UC Davis Native American Studies Graduate Students Conclude Symposium With Discussion On the Native North Pacific


By Nora Lelivelt

UC Davis’ 9th annual Native American Studies Graduate Student Research Symposium titled “From Red Power to Wallmapu Libre and Land Back, Engaging Hemispheric Indigenous Resistance Movements” took place over the past four days and concluded yesterday.

The final day of the symposium began with a roundtable dialogue between five UC Davis graduate students who are working to shape, contest and form what is known as the Native North Pacific at UC Davis.

The five roundtable speakers are as follows: Haliehana Stepetin is a PhD candidate for Native American Studies at UC Davis, and her work focuses on the different ways that processes of hunting, fishing, gathering, berry picking and sharing are inherently performed within a community.

Wendah Alvarez is a fifth-year PhD student at UC Davis with a designated emphasis in writing rhetoric and composition. Her research focuses on how education impacts indigenous people and how a lack of indigenous writers is problematic, as much of the Native American research is “not written by us, it’s written on and about us.”

Lauren Peters is a first-year PhD student at UC Davis, with a designated emphasis in human rights. Her research occupies three areas of history, including preoccupation or pre-contact, Russian occupation and the current American occupation as it pertains to internment.

Chimaway Lopez is a PhD student at UC Davis whose research is focusing on environmental history and geology as different ways of storytelling.

Colton Brandau is a fifth-year PhD candidate for Native American Studies at UC Davis. His work focuses on the region of South-Central Alaska and how its social history and relations reflect historical narratives. Brandau also acted as the facilitator for the roundtable discussion.

To begin the discussion, Brandau proposed the question, “How would you define the native North Pacific, and what does it mean for you, your research, your nations or your community?”

“For me,” Brandau continued, “this conversation around how do you define the Northern Pacific really comes from our engagements with the larger field of Pacific studies… There is often a discussion of Pacific studies that inherently adds the south to the discussion of the Pacific.”

He went on to discuss the importance of geography and its distinctions, but “not in a way that privileges one or creates a binary, but as a way to engage with [the regions] through both land and water to discuss these spaces.”

Stepetin added to this discussion about geographical distinction by referring to the significance of the ocean to Native American Indigenous rights and their struggles for sovereignty.

“A more native way of talking about the land is to talk about seascapes… to experience land through the lens of water,” she said. “The emergence of native North Pacific studies provides a confluence of what is known as the Pacific Ocean, building from the body of work already created in Conoco Pacific and Oceania studies.”

Alvarez furthered the discussion about the significance of geography and water by talking about her own experiences, saying, “I’ve been thinking about what am I, like, am I a Pacific Islander because the Philippines is in the Pacific?”

Regardless of the classification, Alvarez knew growing up that the ocean was just as important as land.

For example, when fishing, she said, “the islands and the land is the thing that is moving… as one navigates, and it makes sense that it is the land that moves around the boat,” additionally, “I know that when I touch water, it can somehow reach my people” Alvarez said.

Lopez described a similar relationship to the water and ocean, saying, “I guess, as far as orienting myself to the native North Pacific… I think of the canoe as a center for my orientation of native north Pacific studies because I see all those connections, you know, because it also connects us to all the different cultures across the Pacific, and even beyond that, but that has my basis for native north Pacific studies. Those connections across the entire Pacific Ocean is the glue that holds it together.”

Peters is from the Aleutian Islands and described her relationship to geography, saying, “[the islands are] neither here nor there, you know, they’re not a part of the North American continent, and they’re not part of the Asian continent. They’re in the middle, and I’ve always considered myself a Pacific Islander because that’s how I envisioned myself.”

After each panelist had a chance to answer, Brandau proposed the second question, “What Native American Indigenous Studies and native methodologies have shaped your engagements with Native North Pacific studies?”

Lopez began the discussion by describing what has shaped his research methodologies. “I’ve been inspired by scholars such as Lisa Brooks who look at waterways as remappings of indigenous territory to focus on the waterways to show how those are important places of travel. So, there’s rootedness as well as mobility within these waterways.”

Stepetin took a different approach to answering the question, saying, “So, water is methodology for me and has been really generative in refusing the colonial logics of containment that are prescribed to land, as in the case of reservations and systems of settler surveillance that are fixated on marking arbitrary borders.”

Alvarez answered, “I’m hoping to actually delve into a lot more in the notion of poetry as a methodology… people have always looked at poetry – as you know, a very niche kind of practice with a very specific understanding in academia – but I’m thinking about how native people have been storytelling through poetry, and we know that from oral tradition.”

Peters’ methodology is, “as an Island community, Aleutian community-based participatory research is really important. Something I practice daily is the indigenous rights to refusal, having consensus, and working on my end for the community.”

Brandau wrapped up the responses by stating the methodology that has shaped his engagements with native North Pacific studies is “how indigenous peoples have their own ways of knowing about the colonial experiences that they have had to endure and resisted and have navigated in many ways… Oftentimes it’s not entirely under their complete control, but being able to still be able to challenge and move in the ways that they directed, which is an important way to frame that.”

Brandau said that for example, in the colonization of places like Alaska, there is a “tendency to try to either ignore, leave out or homogenize those experiences with others, and I think the critical thing for Northern Pacific studies is that we’re saying there’s multiple different ways of resisting or navigating colonization.”

For more information on UC Davis Native American Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, visit https://nas.ucdavis.edu/.

Nora Lelivelt is a fourth-year Cell Biology major at UC Davis, also minoring in Professional Writing and Biodiversity.

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