By Mishuana Goeman
Last Spring UCLA hosted in conjunction with American Indian Studies Research Center, Gender Studies, and Asian-American Studies a panel on Indigenous canoe societies in the Pacific. It was a day that brought together representatives, cultural bearers, and teachers from these communities to begin conversations about how the water links Indigenous peoples of the Pacific. The name of the symposium came from a conversation between Mishuana Goeman, Cindi Alvitre and Keith Camacho in which Alvitre exclaimed “we are people of the Pacific and see our relationship to other Island peoples.” In thinking through the ways to upset colonial geographies and how they tend to manage Indigenous peoples based on nation to nation relationships, we decided to title our panel “Eastern Oceania” to re-center around the ocean as something that binds people, instead of separating. As seafaring peoples, the Pacific brings the Tongva of Los Angeles in conversation with those from Pacific Island diasporas who have found themselves on Tongva land and waters.
Alisi Tulua in Saipan Tribune and in Marianas Variety describes the “Ancestors in Training” event this way:
Each speaker drew their connection to indigenous seascapes through a unique natural element. For Alvitre it was the soapstone at Catalina Island; for Borja it was the wood that brought everyone together; for Vaughn it was the acknowledgement of the land and its resources. The symposium revealed the mandatory and dependent bond that canoe cultures have with nature and the environment.
A stream of wisdom that flowed through each of the messengers was that the sustenance needed to pass on these cultures depended on how well indigenous sensibilities are honed to care for the waning natural resources these narratives depend on. Indigenous knowledge’s common dependence on nature is best illustrated by Lopez when he stated, “Seeing skies is as important to our lives today as they were in yonder days!”
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Revitalizing canoe societies, creating connections amongst people sharing land and water with a commitment to Indigenous peoples is key to thinking through Mapping Indigenous LA. As Mario Borjas reminded us throughout the planning and the event, “we are all ancestors in training” and part of moving towards our responsibilities as such means listening and learning at Indigenous crossroads and currents.