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Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway
Indigenous Peoples' Day: UCI Actions Toward Reciprocity

Tiara R. Na'puti, associate professor of global & international studies, offers perspective
Tiara Na'puti
Indigenous Peoples' Day calls attention to the Indigenous nations, tribes, and communities that were never invited to the table when UC Irvine was established upon the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Acjachemen and Tongva peoples. To celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day means to acknowledge Indigenous histories as well as institutional histories, which must also include respecting the vibrant contemporary cultures of American Indians in this area known as California, and Irvine in particular. We can express our gratitude to these original stewards of the land where we live, work, and study - stewards who, despite the long history of violence and racism, forced displacement, land theft, and colonialism on Turtle Island still hold strong cultural, spiritual, and physical ties to this local region. The small act of acknowledging this complicated history is a crucial first step for us all (whether as guests, residents, and/or visitors); yet UCI remains one of the few UC campuses that has not adopted or implemented a formal land acknowledgment. A university-wide land acknowledgement is a vital symbolic gesture of support for Indigenous students, scholars, and staff; but more importantly, it signals an interest in sustaining right relationships with local Native communities.

Following the teachings of the traditional caretakers of this region, we can embrace the placename Tovaangar, meaning "Our World," and utilize a UCI land acknowledgement to establish a principle of reciprocity that would advance collective good in the world. We must also take action to demonstrate our commitments; to move beyond a mere acknowledgement of Indigenous dispossession, and towards a sustaining and deepened relationship with local Indigenous communities. This Indigenous Peoples' Day we might then ask the following: what actions will UCI take to ensure we are truly a Native American Thriving campus? In UCI's recent history, there was a funded director position for the American Indian Resource Program (AIRP) and a Native American recruiter position within the Office of Admissions. The former is now defunct due to lack of institutional support, and both are select examples of material needs that our campus should re-commit to supporting well into the future.

As an Indigenous Chamoru scholar (peoples of the Mariana Islands), I embrace our value of inafa' maolek - a continuous effort "to make good," and an ongoing process of reciprocity. Working "to make good" is an embodied concept, involving deep ties to land and relationships within our holistic environments. But it is also a commitment to unlearning and learning from the places where we are situated; a collective working toward environmental justice. For those of us - Indigenous and non-Indigenous - who live, work, learn and forge community at UCI and in its greater vicinity, making good involves a concerted effort to engage with movements for Indigenous land stewardship and to acknowledge the need for land return from the perspective of Acjachemen and Tongva. Still, beyond mere comprehension and understanding, reciprocity demands that we also take action, which should include addressing the ancestral sites on the UCI campus and surrounding radius in Irvine that are sacred to local Indigenous peoples. For UCI to truly thrive and respectfully honor the current caretakers of the land, water, and air, we must take meaningful actions to further reciprocity.

UCI is a convening place for Indigenous peoples throughout the world. These connections offer us all opportunities to engage with and act upon intersecting issues of local and global concern. In the Department of Global & International Studies, our research hubs seek to further our collective ability to take action, and to do so in a good way; working together, we seek to address and amplify Indigenous knowledges at the intersections of local and global importance. In one example, the department's "Global Indigenous Research Lab" and academic courses such as "Global Indigeneity" are opportunities that also align with other UCI-wide academic offerings such as the Native American & Indigenous Studies minor. I am energized and grateful to have several colleagues in my department and throughout UCI who are supporting this good work - our collaborations start with reciprocity, and we mobilize with the goal of sustaining relationships and contributing resources among local Indigenous communities.

Our efforts showcase the importance of Native American & Indigenous Studies (NAIS) as an interdisciplinary field with significance for all areas of intellectual inquiry. Otherwise marginalized within UCI’s current academic offerings, NAIS pedagogy and scholarship provides opportunities for working with community organizations around Indigenous leadership and cultural perspectives, and supporting our UCI Native and Indigenous faculty and students. Beyond the confines of the Ivory tower, our faculty members offer novel ways to connect UCI with Indigenous-centered practices and knowledge from the surrounding communities in our region.

This Indigenous Peoples' Day, we should celebrate these examples and hold ourselves and UCI accountable to take principled actions that embody our stated commitments to a Native American Thriving campus. We can use this day to launch the foundation for deepening engagement between UCI and Indigenous populations that are among the largest and fastest growing in the state of California. Indigenous Peoples worldwide are challenging colonial structures of power in communities and throughout higher education systems, like UCI, that never even considered inviting US to the table. Thus, we should embrace the expansive possibilities of "Our World," and build the bright futures we want to collectively create together. We should embrace interventions "to make good" at UCI, where our institutional commitments are rooted in prior and informed collaboration with local Indigenous populations and guided by principles of reciprocity and decolonial practices.
Please visit the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples (SPI) an Indigenous-led community based organization and support their programs.

Please visit Dr. Mishuana Goeman, "The Land Introduction: Beyond the Grammar of Settler Landscapes and Apologies," Western Humanities Review, Fall 2020, 74.3, pp.35-65.

Please visit the Department of Global & International Studies, UCI School of Social Sciences.

Please visit the UCI Libraries Indigenous resource guide.

Please visit 2022 Indigenous Peoples' Day perspective by Dean Bill Maurer & Lorelei Tanji.
Tiara Na'puti is an associate professor of global & international studies at UCI. She studies issues of militarism and sovereignty in the Pacific Islands, specifically Guåhan/Guam. As an Indigenous Chamoru (familian Robat & Kaderon), she is committed to understanding how Indigenous communities address issues of political status as well as militarization and climate change.