Symposium Honors Global Indigenous Movements

By Rebecca Egli - On May 5 and 6, 2016 the Native American Studies program at UC Davis held its fifth annual graduate student symposium. Scholars presented new research on topics including female empowerment in urban Peru, hip-hop from the Mapuche, the revival of Indigenous tattoos, and the role of storytelling in cultural resilience.

The symposium's title, "Transitioning from the Fifth Sun," drew inspiration from Nahua cosmology and the story of the Five Suns, which states that humans currently inhabit the era known as the "fifth sun." Emphasizing the transitional crossroads that many Indigenous peoples currently inhabit, the title alluded to the future possibilities for Native American communities and research.

The interdisciplinary nature of the symposium attracted students from across the United States and Canada working in fields including Native American Studies, History, Geography, Comparative Literature, Spanish, Journalism, Latino/a Studies, and Ethnomusicology.

Graduate student Cuāuhtemōc Quintero Lule opened the symposium with a blessing, acknowledging that the event was held on Patwin land. A presentation on carbon credits described efforts by the Yurok tribe to repurchase Indigenous land from a private corporation. As Native American Studies graduate student Kaitlin Reed explained, "carbon credits are traditionally a system of oppression. The Yuroks are utilizing state structures to gain back their land." This effort is, according to Reed, a significant form of “trickster capitalism.” 

Creativity and rigor 

On Friday, Dr. Dian Million, associate professor of American Indian studies at the University of Washington, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Million’s most recent work, Therapeutic Nations: Healing in an Age of Indigenous Human Rights, examines the politics of physical and mental health and the ways that indigenous models of self-determination and theories of trauma have been shaped by colonialism.

Many participants were attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the symposium. As Kelly Kean, a graduate student of history explained, "it was encouraging to see overlap between my work and similar academic pursuits in other disciplines, reminding me of our shared goals in telling accurate and just stories of often marginalized people."

Mike Mortimer, a graduate student who studies Indigenous communities near the St. Lawrence River, emphasized the innovative nature of the intellectual community surrounding the Native American Studies program. "This symposium generates scholarship rich in creativity and intellectual rigor," he said.

“The amazing community of scholars that attend this event make it my favorite venue to present new scholarship and get feedback from peers and colleagues."

This event was sponsored by the UC Davis Office of the Chancellor, Graduate Studies, Office of the Provost, Native American Studies, the Institute for Social Sciences, Yocha Dehe Endowed Chair in California Indian Studies, Women’s Resources and Research Center, Native American Faculty and Staff Association, UC Riverside Department of Ethnic Studies, and the UC Berkeley Division of Social Sciences.

To learn more about Native American Studies at UC Davis, visit the program website.