While the Navajo, Havasupai and Hualapai reservations border the Grand Canyon National Park, these ancestral boundaries were overlooked by federal managers who often shortchangedIn the case of the Hopi tribe, they were shortchanged approximately 3.5 million acres of land. these tribes when taking their land.

After nearly a century of government policies aimed at assimilation and diminution of tribal government, the 1970s brought major change. The federal government began to support tribal self-determination, and in 1975 the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act transferred hundreds of thousands of acres back to the tribes.

In the 1990s the government started including tribes in park management decisions. This helped pave the way for the hypertourism — though some would call it hyperexploitation — that we see today at the Grand Canyon.

Skywalk

The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a transparent, horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge and tourist attraction in Arizona near the Colorado River on the edge of a side canyon in the west of the main canyon. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Two sides of tourism

The Grand Canyon we know today might appear to exist just as it did thousands of years ago, but around its periphery a new landscape has emerged: hotels, tourist shops, sightseeing companies and eateries. Helicopters constantly hover overhead, and sightseeing boats cram the water at the western end. River trips are capped at 25,000 individuals a year, and a surge is expected in 2019, with a waiting list of close to 1,000 people

For decades, tourism at the Grand Canyon was relatively stable, with approximately 5 million visitors annually. But with more people travelling from around the world these days, those numbers have increased substantially. In 2017, the National Park Service announced the Grand Canyon drew more than 6.2 million visitors. 

Brian Skeet, a student worker in ASU’s Center for Indian Education who grew up in the Grand Canyon National Park, visited home last summer and noted a big uptick in tourism.

“During the summer it’s nonstop, and tour buses are stacked one right behind the other,” said Skeet, who is Navajo. “They say they want to reduce pollution in the area, but I don’t see how it can be done when those buses are continually running. If you lose respect for nature, you will ultimately pay for it.”

But for now, tribes in the area are looking at various ways to capture some of those tourism dollars. 

Some are better poised than others.

The Hualapai reservation encompasses about 1 million acres along 108 miles of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. Occupying part of three northern Arizona counties — Coconino, Yavapai and Mohave — the reservation’s topography varies from rolling grassland to thick forests to rugged canyons.  

Known as the “People of the Tall Pines,” the Hualapai run two main tourist attractions: Grand Canyon West resortGrand Canyon West resort offers tour and meal packages that includes rafting, boating, horseback riding, helicopter tours and zip-lining. and the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed walkway that extends 70 feet out past the rim of the canyon. These two attractions draw close to a million visitors a year. 

In the 1990s, the Hualapai spent $1 million on a casino. However, the site was too remote, and a majority of tourists came to see and experience the Grand Canyon, not gamble. Less than a year after opening the casino, the Hualapai shut it down. 

The Havasupai, also known as the “People of the Blue-Green Water,” live on 3 million acres near the South Rim. The arrival of the Havasupai is set at around A.D. 1300, and they are known to be the only permanent, continuous inhabitants of the Grand Canyon. It's called “Wikatata” in their native tongue.

Cowboys and miners disrupted their way of life in the late 1800s, and in 1866 a three-year war commenced between the Havasupai people and the U.S. Army. 

President Rutherford B. Hayes deeded 38,000 acres to the Havasupai along Havasu Creek in 1880, but two years later reduced their ownership to just 500 acres. When Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919, they were relegated to a reservation at the southwest corner of the park. In 1975, litigation resulted in 185,000 acres being returned to the Havasupai. 

village of Supai

The village of Supai, at the western edge of the Grand Canyon, is at the bottom of 3,000-foot deep Havasu Canyon and accessible only by foot, mule or helicopter.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Today the tribe has about 700 members whose livelihood largely comes from tourism as well as income from selling their gaming rights to other tribes. More than 20,000 people annually visit the village of Supai, either hiking there, riding mules or traveling by helicopter down into the canyon.

The Hopi Tribe, made up of 12 villages on three mesas spread out over 1.5 million acres, currently has a population of 12,000 people. The Hopi reservation is remote and rural and completely contained by the Navajo reservation, which limits its economic development options. It is one of the most underdeveloped and most vulnerable populations in the United States; the tribe's position became even more precarious with the shutdown of the Mohave Generating Station in 2005.

