Report Back: Native American Indigenous Studies Conference (Part 1)

The annual conference of NAISA is, by far, the conference I look forward to the most each year. Hundreds of indigenous scholars from around the world gathering our bodies, voices, genealogies, languages, cultures, histories, values, and knowledges into the center of a spiraling web. This year’s center was Sacramento, CA–the tribal homeland of the Nisenan Nation.

I was grateful for the beautiful and warm weather, after the first few days of my California visit were filled with rain and cold winds. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the welcoming or the first session of panels since I had to drive from Sunnyvale (about 2 hours away) that morning.

So the first panel I attended was entitled: “Sporting Indigeneity: Critically Assessing Sports and Native Peoples in North America and the Pacific.” It was really fantastic, except for the fact that Chamorro scholar and writer Christine Taitano DeLisle wasnt there to present her paper called “Chamorro Runners, American Expatriates and the Politics of Representing Guam”! Darn.

One of my favorite Pacific scholars, Vicente Diaz (who teaches at U of Michigan), presented “Tackling New Hegemonic Formations on the American Gridiron.” He talked profoundly about masculinity and sexuality through the figure of Esera Tuaolo, a gay Samoan who played in the NFL for nine years and has since been “tackling homophobia.” His autobiography, Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL was published in 2006.

Another great paper was given by Adria Imada (who teaches at UC San Diego): “Does the Hair Make the Man?: Pacific Islander Hair and Popular Sports Culture.” She also focused on masculinity and representation through the hair of Troy Palumalu and Domata Peko. Her research was both brilliant and hilarious.

The best question during the Q&A came from Ty Kawika Tengan, a Hawaiian scholar who teaches at U of Hawaii at Manoa. His question centered around the relationship between militarism and sports in the Pacific–two important sites for Pacific masculinities.

For the next session, I decided to attend the “Decolonization” panel because the chair was Chamorro scholar and writer Michael Lujan Bevacqua, who teaches at the U of Guam. I had the pleasure of chatting with Michael for a few minutes after the panel–since I rarely see him, it’s always great to be around his wisdom, even if for a short time.

That night, I co-hosted the “Literary Potlatch” with the amazing Beth Piatote (who teaches at UC Berkeley). This literary reading was on the 15th floor of the Hyatt Regency, a beautiful space overlooking the capitol building. The crowd fluctuated throughout the two hour, 25-person reading–but at my estimate topped more than a hundred people at its height. It was so inspiring to me that so many of the scholars at NAISA are also poets! The range of poetry really performed not only the themes we have in common, but also our vibrant diversity and difference. Special thanks to Ines Hernandez-Avila.

After the reading, I had the pleasure of drinking whiskey and eating buffalo wings with the brilliant Alice Te Punga Somerville, one of my favorite Pacific literary scholars (she teaches at Victoria U in Wellington). Hours later they kicked us out of the bar because we were using words like “racialization” and “articulation” and “indigenizing” a bit too loudly. Oops.

At that point, 1:00 am called and wanted its peace and quiet back, so I went to bed.

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3 thoughts on “Report Back: Native American Indigenous Studies Conference (Part 1)

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to post these notes. It’s good to hear your thoughts. Good resources for a course we hope to be developing on Sports and Culture at CCSF, too. Sorry to have missed your and Beth’s poetry potlatch. Sorry also to miss poet Janice Gould at the California State Historical Museum the next night. But glad to know it is all happening. Lauren

  2. thanks for commenting lauren. you folks at CCSF are doing such cutting edge work! if i lived in california it would be awesome to work with you & vika! hope you are doing well–
    c

    1. Craig your Literary Potlatch night was a definite highlight for me! So very inspiring to sit back and bask in beautiful words from so many diverse people, but with so many common/connecting themes and threads – what a great idea – hope it continues in NAISA conferences to come!… and as this was my first reading on an international stage it felt like a warm, welcoming and safe place to share from the heart. Great stuff! Peace & love from Nat Harkin (South Australia)

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