The California Indian Studies and Scholars Association (CISSA) is a decolonial organization consisting of California Indian people committed to the intellectual and cultural sovereignty of California Indian Studies and scholarship. Formed in February 2020 under the leadership of UC Riverside’s Assistant Professor of English Dr. Mark Minch-de Leon, the organization has since expanded. In June 2022, CISSA hosted the hybrid Bad Indian Symposium which garnered over 300 online viewers.
On April 14-15, CISSA hosted its inaugural conference at the Seymour Center on UC Santa Cruz’s Coastal Science Campus. THI Faculty Fellow Caitlin Keliiaa, who serves on the CISSA Council of Leadership, played a significant role in organizing the conference. The two-day hybrid event brought together dozens of online and in-person participants from California and across the nation, including scholars from the UCs, CSUs, community colleges, tribal education departments, private schools, and more. Participants represented dozens of tribal nations and shared work and perspectives from multiple disciplines.
Professor Keliiaa shared that one of the goals of the event was to reimagine what a conference can be, particularly by “emphasizing the social, the collective, the dialogical, and the relational.” Keliiaa continues: “We hosted three interactive open discussion sessions that took up important questions of kinship and relationality, California Indian homelands, and the future of California Indian studies. We also discussed an ongoing effort for a statewide model curriculum for Native American Studies.”
CISSA is a relatively new organization and we are at the forefront of interdisciplinary work among scholars in all definitions of the word.
The aim of this open discussion model was for all attendees to participate in “talking story” together, and to build creative, collaborative, community-informed partnerships and scholarship moving forward. There was also space for performance and creative practice; for example, the conference featured a lunch performance of “IYA: The Ex’celen Remember,” a play written by Xago Luis Juárez and inspired by Louise Miranda Ramirez, Chairwoman of the Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation. CISSA hopes to continue imagining expansive conference models that invite dialogue, active engagement, and embodiment.
For Professor Keliiaa, hosting the conference at UC Santa Cruz was particularly special because of the growing community of scholars on our campus dedicated to this work: “We’ve really built Native American and Indigenous Studies at UC Santa Cruz and that was very evident at the conference.” Attendees included CISSA member and UCSC faculty Tsim Schneider (Anthropology), as well as Amy Lonetree (History), Renya Ramirez (Anthropology) and two incoming faculty members, Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu (Critical Race and Ethnic Studies) and Martin Rizzo-Martinez (Film and Digital Media Studies).
We’ve really built Native American and Indigenous Studies at UC Santa Cruz and that was very evident at the conference.
The hybrid format of the conference also allowed other community members to join from afar, including current UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow Stephanie Lumsden and incoming UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow Brittani Orona. For Keliiaa, the conference represents the start of an exciting, burgeoning opportunity to grow scholarship and community related to Indigenous Studies: “CISSA is a relatively new organization and we are at the forefront of interdisciplinary work among scholars in all definitions of the word. We’ve built something very special and I can’t wait to see what more we will accomplish.”
For those who missed the conference, the recorded video will soon be available on the CISSA website.