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Jean O’Brien, White Earth Ojibwe, teaches in the History Department at the University of Minnesota.

These 5 Native Women Know Their History

Tanya H. Lee
3/23/16

History matters. And so does who teaches it. For Women’s History Month we have put together a list of a few American Indian women who teach Native history, adding their unique voices and perspectives to the American story.

K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Creek, is a professor of Justice & Social Inquiry, and Distinguished Scholar of Indigenous Education at the Center for Indian Education in the School of Transformation at Arizona State University.

“As an interdisciplinary scholar whose work straddles Indigenous Studies, anthropology, education, ethnohistory, history, legal analysis, and political science, I focus on the early 20th century, examining the ‘footprint’ of federal Indian policy and practice in Indian country, and the creative, activist, and intellectual achievements of Native people,” she said.

“Research on the federal off-reservation boarding school system is rooted in the experiences of my father, Curtis Thorpe Carr, who at age 9 arrived at Chilocco Indian Agricultural School in Oklahoma (and who, at age 15, escaped). In nearly 30 years of teaching in public universities, I have enjoyed the privilege of creating and teaching a large enrollment General Education survey course on Native America. It is critically important for all students—Native and non-Native—to see and hear Native experiences, histories, and people as dynamic contributors to modernity and to contemporary U.S. society.”

K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Creek, is a professor of Justice & Social Inquiry, and Distinguished Scholar of Indigenous Education, Center for Indian Education in the School of Transformation at Arizona State University. (Courtesy Sunstreet Productions, Tucson)

Shannon Speed, Chickasaw, is director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA and an associate professor of Gender Studies and Anthropology. She writes regularly about indigenous issues throughout the Americas, including violence against indigenous women, indigenous migration, indigenous rights, tribal law, and teaching Native history in the U.S. school curriculum.

She has spent the past two decades working in Mexico. Her publications include “Rights in Rebellion: Human Rights and Indigenous Struggle in Chiapas,” “Human Rights in the Maya Region: Global Politics, Moral Engagements, and Cultural Contentions,” and “Dissident Women: Gender and Cultural Politics in Chiapas.” Her current research is focused on indigenous Latin American women migrants and gender violence. She has a book in progress titled, “States of Violence: Indigenous Women Migrants and Human Rights in the Era of Neoliberal Multicriminalism.”

Shannon Speed, Chickasaw, is director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA and an associate professor of Gender Studies and Anthropology. (Courtesy Steven Noreyko)

Jean O’Brien, White Earth Ojibwe, teaches in the History Department at the University of Minnesota, specializing in American Indian/Indigenous Studies, Native American representations, state and federal recognition Indians of the Northeast, ethnohistory and U.S. colonial history. She serves on the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund Board of Trustees and is a founding editor of the journal Native American and Indigenous Studies.

“My scholarship on indigenous survival and self-determination within the settler state is concerned with a new global approach to indigenous studies. My work has overturned conventional accounts of indigenous history in the northeastern U.S., challenging national narratives that have written Indigenous Peoples out of existence,” she said.

Jennifer Denetdale, Navajo, is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico. As a historian and scholar of Indigenous Studies, she specializes in theories of colonization and decolonization, Native women and feminisms, and critical Indigenous Studies.

She is author of “Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita,” two Navajo histories for young adults, and numerous articles and essays, one of the most recent of which is “’I’m Not Running on My Gender’: The 2010 Navajo Nation Presidential Race, Gender, and the Politics of Tradition.” She is currently working on a manuscript that examines the Navajo Nation, gender, and the politics of tradition.

Denetdale won the Rainbow Naatsiilid True Colors Award for her support and advocacy on behalf of the Navajo LGBTQ community and the UNM Faculty of Color Award for her teaching, research and service to the academic community. She sits on the board of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and has undertaken a project to address the status of Navajo women and gender violence on the Navajo Nation with the Commission.

Jennifer Denetdale, Navajo, is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico.

Brenda Child, Red Lake Ojibwe, is a professor of American Studies and former chair of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her first book, “Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940,” won the North American Indian Prose Award. Her most recent books are “Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community” and “Indian Subjects: Hemispheric Perspectives on the History of Indigenous Education” (with Brian Klopotek). She was an original consultant to the exhibit, “Remembering Our Indian School Days” at the Heard Museum and co-author of the accompanying book, “Away From Home.”

Child is currently a member of an eight-person committee engaging the Red Lake Ojibwe community in writing a new constitution for the nation of 14,700. She is a trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian and of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“It is essential that American Indians be represented in the historical profession, both as scholars and teachers. We work from a point of view that brings Native people and their historical experiences to the forefront of American history. Without that, it would be impossible to understand the complex history of this country,” she said.

Brenda Child, Red Lake Ojibwe, is a professor of American Studies and former chair of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.

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