According to a 2016 economic report, the plant accounted for 88 percent of the Hopi Tribe’s General Fund. The tribe’s only constant revenue source today is coal sales to Peabody Energy, but they continue to lag behind other surrounding communities and rely heavily on federal funds for support. To recoup some of the lost income, they are currently looking at harnessing other alternative-energy sources, such as solar and wind development, plus eco- and cultural tourism, gaming, light industrial and manufacturing and traditional Hopi farming. 

Conflicting opinions within tribes

The Navajo Nation, covering 16 million acres spread throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, is land rich and cash poor. Many Navajo suffer from severe poverty, addiction, suicide and crime, and a third of the households have incomes of less than $15,000 a year, according to the Arizona Rural Policy Institute. So when outside developers approached the tribe in 2009 with a proposal for a mega-resort, tramway and RV park located on 420 acres of tribal land on the east rim of the Grand Canyon, some members of the Navajo Nation Council eagerly embraced the idea. But not Russell Begaye, the former Navajo Nation president.

“When my grandchildren come, I want them to see this place the way my ancestors saw it,” he told a journalist. “We don’t want this area developed — we do not want to see Disneyland on the edge of the canyon.”

The Grand Canyon Escalade would have carried 10,000 people a day to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, a site sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other Native people of the Grand Canyon region who came there to pray. 

“For the Hopi, the Grand Canyon is where our people emerged,” said Trevor Reed, a Hopi and associate professor of law with ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “It also holds the ruins, the shrines, the petroglyphs and the markings of our tribes and others. It’s a remarkable place, and the Escalade project was so off-putting for many reasons.”

The project, which was scheduled to break ground in 2015, promised to create 2,000 on-site jobs and 1,500 more indirectly. The tribe was asked to initially invest $65 million for infrastructure for roads and electrification, and were promised between $40 million and $70 million annually. Deswood Tome — special adviser to then-Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, who backed the project at the time — told National Geographic, “If the National Park Service and the Hualapai Tribe and other entities are making a profit off the Grand Canyon, who are they to say the Navajo Nation cannot do that?”

It was a legitimate question, but the answer was far more complex than he could have anticipated.

It didn’t take long for detractors and those opposed to the Escalade project to coalesce. Resolutions objecting to it were passed by the Hopi, Zuni and All Pueblo Council of Governors, and a coalition of local Navajo families who had maintained homes for generations near the confluence collected dozens of resolutions from chapters, tribes and other groups, along with thousands of petition signatures, against the development.

There was infighting among tribe members, and some heated meetings about the project were held. It caused strife and animosity among family and friends, and the Navajo Nation police abruptly ended a September 2012 meeting as tensions spiked among attendees.

“Nobody was hurt and nobody was arrested, or anything like that. It was just out of precaution,” Erny Zah, then spokesman for the president and vice president of the Navajo Nation said to media at the time. 

Farina King, an assistant history professor at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma who received her doctorate at ASU, said Native American tribes have been historically disrupted by the American government and left to fend for themselves where the Grand Canyon is concerned. That has often resulted in infighting among the tribes.

“There isn’t always consensus, and some of these issues have been ongoing for years,” said King, who is from the Navajo Nation. “There’s also internal dynamics that make this a sensitive issue, and people don’t always like to have their dirty laundry out there, too. It’s all a matter of diplomacy and trying to understand all of the different perspectives of history.”

Supporters of Escalade and developers scrambled to find a tribal council person to sponsor their bill, and when they did the Navajo Nation Council voted 16-2 against the project. At least that was the official version.

According to Trevor Reed, the unofficial version is that the Hopi, who view the confluence as a “final spiritual resting place” and have several archaeological sites in and around the Grand Canyon, made a special plea to the Navajo Nation before the vote.

“Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie actually went and spoke to members of the Navajo Nation tribal council in Window Rock about a compact the two tribes have to preserve each other’s sacred sites,” Reed said. “It was an interesting moment because the Hopis and Navajos haven’t always gotten along. In fact, most of our time together in this area has been pretty contentious. But these two tribes came together to preserve our history.” 

Window to Canyon

A picture taken through the window of the iconic Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

Keeping the canyon grand

The Grand Canyon’s natural structures, ecology, species and waters continue to face new threats. 

