The Native American Studies Minor was established in 1979, through the efforts of California Native American scholar and activist Dr. Ed Castillo (Luiseño-Cahuilla). Throughout his career, Dr. Castillo demonstrated a commitment to both scholarship and activism, which he saw as complementary approaches to the creation of a more informed and equitable society in California and the USA. Ten years before founding the NAMS program at SSU, while teaching at UCLA, Dr. Castillo went beyond the classroom to call attention to treaty rights, Tribal Sovereignty, discrimination, economic inequality, cultural revitalization and other Native American issues, taking part in the Occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indians of All Tribes in 1969 (see National Park Service Articles on the Occupation). Dr. Castillo was among the original landing party who occupied Alcatraz in November of 1969; he was one of the first three people who landed on the island.* His writing is published widely including in Smithsonian Institution's Handbook of North American Indians, Mission Indian Federation: Protecting Tribal Sovereignty 1919-1967, Indian Historian, Journal of California Anthropology, Western Historical Quarterly, American Indian Quarterly and California History. At Sonoma State University, Dr. Castillo advocated for Native American Studies, and taught classes on local Native American history and culture, and specialized in the impact of Spanish Colonization on Native American in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Native American Studies program is designed to provide a minor with a multidisciplinary approach to Native Americans through ethnography, history, sociology, and the humanities. By approaching the multiplicity of Native American cultures from a variety of academic perspectives, a deeper understanding of Native societies past and present, will emerge. Presenting a variety of Native American experiences and issues within the wider context of human history and evolution, this program greatly benefits from our relationship to the tribe on whose land the university sits.
Dr. Greg Sarris became the Graton Rancheria Endowed Chair of Sonoma State University in 2005. He was a full professor of English at UCLA, and left an Endowed Chair at Loyola Marymount, to continue his teaching on his tribe's ancestral lands. Dr. Sarris was instrumental in gaining federal recognition for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and regaining a reservation for his people after over 50 years of homelessness. He is serving his fifteenth consecutive term as Chairman of his tribe, and has published multiple books, including Grand Avenue which he later turned into an HBO mini series with producer Robert Redford. Beyond teaching courses in creative writing, American literature, and Native American literature, Dr. Sarris helped to create the first academic component of the Summer Bridge Program. Collaborating with Director of Native American Studies, Dr. Erica Tom, the Summer Bridge Program has grown its academic offerings since 2018. In summer 2021, over 150 incoming first generation and historically low-income students were able to earn 6 units during the first ever month-long program at Sonoma State University, taking a Quantitative Reasoning and Reading and Writing course, and NAMS 165 "Native Cultures of Northern California" with Dr. Sarris.
The Native American Studies minor is especially focused in providing teachers, community service personnel, tribal administrators, and other interested persons with useful skills in working with this unique community. Special emphasis is placed on assisting educators with practical and theoretical approaches to Native American education. Dr. Erica Tom began teaching at Sonoma State in 2017, while also running a trauma-informed equine learning program serving children in the foster care system, an institution in which Native children are disproportionately represented. As the Director of Native American Studies since 2020, Dr. Tom grounds the program in trauma-informed approaches to program and community development.
Working with Faculty Advisor, Dr. Jeffrey Reeder (un-enrolled Choctaw), and long time lecturer, Dr. Mary Churchill (un-enrolled Cherokee), in 2020, Dr. Tom began facilitating a collaboration with the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, Kashia Elementary School at Stewarts Point Rancheria, and Sonoma State University. Each year, Dr. Tom, members of Kashia, and teachers from the elementary school, create learning opportunities for the students from Sonoma State University and the students from Kashia Elementary School. During the 2020-2021 school year, this learning opportunity adapted into a Pen Pal Program.
There are many opportunities to learn beyond the traditional classroom, including internships, and participation in the Native American & Indigenous Studies Reading Group. This group is facilitated by Dr. Tom, and co-hosted with the HUB Cultural Center at Sonoma State University. In 2021, Dr. Hess received in a California Humanities Relief Grant, "Native Voices: Collaborating to Build Native American Programming" to benefit NAMS, a grant co-facilitated with Dr. Erica Tom.
With the welcoming of Dr. Silvia Soto to the Department of Native American Studies in 2020, and the ongoing contributions of lecturers, Dr. Mary Churchill (un-enrolled Cherokee), Dr. Ashley Hall, Josephine McKay (Pomo), Paul Steward (Elem Pomo), and Dr. Lajos Szoboszlai, we look forward to continuing to grow our intellectual community. Please contact NAMS Administrative Assistant Rosa Flores Celestino to learn more.
*Troy R. Johnson, “We Hold the Rock: The Indian Occupation of Alcatraz, 1969 to 1971” (San Francisco: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 1997): 55.