Honoring the Indigenous self as enactment of sustainability

Academics, Events, Presentations

In honor of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth, Rock your Moccs 2019, and our world’s on-going climate actions, I wanted to take today to share a bit from my talk and experience participating in CSU Stanislaus’ 3rd Annual Indigenous Peoples Days celebrations last month.

The theme of the week of celebrations was “Indigenous Sustainability: Protecting Land, Water, Human, and More than Human Kinships”. I am humbled to have been included among a cast of community practitioners, each of whom is doing work to revitalize and continue Indigenous cultures. I shared a panel with Shannon Rivers and Jace Kaholokula Saplan, where we explored the topic of protecting the sacred.

As the first speaker following the opening blessing for the Friday evening gathering, I decided to start our journey with an examination of the impact of colonization on the self and how simply by being Indigenous and conscientiously enacting Indigenous practices, we participate in sustainability and decolonization. I shared that

Colonization is trauma that involves a variety of acts – invasion and theft of land, displacement, violence, and loss of cultural rights upon the people.

Modern manifestations include continued displacement and isolation of reservations and rancherias, loss of language, and disruption of ceremony due to damaged land ecologies…[b]ut there are impacts beyond this, on the self – the brain and our genes. 

A few years ago, I began extending my exploration of my positionality as a mixed-heritage womaxn researcher and began writing about connections to a branch of genetics that studies a phenomenon called epigenetic inheritance – the inheritance of a previous generation’s experiences in the form of functional gene differences. Maya-Lenca Chief Leonel Chavez, speaks about the connection between our brains and culture. Specifically, he talks about the aspects of belonging, expressing, and connecting within our communities as essential for maintaining personal well-being and how these experiences may transfer across our epigenomes; influencing ourselves and our descendants.

And like previous research that has been carried out with holocaust survivors, research in the last few years has shown a measurable difference in reactions to stress hormones among Indigenous populations with linkages to the methylation of genes regulating these stress responses – DNA methylation being one of the best described mechanisms of epigentic processes. There are some other biological changes of Indigenous bodies that are documented…[t]his is really just a scratch on the surface to illustrate that Western scientific evidence is undergoing a process of catching up to what many Indigenous communities have understood for a long time about influences of intergenerational historical trauma.  

Weaving in a group guided meditation with the rest of my comments, I played Lift and directed those gathered to turn inward as I shared how mindfulness, meditation, contemplative, and ceremonial practices work to counteract the physical effects colonization. The whole practice was about ten minutes, and included how focus and breathe together as a group. I won’t relay the entire transcript here, but some of the key takeaways from the practice included:

There is evidence that mindfulness and meditation practices can interrupt the damaging stress response pathways of the brain. We want to impede the effects colonialism has constructed in the brain to create space in ourselves for the cultural practices and systems that were taken away or abandoned so that we continue the story of Indigenous cultures and land.

These practices are important not just for sustaining culture, but for reducing harm upon Indigenous bodies – whether a mindful meditation, an Indigenous contemplative practice, or even engaging in ceremony – we utilize deep, focused thought, listening, and uninterrupted attention to teachings, meanings, and kinships around us.

It is how we can be nurtured by the most ordinary and simple tool that we have. 

Our breath.

And our aware presence.

As we talk about Indigenous Sustainability and protecting land and culture, we must acknowledge that this includes sustaining our self. Wellness encompasses the whole-person, as well as the land – the stresses and trauma of colonization crosses generations in our bodies. Honoring our Indigenous selves with practices to reduce and heal that trauma is part of that act towards sustainability. 

Decolonization takes place as a process – multiple acts of practice added up throughout our journey. Colonization is traumatic, invasive and generational – honoring ourselves, creating space within ourselves so that we might continue the restoration of cultural practices and generate new ideas and knowledge for the advancement and empowerment of our peoples is also an act of Indigenous Sustainability.

Sitting in the night air of the patio with so much positive energy flowing through the audience during the meditation was just a lovely experience that I wish I could put into words. Engaging in prayer, contemplation, and song (which we shared several times throughout the two evenings I was able to attend) takes a trust and vulnerability that underlines these important gatherings in the continuity of our peoples and cultures.

You can experience some of this beautiful spirit that was cultivated with this short film produced on site by Sam Contreras.

The speakers, elders, students, musicians, and community members who came together, experienced, and explored our collective journeys as Indigenous peoples were truly inspiring. A huge thank you to all the organizers involved in bringing us to such a beautiful shared space.

Native American History is American History. And also, the present and the future.

