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Returning to Her Ancestral Roots


Returning to Her Ancestral Roots

Elizabeth Archuleta
: Assistant Professor of English,
University of New Mexico
Education: Ph.D. and M.A., English, Pennsylvania
State University; B.A., English, summa cum laude, Westminster College
Age: 45

Dr. Elizabeth Archuleta (Yaqui/Chicana) never got used to Pennsylvania during her graduate years at Penn State. “Too much green,” she says with a laugh. Her heart was in the desert. An assistant professorship at the University of New Mexico’s English department in 2002 allowed her to return to her heart’s love and ancestral roots. Her Yaqui and Chicano grandparents married and raised their children in New Mexico, so she feels a special connection to the region and its large American Indian population.

After finishing her undergraduate work, Archuleta started teaching students at Penn State while she worked on her master’s and doctorate. As she worked with students, she grew to love teaching and gained an interest in research.

She admits she wasn’t “one who planned much” when it came to her career. “It just kinda happened,” she says. But her seemingly nonchalant comments belie a deeply intuitive nature. Archuleta’s research on contemporary indigenous women authors goes beyond the analysis of traditional Western literature. She says she thinks looking at these authors’ work from a solely traditional perspective tends to miss the rich political, historical and social aspects of the writing. American Indian women, in particular, write more for others, motivated by the need to correct history and honor the memory of their families and tribes, Archuleta says.

“Dr. Archuleta is just simply superb in all the areas expected from an academic:  her scholarship is not only sound, it is a real contribution to the field of Native American studies, particularly regarding law and literature,” says Dr. Gail Houston, director of women’s studies at UNM and Archuleta’s mentor. Houston predicts that Archuleta’s forthcoming book Indigenous Feminisms will become a standard text for American Indian feminists.

The wisdom of Archuleta’s approach is borne out by her numerous publications and awards, including the Julie Keleher/Telfair Hendon Award for distinguished achievements by untenured professors. Archuleta has been published in the Wicazo Sa Review; the Indigenous People’s Journal of Law, Culture, and Resistance; the American Indian Quarterly and others. In 2007, her article “I Give You Back, Indigenous Women Writing to Survive,” will be published in the journal Studies in American Indian Literatures.

When it comes to passing on career advice to the next generation of academics, Archuleta suggests finding and holding on to a mentor within the department. She says it was the best piece of advice she received as a student.

“Let them know how you’re doing, help them keep track of you,” she says. A mentor can answer important questions about department politics, tenure, research and other important issues. The second-best bit of advice she has been given, she says, was to learn to say, “No,” at least to faculty. Being one of just a few American Indian faculty members tends to set one up for numerous requests to serve on committees, she says.

he does, however, admit feeling a sense of duty to be available to students, especially American Indians. “There are so few of us in academia that I want to be there for them, to advise, offer a shoulder to lean on,” she says.

Challenged by work and family demands, it took 10 years for Archuleta to finish her undergraduate degree; the first person in her family to do so. As a result, she says she feels a special kinship with American Indian students struggling to stay in school, “I don’t want them to walk away because someone said ‘no’ to them.”

Archuleta says her mother was a great role model for persistence and dignity. A single parent, she raised three daughters while on welfare and working in a low-paying accounting job. Her mother instilled in her a responsibility to give back to the community and recognize her heritage by valuing her culture and spirituality. “She taught us our place in the world,” Archuleta says.

Archuleta will be embarking on a new adventure as she joins the Women and Gender Studies Department at Arizona State University in Fall 2007.

— By Mary Annette Pember

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