Director of UCLA’s Native Nations Law and Policy Center presents “Owning Red: Native Peoples and Cultural Appropriation”

Caroline Buck, Contributing Writer

Angela R. Riley presented a talk in the Elaine Langone Center Forum at 7 p.m. on April 16 entitled, “Between Indigenous Law and Federal Law.” Riley is a professor at the UCLA School of Law and the director of UCLA’s Native Nations Law and Policy Center. University Associate Professor of History and International Relations Cymone Fourshey, who is the current acting director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Gender (CSREG), introduced Riley at the beginning of the event. Her lecture was a part of the Center’s series “Indigeneity: Making the Visible Seen.”

Each year the University’s CSREG chooses a different theme for their lecture series and this year’s focus was on indigenous peoples. Throughout the year, the CSREG welcomed a variety of speakers to the University to speak about different topics relating to indigenous individuals and communities. This past fall Michelle Harris of the University of Albany gave a talk entitled, “Contemporary Indigeneity and the Politics of Being.” In the spring, activist Janet Chavez-Santiago delivered her talk “Zapotec Ethnicity and Language Preservation,” artist Jeneen Frei Njootli spoke on “Contemporary Indigeneity and the Politics of Being,” and Riley concluded the series with Tuesday’s lecture.

When selecting Riley as a speaker, the CSREG was looking for an individual with real experience dealing with the topic. They also looked for someone involved in legal studies who could speak about the legal matters surrounding Native Americans. Fourshey explained they “really wanted someone legal because so much of this subject has to do with land laws, and wanted a scholar who is actually indigenous.”

Riley is a distinguished professor who is globally renowned for her work with native law. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma, Riley grew up on a farm in Oklahoma. After attending the University of Oklahoma and Harvard Law School, she began her law career as a clerk for Judge Terence Kern in the Northern District of Oklahoma. Along with working at UCLA, Riley serves as Chief Justice on her tribe’s Supreme Court, thriving as the youngest Justice and first woman to be selected for the role. Riley has been published by Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, and more.

The talk commenced with Riley introducing herself in her native language. She also addressed proper terminology when speaking about Native Americans, and explained that saying ‘Indian’ is not offensive to indigenous tribes. After having clarified these details, she launched her presentation “Owning Red.”

Much of the talk focused on cultural appropriation, referencing sports teams and pop culture. Riley brought the water bottle from her local hotel with her which had a stereotypical Native American on the label. She then addressed why the use of headdresses for events such as Coachella outfits and the Victoria Secret Fashion Show is offensive to Native Americans. She went on to explain how American culture almost fetishizes Native American women, referencing a photo shoot done by Gwen Stefani. Riley described this American culture as having “long been used to dehumanized Native Americans.”

The importance of sacred lands was emphasized by Riley as much of her talk focused on the legal means in which native land was taken by the U.S. government. She explained how the taken land was not seen as an issue by anyone but the Native Americans themselves. Since she specializes in native law, she went on to explain a few landmark cases involving native lands: Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) and Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903). Both of these cases led to colonists infringing on Native American land.

Riley also referenced the recent burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and how much the reaction to losing that sacred place differed from the reaction of losing the sacred land of indigenous peoples, such as the Standing Rock Indian Reservation threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Riley concluded her talk on a more uplifting note, mentioning a few current court cases that are in favor of Native Americans. The final slide of her presentation included a photograph of her hometown, and she explained the concept of Jagenagenon. Jagenangenon is “all my relations,” Riley explained, meaning that we are all connected, including all two-legged and four-legged creatures.

Following her lecture, a question and answer session took place where members of the audience had the opportunity to ask Riley more specific questions. During this time, the audience inquired about Native Americans’ relationship with African Americans and slavery, the ins and outs of the Indian Court System, and more.

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