In 2016, conservationists and environmental groups pushed back against an Italian developer — the Stilo Group — that wanted to build a resort, commercial space and thousands of new homes in Tusayan, a small town two miles from the park’s main entrance at the South Rim. To get the water the project would require, the Stilo Group wanted to punch through to one of the area’s aquifers. Opposition groups also charged the proposal would disrupt wildlife, snarl traffic and damage sites Native Americans hold sacred. 

The plan was eventually rejected by the U.S. Forest Service for its “untold impacts to the surrounding tribal and National Park lands,” said Heather Provencio, supervisor of the Kaibab National Forest, in a press release at the time. 

Several uranium mines currently operate within the watershed that drains into the Grand Canyon National Park. In October 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a review of a case centered on mining around the Grand Canyon despite a 20-year ban put in place in 2012 by the Obama administration. 

“There are people who want to open up uranium mining, and that seems increasingly possible under this present administration,” Reed said.

Such mining operations, he adds, are a potential threat not just to the Havasupai, whose sole source of drinking water is at risk, but everyone who lives in the Western states and relies on the Colorado River. Uranium mining may disperse chemicals that pose a risk to plants and animals as well, Reed said. 

“The Grand Canyon is still a very fragile place,” he said.

Accordingly, in observing and celebrating the centennial of Grand Canyon National Park perhaps it’s best to end with the stirring words of two people regarding that natural and sacred wonder of the world — one white, the other Native American.

“Leave it as is,” urged President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903. “You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Addressing the National Park Service in 1975, Havasupai Tribal Chairman Lee Marshall was equally direct and eloquent. “I heard all you people talking about the Grand Canyon,” he said. “Well, you’re looking at it. I am the Grand Canyon.”

Top photo: The amazing view of Havasu Falls from above the falls after a long hike through the desert. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto 

 
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A Grand moment

February 25, 2019

In honor of the canyon's centennial as a national park, ASU Now looks at the landmark's past and future

The Grand Canyon National Park turns 100 on Feb. 26, but the canyon's history goes back far beyond that.

Its history is layered with discovery, reverence and adventure. It is where we journey to find ourselves, to lose ourselves, to pick up a new trail and continue onward.

The history of the Grand Canyon is tied into the history of our state and its peoples, both ancient and newly arrived. To honor the park's centennial, ASU Now has gathered some of those stories — stories of play, stories of loss, stories of exploration and protecting what is there.

Come to the edge and see. Let us take a fresh look at an ancient wonder.

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Stories of the Grand Canyon

Literally and figuratively, the Grand Canyon is Arizona’s biggest attraction. Naturally, it draws the attention of artists, faculty and scientists from Arizona State University, the state’s biggest university. From a university president who took an unexpected plunge to a photographer who travels through time, here are their stories.

The future of visiting the canyon

Grand Canyon National Park draws visitors from all over the world to bask in its beauty, making it not only a precious ecological resource to cherish but also a major economic driver for the state of Arizona. Balancing the twin missions of access and preservation is key to its future, according to experts at ASU.

Verses inspired by the vistas

Perhaps the most stunning of natural wonders is the Grand Canyon. ASU Now asked some of the university’s most dynamic wordsmiths to wax poetic about the famous landmark — hear them read their new works.

Mapping the canyon

Without maps, we would not be able to see the Grand Canyon. Only a bird could see the immense gash in the Earth’s crust, almost 300 miles long. At the end of February, ASU will host the first conference exploring the art, science and practice of Grand Canyon cartography.

Native American views of the centennial celebration

Native Americans view the Grand Canyon through myriad lenses: As a land tied to their place of origin. As a place to be both feared and revered. As a place of opportunity. As an inspiration for cultural expression. And they view it territorially among themselves. All these elements run as deep and as wide as the canyon. 

Love and loss in the canyon

This is a story about three people, passion, a place, and triumphing over tragedy. Three passionate backpackers and the Grand Canyon, the place which united them, and separated them. And then elevated them.

Ooh and awe: The science behind our fascination with nature

If you gasped the first time you saw the canyon in person, you aren't alone; many visitors are awestruck. Associate Professor of social psychology Lani Shiota is an expert on the emotion of awe. She's working to uncover the secrets of the emotion, and she has made some interesting discoveries.

