Honoring American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

Dear Campus Community, 

November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. Celebrated for over three decades, this month is a time to reflect on the contributions, experiences, and challenges of the many diverse, thriving Native communities in California and around the world. The recently released 2020 Census results demonstrate that Native American and Alaska Native communities have grown from 5.2 million people in 2010 to 9.7 million in 2020. Although growth in size is only one measure of thriving, it is a positive step to acknowledge all the people who comprise Native communities today. 

The past year brought innumerable challenges around the world. Catastrophes such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the California wildfires hit Native communities particularly hard and their resilience and creativity became inspirations for California state leadership. Keeping with more than five decades of tradition, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed September 24, 2021, as Native American Day. He wrote, “In a time when we are all turning to each other for hope, reassurance, and resurgence, we need look no further than California tribal communities, who have persisted and thrived in the face of unimaginable challenges.”

Many exciting things are happening on the UC Berkeley campus. This fall, Native American Student Development (NASD) and the Graduate Assembly partnered to use Anthony Hall as a space to create the first Native Community Center (NCC) on campus. The NCC provides space for Native students, faculty, and staff as well as outside Native communities to come together in a variety of ways. Grand opening events will take place in the spring.

Assistant Professor Nick Laluck (White Mountain Apache) joined the Department of Anthropology this fall. UC Berkeley Alumni Dr. John Carlos Perea (‘09) returned to campus as a visiting professor in the Department of Music. American Indian Graduate Program (AIGP) director, Patrick Naranjo, was recently featured in a Cal Athletics news story, Indigenous Intersectionality, where he describes his own experiences as a student-athlete at Haskell Indian Nations University and the services AIGP offers graduate students. Berkeley Law continues to grow the number of Native law students, welcoming 12 new Native students this fall. The school’s Native American Law Student Association (NALSA) chapter planned and hosted the four-day national NALSA Moot Court competition in the spring of 2020 with unprecedented attendance. 

The diversity of Native identities is often obfuscated through caricature and stereotypes. A recent panel, Sharing my Indigeneity: Native and American Indianness in the Americas, focused on the many different ways people experience their Native, Indigenous, and American Indian identities and the importance of authentic self-definition. Finally, the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues recognized Phenocia Bauerle, director of Native American Student Development, with the 2021 Yamashita Prize for her work and leadership on Native issues. The Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native Issues and NASD recently released the report, The University of California Land Grab: A Legacy of Profit from Indigenous Land - A Report of Key Learnings and Recommendations, a follow up to last year’s conference on this topic. 

There have also been significant events on the national level. The social activist work of many Native American and Alaska Native communities has focused on legal challenges to the federal government to restore lands and rights. This December marks the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the largest Indigenous land claims settlement in U.S. history that repatriated 40 million acres to over 220 Native communities. 

Thanks to other activist efforts, several states, such as South Dakota, Washington, Kansas, and Oklahoma committed new resources to address the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). As the country reflects on the high level of recent media attention given to missing white women, Native and Indigenous organizations continue to lead the efforts to secure the futures of Native and Indigenous women and girls. Part of this work depends on eliminating the objectification of Native peoples in U.S. culture, best exemplified through the ongoing efforts to end the use of Native people or racial slurs as sports team mascots. This year brought a significant victory in this arena. After decades of activism and organizing, Cleveland’s professional baseball team finally changed its name from the Indians to the Guardians. 

We also saw a breakthrough in contemporary representations of Native people in television this year. NBC’s Peacock streaming service released Rutherford Falls, a comedy headed by the first Native American showrunner in television history, and FX released Reservation Dogs, the first show ever to have an all-Native writers room and slate of directors.

And in Oakland, Chef Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo) recently opened the first Native-owned brick-and-mortar restaurant in the city, Wahpepah’s Kitchen, serving contemporary takes on Native American cuisine.

In conclusion, we would like to highlight this recent conversation between Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate and Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary. In this conversation, they share their thoughts on the work and their commitments to the vibrant communities of which they are apart. We invite you to explore the many resources linked in this message and on the curated webpage and to engage in Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month events throughout the broader Bay Area community.

With you,

Dania Matos, J.D.Vice Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion(she/her/ella)

Stephen C. Sutton, Ed.D.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Eugene Whitlock
Associate Vice Chancellor for People & Culture