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UC grant integrates Indigenous voices in reshaping view of colonial missions

Critical missions studies, a grant funded by the University of California, fosters collaboration between academics and Indigenous communities to reframe how the history of the colonial mission system in California is discussed. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Sydney Kovach

Nov. 25, 2021 10:50 p.m.

A critical mission studies grant program funded by the University of California to help researchers rewrite the history of the California colonial mission system is coming to a close.

The UC created the three-year grant program in 2019, collaborating with California native tribal nations and communities, as well as both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars.

The program was intended to highlight Indigenous perspectives on colonial missions in California and their enduring impacts on society, according to the critical mission studies website.

According to the CMS website, the coordinating committee consists of four UC faculty principal investigators and four California Indian research partners, allowing the University to work closely with California Indian tribal nations and those who have been impacted by the history of the colonial missions. The committee hopes that the scholarship established with the grant obtains a more accurate account of California Indian and Spanish relations during the colonial mission period, said Jonathan Cordero, a California Indian research partner, during the Critical Mission Studies Welcome Conference on Nov. 12.

“The history of the mission period should not be based on good intentions, espoused principles, and the cherry-picking of historical facts that confirm a pre-existing bias while ignoring the fact of and disastrous consequences of colonization,” Cordero said. “We have to demand better.”

Ross Frank, a co-principal investigator and a member of the CMS Coordinating Committee, said the committee challenges the conventional depiction of the missions by bringing together a diverse set of perspectives.

“We have built a network of people that stretches across the state and into people who are working on issues that have to deal with changing the narrative about California in relation to the missions and all the subsequent traumas that it’s caused,” Frank said.

Yve Chavez, an assistant professor of art and visual culture of the Indigenous Americas at UC Santa Cruz and one of the project’s California Indian research partners, said she provides guidance on the sub-grants awarded under the larger grant. She added that the sub-grants have helped students, faculty and California Indian tribes pursue research projects of their own.

The CMS Coordinating Committee has hosted numerous conferences sponsored by the grant intended to bring together scholars, California Indian community members and allies, Chavez said. Some of the themes discussed include genocide and mission museum access.

She added that the CMS grant program has provided unique opportunities for scholars and California Indian tribes to collaborate with each other.

“Before now, there hasn’t been such a large system in place for native voices to be heard, both within academia at the university level and beyond, since California has such a fraught history of mission establishment and then subsequent colonization,” Chavez said.

The University’s engagement with Indigenous communities has changed with time and the evolving intellectual, political and activist climate, Frank said.

“The move toward making Indigenous peoples foundational partners of projects and making sure that the projects are actually advancing their interests in understanding and desires is something that is fairly new and hopefully growing as a standard procedure for this kind of work,” Frank said.

Frank added that the CMS Coordinating Committee is in the process of creating a handbook on critical mission studies for high schools, colleges and universities, as well as the general public. He added that there are a variety of other avenues for the committee to disseminate its information including conferences, modules and educational curricula. Some of the projects funded by the CMS grant have adapted historical, truth-telling materials for teachers in grade schools, he said.

Chavez said that she is optimistic that scholars in other states where Spanish colonists also established missions – including Arizona, Texas and Florida – will continue the committee’s work.

“Even though the grant is coming to an end, … there is still momentum I see amongst the California Indian community and among scholars both within the UC system and beyond to continue doing this important work of updating the narrative about the California missions, but also other missions,” Chavez added.

Contributing reports by Phoebe Brous, Daily Bruin contributor.

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Sydney Kovach | Alumnus
Kovach was the 2021-2022 assistant News editor for the campus politics beat. She was previously a contributor for The Stack. Kovach was a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Kovach was the 2021-2022 assistant News editor for the campus politics beat. She was previously a contributor for The Stack. Kovach was a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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