Upcoming Event! 3rd Annual Indigenous Peoples Day at CSU Stanislaus

Academics, Presentations

I’ll be speaking on October 10 about protecting Indigenous lands and culture on a panel with Dr. Jace Kaholokula Saplan at the upcoming 3rd Annual Indigenous Peoples Day at CSU Stanislaus. The celebration spans two days and is free and open to the public. And, if you happen to be local to the area, there will also be a tree planing and blessing on October 14.

You can read more about the speakers who will be present here.

Upcoming Event – 2015 AERA

Academics, Presentations

I know things have been kind of silent from me for awhile. I attended the American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington D.C. in December (and had a really great time presenting collaborative work and making connections with researchers doing great work across the world) and unfortunately picked up the very nasty flu that was working its way across the East. My illness and recovery were both prolonged due to complications and I just kind of fell behind. (Like not getting around to writing about the conference and the awesome time I had visiting the National Museum of the American Indian and meeting the awesome Chickasaw jeweler Kristen Dorsey!)

In an attempt to get back into keeping up with my posting about my scholarship, I wanted to share some key sessions where you can find me hanging out at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Chicago and give you a glimpse into the kinds of activities I get up to within the association.

This year, I am completing my term as the Program Co-Chair for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas SIG. What’s that mean? It means for the last two conferences, I and a colleague have been in charge organizing the peer review of all the paper and panel submissions for our group and then crafting the program space at the conference. It is incredibly rewarding work to be able to see the work of our scholars across the world and craft the program from scratch. This year’s conference, in addition to the SIG program features more than 100 papers and presentations engaging Indigenous education topics.

If you are a tweeter attending the conference, please also look to join our online conversations happening at #IndigenousAERA through out the meeting. Share learning from your Indigenous panels and workshops and draw out themes and ideas from the discussions in which you participate. (Please let your groups know that you are serving as a witness to the event and respectfully not share anything that is requested to not be shared to the public.) There is so much happening at #IndigenousAERA this a great way to keep up with sessions you can’t attend as well. You can also follow the #IndigenousAERA tag from wherever you are if you are unable to attend. Feel free to reach out to me @nicolereneephd as well.

See you around Chicago/Twitter/The Interwebs.

  • Thursday, April 16 (6:15-8:15 pm) Indigenous Peoples of the Americas SIG Business Meeting, Marriott, Fifth Level, Los Angeles/Miami

SIG Business meetings are a great place to get to see how scholars in the SIG interact, learn about what what it means to be a part of the SIG, and the yearly activities. In our meeting, officers will report on our work from through out the year, give awards to honor scholars, and also hear a special paper presentation on Indigenous students’ sense of belonging during their first year in college.

  • Friday, April 17 (12:25-1:55 pm) Humanizing Research Praxis Toward Indigenous Justice: A Fireside Chat, Hyatt, West Tower, Gold Level, Hong Kong

This is a special session convened by the Social Justice Action Committee, as envisioned and organized by myself and my fantastic program co-chair Dr. Cueponcaxochitl D Moreno Sandoval. Building on Dr. Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s 2012 AERA Opening Plenary speech, “The knowing circle of Indigenous education: It is not enough just to know” and engaging the ideals of Humanizing Research, edited by Drs. Django Paris and Maisha T. Winn in their recent book “Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and their communities” (2014), this fireside chat continues the conversations about the complex and dynamic intersections of culture, language, and heritage in developing a research praxis. Dr. Graham Smith, along with Drs. Paris and Winn, along with emerging Indigenous scholars will speak to the ways that scholarship, educators, and institutions can undertake a critical-theory view and implement policies and strategies to include the principles of Indigenous-human justice and move us from knowing to action.

  • Saturday, April 18 (2:45-4:15 pm) AERA SIG Executive Committee and 2016 Annual Meeting SIG Program Chairs Centennial Planning, Hyatt, West Tower, Gold Level, Atlanta

In this governance session, key members of AERA will be present to discuss the planning of the 100th annual meeting of the AERA, to be held in Washington, D.C. in 2016 (hopefully by April of next year there will be no more flu there waiting for me!). I and my co-chair, along with other program chairs have been invited to engage in conversation about innovative, collaborative practices that our SIGs use to develop programs.

  • Monday, April 20 (10:35-12:05 pm) Indigenous Students Navigating Identity, Motivation, and Epistemology in Education: A Fireside Chat, Hyatt, West Tower, Gold Level, Acapulco

As this session is so dear to me, I am happy that it is the last one of this series of key sessions for my 2015 conference schedule. Dr. Eve Tuck began the fireside mentoring series at the 2013 AERA when Dr. Crystal Jensen and I were still graduate student assistants helping her with some of the program duties. Now in its third year, the session brings invited advancing scholars and mentor scholars into conversation with each other in round-table style presentations and dialogues about scholarship and navigating academic careers. The session is fluid in its form, incorporating whole group and small group teachings and learning. The session is always re-shaping based on the needs of our scholars and is a really great place to spend some time thinking together about the ways we move among our many different communities.


