UC Riverside Celebrates 20 Years of American Indian Studies with a Look at Sherman Institute

May 11 Research Symposium just one of several events this Spring exploring Native American history, dance, stories and education

Man dressed in ceremonial Indian head dress

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — When the Sherman Institute opened in Riverside in 1902, its mission was straightforward—to assimilate Native American children of all ages by eradicating their culture and training them to become laborers and domestics. More than 100 years later, however, Sherman Indian High School has become a boarding school devoted to honoring native cultures while preparing American Indian teens for college and careers.

The school’s evolution has been a fertile area of research for faculty and students in UC Riverside’s American Indian Studies program. They will share their findings on May 11 during a day-long Research Symposium at Costo Library to commemorate the 20th anniversary of UCR’s American Indian Studies Program.

“Over the years we’ve had this wonderful relationship, with our students doing their Ph.D. work and some Master’s work at Sherman,” said Clifford Trafzer, professor of history and the Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs. “And besides doing their own researching, our students have tutored kids out there, taught them how to organize archival collections and helped them set up their exhibits at the Sherman Indian Museum.

The symposium is open to the public, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. After music by Native American jazz saxophonist Randy Plummer, seven graduate students will discuss their research work at Sherman, and the ways the school helped shape Riverside.

The connections are far-reaching, and sometimes surprising. For instance, one of the Ph.D. students, Bill Medina, is co-owner of the popular Zacateca’s Café, which is providing a free lunch to symposium attendees. Zacateca’s is connected to the Sherman Institute because the founder’s mother and uncle both attended school there in the 1920s, Trafzer said.

The uncle, “Bill Franklin, a very famous Miwok Indian from California, hated the school, but his sister, Lillian, liked it,” Trafzer said. “Bill ran away, all the way back up to the Ione Band near Sacramento, but his sister stayed in Riverside and married a Mexican man named Medina.” Their son, William and his wife, Josephina, went on to start Zacateca’s, which is now owned by four children, Bill, Jon, Susie and Max Medina.

UCR Ph.D. candidate Kevin Whalen will discuss his research into Sherman’s “outing program,” which sent students out of the school into homes and ranches around Riverside to learn how to be laborers, babysitters, nannies and maids.

“The belief was that Native Americans weren’t sufficiently intelligent enough to be doctors or lawyers or professors,” Trafzer said, “so they should be channeled into the labor force, and all the better if they could be channeled off the reservation into the mainstream.”

Native Americans gather on campus for an event

The focus is on Native Americans in May, with camps, a pow wow and the annual Medicine Ways Conference

Mission Inn founder Frank Miller, for instance, was integral to bringing the Sherman Institute to Riverside because he wanted to enhance his hotel’s reputation, Trafzer said. “He was trying to create the image that the Mission Inn was a real mission, and you can’t have a California mission without Indians, plus the students could be laborers at the Mission Inn, and they were, serving as maids and cooks.”

Other speakers the symposium include Lorene Sisquoc, director of the Sherman Indian Museum, a teacher at the Sherman Indian High School, a noted basket maker and co-editor, with Trafzer, of “The Boarding School Blues,” published by the University of Nebraska Press, and “The School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images of the Sherman Indian Institute,” which will be published this fall by the Oregon State University Press.

The final 90 minutes will feature reminiscences about the Sherman Institute from tribal elders and former students and staff. But the symposium is just the beginning of several free events at UCR honoring Native American culture, history and education.

Those events include UCR’s Gathering of the Tribes Summer Residential Program June 24-July 1, which is supported by the university’s Native American Student Programs. NASP is accepting online applications through April 30 for about 30 American Indian high school students to attend the free eight-day summer camp. Attendees will live on campus, go on field trips and attend workshops to help them better understand the steps they need to take to attend college, said NASP Director Josh Gonzales. “We’re trying to create pathways to college and let them see what is possible,” Gonzales said. “We’re introducing them to college life and exposing them to other tribes and cultures, so they can discover what networking is. Every year you see them come in really, really shy and then blossom by the end of the camp. It’s a great experience.”

young people lying in a circle on the ground

Students enjoy a camp organized by Native American Student Programs

On May 12, the 31st Annual Medicine Ways Conference will bring together Native American healers to discuss elemental healing techniques and share stories and song from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Highlander Union Building room 302. The Medicine Ways Conference brings together contemporary traditional leaders from across the United States to speak about how Native Medicine and Ways of Life can aid us all in our daily lives. This year’s focus is on the Four Sacred Elements: The Fire, The Water, The Earth, and The Air. “Our hope is that conference participants will learn about creating more sustainable environments and maintain balance; physically, mentally, and spiritually,” said Gonzales.

elaborately costumed native american dancers

The annual Medicine Ways Conference and the Pow Wow bring Native American traditions to campus

And on May 25-26, the 31st Annual UCR Pow Wow will feature competitions between Native American dancers and drum groups from around the country. “Typically we have seven to 10 drum groups and close to 100 dancers who compete in all different age categories,” Gonzales said. The theme is “Honoring Our Warriors.” The event opens on Friday, May 25, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and begins at 11 a.m.,Saturday, May 26, continuing until 10 p.m. at the UCR Sports Complex, 1000 Blaine St.

The event is an inter-tribal social gathering celebrating Native American culture and traditions through singing, drumming, and dancing. Traditional Native American dancers, drum groups, bird singers, and other artists will be present, and vendors will sell food, handmade Native American jewelry, arts and crafts, and other merchandise.

Both the Pow Wow and the Medicine Ways Conference are sponsored by the UCR Associated Students Program Board, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, Santa Ysabel Casino, Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, Native American Student Association, Native American Student Programs, and Rupert Costo Endowment Chair.

All events are free and open to the public except for parking fees. For more information on all the events, go to www.nasp.ucr.edu or call (951) 827-3850.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-2495
E-mail: kris.lovekin@ucr.edu
Twitter: krislovekin

Additional Contacts

Josh Gonzales, director
Tel: 951-827-3850
E-mail: joshua.gonzales@ucr.edu

Archived under: Arts/Culture, Inside UCR, , , , , ,

Top of Page