Take the time to learn this Native American Heritage Month

November 1, 2023

Dear campus community,

November 1 marks the beginning of National Native American Heritage Month, in which we explore and celebrate the significant contributions of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, First Nation, and those who otherwise identify as Indigenous. 

It’s also a time that presents a mix of emotions, and lingering trauma, in the Native community.  

Berkeley’s painful past

As we acknowledge that UC Berkeley sits in the territory known as xucyun (Huichin), the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people, the successors of the sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County, we must look to our past and make visible the stories, experiences and people that are often made invisible within American history. 

Ohlone is a collective term that has been historically used to represent 50 separate tribes that have been living in the Bay Area for more than 10,000 years. The campus was founded in 1868 as a land-grant institution when it took possession of Ohlone land. Land-grant institutions build on a legacy of centuries of brutal colonial, U.S., and tate Indigenous genocide and land seizure and sale; learn more about land-grant colleges and the expropriated process that made them possible.

After its founding, the University collected and still holds Indigous remains and sacred artifacts and other cultural items for research, despite calls for decades from Indigenous leaders to return them.

Acknowledging Berkeley’s complicated present

The campus committed to ensuring the complete return of all of the Native American ancestors and cultural belongings under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and other laws and policies, as well as to build and repair relationships with Native communities. We must acknowledge that any progress we have made as a campus is owed in the first place to the advocacy and hard work of the Native American members of our university community and the Native people of the State of California.

There is still much work to do, including the campus’ repatriation efforts. Twenty percent of ancestral remains have already been repatriated, and an additional fifty percent have been noticed in the Federal Register and are available for repatriation. We look forward to being able to facilitate the return home of these ancestors in the near future. We realize that so long as the remains of ancestors, sacred objects, and cultural items remain in the University's possession, healing and reparation will be incomplete.  

Looking forward

While the deep injustices of the past remain, there are efforts to move forward for a more positive future. Partnerships like the Karuk Collaborative and Breath of Life Archival Institute are examples of steps that departments and scholars are taking to make space for Native Nations in ways that affirm tribal sovereignty and benefit tribes. The Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues supports research and training (currently offering mini-grants to Berkeley students) and hosts events, including the Native American Museum Studies Institute

We have a long road ahead, but there are places where the hard work of departments and individuals to make visible Native issues and infuse Berkeley with indigenous knowledge can provide a starting point to institutional transformation. 

Education and allyship are essential

This month, as it is always, the most powerful way to honor the contributions of and show respect for Native Americans in this country is to learn more. Learning more is one way you can participate in honoring the contributions of Native Americans. For our campus community, Native American students, faculty, and staff can reach out to the Native American Student DevelopmentAmerican Indian Graduate Program, and the Native & Indigenous Council (faculty, staff, postdocs) to help find community and connection. 

We have many notable Native Americans in our campus community. Civil & Environmental Engineering alum Marlene Watson was recently celebrated as the winner of the 2023 Ely S. Parker Award from Advancing Indigenous People in STEM (AISES). Marlene is Navajo from Tohlakai, NM, and Wide Ruins, AZ, and was raised in Oakland. Berkeley Law lecturer Nazune Menka designed and taught a course called Decolonizing Berkeley and is a Supervising Attorney for the Environmental Law Clinic. Born and raised in Alaska, Professor Menka is Koyukon Athabaskan and Lumbee. Sierra Edd is a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Ethnic Studies who started the Indigenous Sound Studies working group that explores Indigenous politics in music and sound. Edd grew up in Durango, CO, and identifies as Diné, a citizen of the Navajo Nation. The campus is also excited to welcome Dr. Carolyn Smith as an Assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. Dr. Smith is an enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe. Through interviews, museum collection and archival research, she looks at the broader social and historical contexts in which basket weaving has remained a resilient practice, despite changing attitudes, economies and resources.  

Members of our community who do not identify as Native American can access many resources on and off campus to educate themselves, including the Native American Studies library and the libguides that NAS Librarian Melissa Stoner has created, or by taking a class offered by our Native American Studies Department

Another way to practice allyship is to read about Native history, learn about some of our campus’s Native research, learn about designated emphasis (like a graduate minor) in Indigenous language revitalization, explore Berkeley's tribal partnerships, or attend a lecture or event like Sarah Deer speaking on the Indian Child Welfare Act (Nov. 2) or the American Indian Film Festival (Nov. 4-10).

As we reflect on National Native American Heritage Month, non-Native Americans can take the time to enlighten themselves and learn why supporting and having a deeper understanding of our Indigenous communities is so important. 

In October, the campus hired a Tribal Liaison as part of a commitment to healing and finding more positive paths forward, and including Native voices and needs in university priorities. Tedde Simon (Diné/Navajo) will serve as a campus ambassador, the first position of its kind at UC Berkeley, to all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples, including both federally recognized and non-federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes as well as Native Hawaiian Organizations. Tedde will also serve as an advisor to senior leaders on campus and liaise with various campus departments.

This CalMessage was written in partnership and consultation with Patrick Naranjo, Director of the Berkeley American Indian Graduate Program (AIGP), and Christine Treadway, Chancellor's Designee for NAGPRA and Assistant Chancellor. We thank them for their dedicated support and subject matter expertise.

In community,

Stephen C. Sutton
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Dania Matos
Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion

Phenocia Bauerle
Director, Native American Student Development

Victoria Plaut
Vice Provost for the Faculty

Eugene Whitlock
Chief People and Culture Officer

To help create an environment that lives up to our Principles of Community, we will send regular messages to acknowledge various heritage months and holidays. While we won't include every month or holiday, we will make an effort to ensure members of our community feel represented. Additionally, news.berkeley.edu will often post articles highlighting people, programs, and research that align with these heritage months and holidays. 

This message was sent to all staff, faculty, and students.

If you are a manager who supervises UC Berkeley employees without email access, please circulate this information to all.