Invited Talk at Indigenous Policy and Law Conference

Academics, Presentations

On Friday morning, I returned from a very cold place. I mean that literally – when my flight left East Lansing, Michigan at 7 am, it was just 4 degrees F outside. Although I was as cold as I have ever been (living in the desert means I don’t have the kind of footwear appropriate for such visits), I was honored and excited to have participated in the 11th Annual Indigenous Policy and Law Conference and Michigan State University. I thank the organizers for reaching out and welcoming me to a new professional circle. I hope to continue to follow their work in the future as they continue pushing the boundaries of self-determination among Indigenous peoples. For a glimpse of our day together, check out my storify feed below which features my live tweets and pictures from the MSU Indigenous Policy and Law Center blog!

A lot happening at AERA 2013

Academics, Presentations

As usual, a lot happened at the 2013 meeting of the American Educational Research Association. This conference is so big, I don’t think I’ll ever get close to exploring all of it. This year’s highlights for me included our first fireside chat mentoring session in the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas SIG, presenting preliminary analysis from my dissertation, and being voted in as program co-chair for the 2014 meeting.

This year, Program Chair Dr. Eve Tuck introduced the idea of creating a mentoring space in our SIG program. While we worked with her during the planning process, my colleague Crystal Jensen and I developed some ideas about using the time to have small group discussions on particular career-oriented topics. We had 8 junior-senior scholar pairs scheduled to participate and around 40 scholars attended the session. Crystal and I spent the session considering directions for 2014 with Dr. Tuck and Dr. Linda T. Smith who also attended. I think it was a huge success!

During the SIG business meeting, Crystal and I, who helped develop the 2013 program with Eve were nominated in and voted in (although it still has to go out for a full SIG vote) to chair the 2014 program. We will get a behind the scenes look at planning with the SIG leadership and I think we are both really looking forward to the opportunity. See you in 2014!

Finally, I did present preliminary results of my dissertation analysis with the Curriculum and Instruction SIG. There was good conversation and all the papers of the session fit together well to create some dialogue. I always enjoy the exchange that happens, and come home excited (and really tired!) of the possibilities of future directions.

Presentation at American Indian Studies Association

Academics, Presentations

I just enjoyed a fun two days at the American Indian Studies Association in Tempe, AZ. A small conference, with lots to offer, AISA is the longest-standing meeting of scholars on indigenous studies in the United States. A diverse set of topics were discussed over the course of the conference and drew scholars from all over the country. I presented a paper from a recent seminar class on visual sovereignty, where I analyzed an indigenous gaze in the photographing of cultural objects (particularly those held by museums and in private collections). Although not part of my main research, as an artist, I do hope in the future to continue finding ways to intersect my art and educational research interests, and found much encouragement at this meeting.

Presentation at History of Education Society

Academics, Presentations

Following a great experience at the Western History Association in October, I traveled further north to Seattle to participate in the History of Education Society meeting November 1-4, 2012. Another first for me, traveling to Seattle, I did take some time to explore the downtown despite drizzly pacific northwest weather (confession: I grew up in the PNW, and I LOVE the weather!).

Probably the smallest conference I have attended, HES was really enjoyable. With less sessions happening at one time, I began to see the same people at sessions through out the weekend and got to attend sessions much further afield than my research areas, which was a lot of fun.

I had some great co-presenters, all of whom pushed the boundaries of historical research on indigenous education history. The final published version of my research on Piper v. Big Pine School District of Inyo County can be found by clicking here.


Western History Association Conference

Academics, Presentations

This year, I got to spend my birthday sharing my research on the CA State Supreme Court case, Piper v. Big Pine School District of Inyo County (published work found here) with a great audience at the 51st annual meeting of the Western History Association in Denver, Colorado. It was my first trip to Colorado and I got to share the weekend with my Native American Studies colleague Angel Hinzo, spend time with our program coordinator Stella Mancillas, and get wonderful dialogue and discussion with historian Dr. Charles Roberts. We even got snowed on! (Okay, it was just little flurries, but it was cold!)

Thank you to my wonderful colleagues and friends for sharing a fun weekend talking about history, education history, and history education!

Special thanks to Drs. Charles Roberts and William Bauer who participated in my organized session “Settler Influences and California Indian Education”; and thanks to the audience who included Angel Hinzo, Stella Mancillas, Dr. David Wallace Adams, Dr. Margaret Connell-Szasz, and Dr. Cathleen Cahill for your attention, kind encouragements, and support.