Taino Leaders Share Experiences at UCLA

Los Angeles, CA (UCTP Taino News) - During the weekend of January 14th Boriken Taino community leader, Grandmother Naniki Reyes Ocasio took a trip from the island to Los Angeles to join DeAnna M. Sarobei Rivera, one of the UCTP's two California Liaison Officers, in attending a conference on indigenous peoples' cultural resource management. The conference, Sharing Interpretations of California History, took place on the land of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which happens to be the tribe responsible for starting Professor Rivera's program at UCLA, the Tribal Learning Community & Educational Exchange (TLCEE).

Grandmother Naniki came to the LA area both to attend this conference and to speak with UCLA students who have been doing research on behalf of the UCTP. At the conference, Grandmother Naniki was greeted by UCTP Liaison Officer John Hu'acan Vidal and several California indigenous community members. Many of the topics, though often California specific, included the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the protection of indigenous peoples' knowledge from outside researchers. Much of the discussion was related to Taíno concerns and Grandmother Naniki kept saying, "it's so nice to be at a conference that I didn't have to plan!" One thing she did do for the conference, however, was supply the gifts for the presenters – each one received a bag of Café Oroco, grown on Grandmother Naniki's land.

To see some of the speakers' remarks and presentations, visit the TLCEE web site in the coming weeks (www.tlcee.ucla.edu).

After the conference weekend, Grandmother Naniki met and had lunch with the UCLA law students to talk about their work. One of the students, Eric Sanchez, wrote extensively about California models of indigenous cultural resource management the Taíno could borrow from and tailor for our own purposes. Sandy Chang, a new student to the project, learned more about the community's issues and about the Occupation of Caguana Ceremonial Site in August 2005.

Apart from meeting with the law students, Grandmother Naniki joined brother Hu'acan Vidal in a conversation with UCLA undergraduate and graduate students about indigenous education. One of the interesting notes from the discussion was when Grandmother Naniki asked one of the students, Leticia Miranda, if she could borrow her phrase, "language reclamation." As Ms. Miranda described the phrase, it included the idea that our indigenous languages were taken from us. Unlike the word "revitalize," which implies the language simply died off on its own and we are now bringing it back to life, "reclamation" sets out the reality that there was a taking and now we are taking the languages back.

A lot of sharing and learning occurred over Grandmother Naniki's visit. Her company was indeed a blessing and a reminder of all the amazing work we all have ahead of us.

The UCTP Liaisons also noted with great appreciation the assistance of Jennifer Leal, for paying such close attention to Grandmother Naniki's needs during her visit to LA.