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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Lecture aims to connect past and present issues to possible future issues of the indigenous culture

Speakers at a distinguished scholar series focused on the connection between past and present issues affecting indigenous peoples.

On Thursday, the American Indian Studies Program hosted the third of four lectures in the 2012-2013 Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series. The event took place in the Center for Creative Photography and was open to both the UA and Tucson community.

The series presents lectures that utilize the talents and experiences of indigenous scholars in order to honor and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the American Indian Studies Program at the UA.

The theme this year was “unfinished agendas,” which speaks to the connection between the “issues in the past, the issues of the present and what might be the issues in the future, and also what can be addressed to the public to bring awareness to these aspects [of indigenous culture],” said Gavin Healey, a graduate student and graduate teaching assistant in American Indian studies.

Thursday’s speaker was Suzan Harjo, a lecturer, poet, writer, curator and advocate who has devoted years to protecting the land of indigenous peoples and preserving the culture of their nations. She has developed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Museum of the American Indian Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites.

Following an introduction and prayer by Manley Begay, a senior lecturer in the UA American Indian studies program, Harjo began her speech by recounting her work with Vine Deloria Jr., after whom the series was named. He was an author, historian and activist, and one of the founders of the UA American Indian Studies program.

Deloria Jr. remained devoted to the rights of indigenous people throughout his life, as was seen through his serving on the National Congress of American Indians and as a board member at the National Museum of the American Indian. Throughout her presentation, Harjo read poems that “either Vine liked or made [her] think of him and [their] journey together,” she said.

Harjo spoke a lot about her work to protect the remains of indigenous people from researchers who considered them artifacts, as well to as protect their land. History, such as the Sand Creek Massacre, was pertinent and relevant to her work.

“We were dealing with nightmares from more than a century earlier. We were dealing with injustices. We were dealing with people who collected finger bone necklaces, people still doing it, of course,” Harjo said.

Harjo closed her presentation with a poem titled, “Sing Your Song for Vine,” that she wrote the morning of Vine’s funeral service in 2005. She said it was the “easiest poem she ever wrote and the hardest poem to read.”

“Sing your song to Vine and call it to your side … then he will be there as a shadow of an eagle overhead, as the glint of silver medicine flying from the corner of your eye, as a distant sound that commands your attention, as a sudden realization you might think is an original idea,” she read.

After Harjo read the poem, Megan Biederwolf, a graduate student in the American Indian studies program and vice president of the American Indian Studies Graduate Student Council, presented Harjo with a bowl donated from Bahti Indian Arts and a certificate on behalf of the graduate student council.

“When elders come and give you a piece of knowledge, the proper thing to do is give a gift in return. This bowl symbolizes the strength that comes from unity and purpose of community,” Biederwolf said.

As one of the primary organizers of the series, Healey emphasized the open nature of the event.

“We strive to create an environment that is welcoming. The essence of the speaker series is to … highlight issues social, political and academic in nature that are going on for indigenous people, and really bring the public to awareness of what’s going on historically and contemporaneously. I hope that the audience [took] away a greater insight into the diversity of American-Indian people,” Healey said.

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