A light dusting of Grand history

In river lingo, what's a yard sale? What famous people have rafted through the canyon? What role did the Colorado River play in Barry Goldwater's political career? Find out in our sampler of history and trivia.

FEATURED IN 'THE CONVERSATION': How a place once called 'valueless' became grand  

WATCH: 'Beyond the Rim: The Next 100 Years of Grand Canyon National Park,' a documentary from AZPBS

MORE TO EXPLORE: The 100 Years of Grand Canyon Centennial Project is a collaboration between ASU Library, Northern Arizona University Cline Library, and Grand Canyon National Park.

Top map courtesy of the ASU Library Map and Geospatial Hub

ASU archaeologist appointed to NAGPRA federal advisory committee


February 21, 2019

Frank McManamon is an archaeologist who has devoted his career to guiding policy in a way that balances concerns about sensitive tribal cultural resources and the public benefits of historical and scientific scholarship and research.

In recognition of this work, he was recently appointed as a member of Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act's federal advisory committee. A photo of ASU research professor Francis P. McManamon Prior to becoming a research professor at ASU's School of Human Evolution and Social Change and founding director of the university’s Center for Digital Antiquity, Frank McManamon served as chief archaeologist of the National Park Service and in other positions deeply involved in developing guidance for public archaeology at the federal level. Download Full Image

Prior to becoming a research professor at Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change and founding director of the university’s Center for Digital Antiquity, McManamon served as chief archaeologist of the National Park Service and in other positions deeply involved in developing guidance for public archaeology at the federal level.

These efforts included high-profile assignments such as providing technical assistance for the Kennewick Man case; advising on the New York City African Burial Ground project; and participating in a United States UNESCO delegation to address illegal artifact trafficking.

When the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became federal law in 1990, McManamon was working as departmental consulting archaeologist for the Department of the Interior. He and his office were assigned to implement the new law for the secretary of the Interior.

“This allowed me to be involved in several aspects of the new law’s implementation, including drafting regulations, creating and organizing the new NAGPRA Review Committee, and overseeing the first 18 meetings of the seven-person committee, from 1992 all the way to 2000,” he said.

The law itself established — among other directives — a more comprehensive federal monitoring system for identification and repatriation of any culturally unidentifiable Native American remains (and associated funerary or sacred objects), as well protection for Native American graves and cultural items from archaeological sites on federal and tribal lands.

The secretary of the Interior, who ultimately oversees NAGPRA, is supported by a committee that compiles the ongoing inventory of remains and items, recommends specific actions for their disposition, and helps resolve conflicts that can’t be settled locally.

The group members also submit an annual report to Congress on their progress and on any barriers they encountered in carrying out the law.

“The committee does not bind the federal government, but its view and recommendations will be a very important consideration for any action that the secretary must take,” McManamon said.

The law requires that committee members come from diverse backgrounds, he said, with the secretary choosing three from nominations submitted by Native American, Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian groups and traditional religious leaders; three from nominations by national museum organizations and scientific organizations (of which McManamon is one); and one from a joint nomination by all other members.

Now, armed with additional insights from a distinguished career in academia and an accomplished record of preserving and sharing archaeological data at the helm of Digital Antiquity, McManamon is once again looking forward to “engaging in important NAGPRA policy matters, this time as a committee member.”

Aaron Pugh

Manager of Marketing and Communications, School of Human Evolution and Social Change

480-727-6577

Geoscience Alliance national conference inspires Native American students to pursue careers in the geosciences


February 18, 2019

Earlier this month, Arizona State University hosted the Geoscience Alliance, the nation's leading organization devoted to promoting geoscience studies and careers for Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other indigenous students.

“The Geoscience Alliance has been important for many years for its unique and far-ranging mission of mentoring and supporting Native American and other indigenous students and professionals in the geosciences,” said ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Professor and geologist Steven Semken, who served as host for the conference. Geology Professor Steven Semken of the School of Earth and Space Exploration leads a geology field trip to the Superstition Mountains with Geoscience Alliance conference participants. Download Full Image

“More recently, it has further grown in importance by catalyzing research and education involving indigenous geoscientific knowledge and its applications — work that is primarily led by indigenous geoscientists themselves.”

