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Carrying Out the Legacy: The Sixth Annual Vine Deloria, Jr. Symposium

An article by Steve Pavlik about the Vine Deloria Jr. Symposium

For nearly forty years Vine Deloria, Jr. stood as perhaps the most recognized and respected figure in Indian Country. As a college professor—mostly at the University of Arizona and the University of Colorado—and through nearly 25 books, 200 published articles, and numerous other positions, including a period as the Executive Director for the National Congress of American Indians, Vine was relentless as an advocate for tribal sovereignty, activist for social justice, critic of western science and society, and champion of Indigenous values. He was, simply, a national treasure, the likes of which we may never see again.

On July 7-9, 2011, colleagues, friends, and admirers of the late Sioux scholar and intellectual came together to honor his memory and to carry out his legacy at the Sixth Annual Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Studies Symposium. This event is hosted each year by Northwest Indian College, Bellingham, Washington, on the Lummi Nation.

Welcome addresses were given by Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, President of Northwest Indian College, and Clifford Cultee, Chairman of the Lummi Nation. The opening prayer was given by Jon Davis. The closing prayer was given by Juanita Jefferson.

The Deloria symposiums, which have been held each summer since his passing in 2005, consist of panel presentations, and individual talks given by specially invited speakers, which address a multitude of topics Deloria dedicated his professional life to. This summer the symposium focused largely on law, policy, sovereignty, and identity issues. Keeping “in the spirit of Vine” and the tradition of the symposium, no PowerPoint or other electronic media presentations are allowed, only oral presentations.

The symposium also features an annual keynote—the Vine Deloria, Jr. Address—which was given this summer by Vine’s long-time friend and colleague at the University of Arizona, Dr. Tom Holm, Professor emeritus, retired. Holm’s address was entitled “Vine Deloria, Jr.’s Contribution to American Indian Studies,” and outlined Vine’s considerable contributions towards making American Indian Studies a legitimate and highly respected field of study within academia. Holm sprinkled his talk with stories about Vine, many of which illustrated his famous wit and humor.

Another feature of this summer’s symposium was the debut of a new book, A Hank Adams Reader edited by David E. Wilkins. Adams, once described by Deloria as being the “most important Indian,” was a pivotal figure in numerous events during the turbulent 1970’s, including the Northwest Indian fishing wars, Wounded Knee, and the Trail of Broken Treaties to Washington, D.C,. as part of which he was largely responsible for developing the “Twenty Points” which succinctly and brilliantly outlined Indian grievances against the government. Adams has always been an insightful and prolific writer and the Adams Reader will serve to introduce a new generation of Native leaders and activists to the important contribution made by this great intellectual. To mark the release of this book a special panel was held comprised of Wilkins, Billy Frank, Jr.—who wrote the foreward to the reader—and Adams himself in a rare public appearance. The large audience was treated to an amazing discourse presented by Adams, who not only participated in, but actually helped to make the history that forged contemporary Indian Country.

A second panel at this symposium was one that marked the fifth anniversary of the publication of Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria, Jr. and His Impact on American Society, edited by Steve Pavlik and Daniel R. Wildcat. For the first time ever, all seven contributing authors came together to discuss the origin of this book and their respective chapters. All talked of their close personal relationship to Vine and how he had influenced their own thinking, writing, and professional careers. Sam Scinta, another close friend of Vine’s and the publisher of Fulcrum Press, served as the moderator of this panel. Fulcrum published Dogma, the Adams Reader, and many of Vine’s books.

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Another featured speaker was Tom Sampson, a respected Coast Salish elder of the Tsartlip Nation of British Columbia. Sampson spoke on the topic of “Sacred Governance”—of the traditional values which once formed the foundation of tribal governments, and of the efforts to recapture those values. Sampson talked about the value of language and the need to re-establish connections with the natural world. He also talked about how his own work has also been influenced by the writings of Deloria.

The other presentations focused on a multitude of issues including international treaty law, tribal constitutional reform, Indian religious freedom and sacred land, identity, recent Supreme Court decisions, the mascot controversy, and climate change. Other speakers included Charlotte Cote, Christine Zuni Cruz, Tom Hoffman, Dennis Martinez, William Moore, Alan Parker, Nick Peroff, Renee Roman Nose, Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, Merv Tano, Rick Wheelock, and Mary C. Wright. In addition, a group of 12 students from Haskell Indian Nations University and Kansas University also displayed posters of their research.

The iconic Billy Frank, Jr., continued his tradition of giving the closing address to the symposium. Billy reflected on his long friendship with Vine, and told stories of their efforts together to sell salmon when the commercial fishermen boycotted Indian caught salmon, and to bring tax-free cigarettes into the state. He also spoke of the need to “stay the course” as Native people continue the struggle against what is increasingly becoming a more volatile and challenging political landscape for Indians in America.

Other symposium events included a salmon barbeque provided by the Coast Salish Institute, followed by a showing of the new documentary, A Moment in Vine produced by Jennifer Newell Easton and Darren Kipp.

In all, nearly 150 people from throughout the United States—from Alaska to Massachusetts—and from Canada, attended the symposium.

In closing, the coordinators and host of this symposium would like to thank Barbara Deloria and family for their continued support of this event.

The Seventh Annual Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Studies Symposium is scheduled to be held July 12-14, 2012. For more information contact the symposium’s co-coordinators, Steve Pavlik ( or Angel Jefferson (

Steve Pavlik is the coordinator of the Vine Deloria Jr. Indigenous Studies Symposium. He teaches Native American Studies and Native Science at Northwest Indian College, Lummi Nation, Bellingham, Washington. He has been invloved in Indian education for over 30 years at all levels from middle school through graduate college, including 19 years of teaching on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona.