UC Irvine’s American Indian Resource Program, in association with the American Indian Student Association (AISA), hosted Chapman University’s American Studies Associate Professor Paul Apodaca at the UCI Student Center on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
Professor Apodaca’s lecture, “Native American Perceptions and Realities,” occurred in time for November’s Native American Heritage Month and the new Native American Heritage Day, which will fall this year on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
American Indian Resource Program Director Nikishna Polequaptewa welcomed attendees and opened the lecture with a prayer per Native American customs, after which AISA Chair Cheyenne Reynoso introduced Apodaca.
Apodaca began by addressing the question of ethnicity, “What does it mean to be an Indian?” The professor mentioned that natives from Central and South America are labeled by their national identities, such as Mexican, instead of their native identities like Aztec or Mayan.
Apodaca mentioned the work of Steven Powers, which in part explains that Native Americans in Southern California have been wiped out genetically by tribes from central California. However, Apodaca also mentioned that the Irvine-Tustin area is home to the Juaneño tribe, including the Sepulveda family, but explained that tribe members “are not federally recognized.”
In order to minimize costs, Apodaca explained, the U.S. government utilized a strategy of not recognizing tribes where land is expensive, such as the San Francisco and San Pedro harbors.
In regards to Native American identity and affiliation, Apodaca said, “We are families.” According to Apodaca, a Native American’s primary affiliation is with family, not tribe.
Apodaca then discussed historical examples to illustrate how Native Americans have been portrayed by European powers, including Thomas Paine’s original visit in the American colonies to study Native Americans and Benjamin Franklin’s work as commissioner of Indian relations. Apodaca explained that history has shown Native Americans being used to define others, not themselves as native people in the Americas.
Apodaca also mentioned the stereotypes presented in Hollywood. Such types included the angry warrior, mystic medicine man, sacred elder, Indian princes and princesses and buffoons. The professor stated that natives do not go to a sacred elder or a mystic medicine man; instead, they go to their family members for help.
“We’re relatives. We’re all related as human beings,” Apodaca said.
In the following question and answer session, Apodaca answered an attendee’s question regarding laws in reservations by stating that rules were written so that Indians would cede land to the United States.
“Americans were original landowners of the land,” Apodaca said.
Addressing the concern of whether or not Native Americans pay taxes, Apodaca said that Native Americans pay federal income taxes; however, Indians do not pay state income and property taxes if the person lives and works on a reservation.
“His thesis … reminds us we’re all together,” said Noah Apodaca, the professor’s son and lead employment consultant of UCI’s Human Resources.