The alliance has long had an active presence at annual meetings of much larger professional organizations like the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America, but its own national conference, held every few years, has the greatest impact on the stakeholder community overall. This year’s conference included 160 attendees for the three-day conference, which included workshops, breakout sessions, invited speakers and a poster session. 

Ángel Garcia, who earned his PhD in geosciences from ASU earlier this year and is currently a visiting assistant professor at James Madison University in Virginia, was one of the conference’s returning attendees and is also on the conference planning committee. 

Garcia first attended the Geoscience Alliance in 2015 when he was a graduate student at ASU. He learned about the conference from SemkenSemken is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and a faculty affiliate of the Center for Education through Exploration and the Global Drylands Center at ASU., who suggested that it would be a good way to develop networks in the geosciences with people who were interested in multicultural topics and indigenous cultures. 

“People from tribal lands have a strong connection to places,” said Garcia, who is Puerto Rican and Dominican. “We might first describe what tribe we are from, but then refer to a specific place within our tribal lands where we grew up and have family. Connections to those places go back generations for us.”

For Garcia and other participants, one of the best parts of the conference is making connections, networking with other scientists and meeting other students in the geosciences. 

“These conferences give us an opportunity to learn from people with a similar culture and background,” said Garcia. 

“At the Geoscience Alliance, I felt included right from the start. Now every time I see this group of people at other conferences we identify ourselves as members of the alliance, both as students and professionals.”

Since the first conference, the alliance has adopted the practice of “talking circles” from Native American ceremonies.

“We develop questions, break up into small groups and make sure each person gets a chance to talk,” explained Diana Dalbotten, who is on the alliance conference planning committee and is a diversity director at the University of Minnesota. “We have developed this to make our conference more participatory and to respect the idea that everyone is there to teach and everyone is there to learn.”

Conference attendees were also invited on several diverse field-trip opportunities related to different aspects of the geosciences, including a trip to the Superstition Mountains, the Heard Museum and Biosphere 2.

On the last night of the conference, attendees were asked to participate in a “science pop-up night” where everyone could spend three minutes talking about their projects and research. This event was so popular that even though it was the last day of the conference, it went well into the night. 

“It’s important for ASU to host events that focus on local communities in Arizona and especially indigenous communities in the Southwest,” said Garcia. “Giving teachers, researchers, professors and students the opportunity to share knowledge and connection to the land shows that ASU embraces diversity.” 

The conference organizers, including Semken and Garcia, hope that participants will seek more collaboration with each other in the future as a result of this conference. Garcia, for example, is working with two other researchers he met through the alliance on a National Science Foundation proposal to study the geology of caves in the Caribbean.

They also hope to continue to offer travel awards to the conference.

“Some of us come from places that are not financially stable, making conferences like this out of reach,” said Garcia. “But thanks to sponsors like the National Science Foundation, the alliance is able to provide the opportunity to those who otherwise would not be able to go.”

Previous conferences were held in the northern Midwest, the northern Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.

“It was an honor for ASU to host this most recent conference in Phoenix and Tempe,” said Semken. “I think that the alliance members enjoyed their visit to our campus and their time in the warm desert sun.”

Semken is grateful for the support given to this endeavor by many colleagues in the School of Earth and Space Exploration; the ASU President's Special Advisor for American Indian Initiatives Bryan Brayboy; ASU Vice President for Tribal Relations Jacob Moore and his staff; and to ASU alumna (and a former graduate student of Semken’s) Nievita Bueno Watts, who is the co-director of the Geoscience Alliance.

The Geoscience Alliance is a national alliance of individuals committed to broadening participation of Native Americans in the geosciences. Its members are tribal colleges, universities, research centers, Native elders and community members, students and educators.

The alliance’s goals include creating new collaborations in support of geoscience education for Native American students, establishing a new research agenda aimed at closing gaps in our knowledge on barriers and best practices related to Native American participation in the geosciences, increasing participation by Native Americans in setting the national research agenda on issues in the geosciences, providing a forum to communicate educational opportunities for Native American students in geoscience programs, and understanding and respecting indigenous traditional knowledge.

The Geoscience Alliance conferences are made possible through the generous and ongoing support of the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration

480-965-9345

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