Participant Bios

Air, Water, Land 

Native/Indigenous, Black, and Afro-Descendent Relationalities and Activism 

November 3 – 4, 2021 

Symposium Coordinators

Erin Beck is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon. Her research focuses on Latin American politics, gender and development, violence against women, and access to justice, with particular country expertise in Guatemala. Currently she is collaborating on a project examining the impacts of violence against women reforms for indigenous, poor, and/or marginalized women in Guatemala. Prof. Beck also serves as an expert witness on asylum cases related to gender-based violence in Guatemala.

Kirby Brown is an Associate Professor of Native American Literature and Cultural Production in the Department of English and Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Oregon. An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, his research and teaching interests include Native American literary, intellectual, and cultural production from the late eighteenth century to the present; Indigenous critical theory; and studies in sovereignty/self-determination, nationhood/nationalism, genre, and modernism. Kirby’s recently published book, Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Cherokee Writing, 1907-1970, examines how four Cherokee writers variously remembered, imagined, and enacted Cherokee nationhood in the period between Oklahoma statehood in 1907 and tribal reorganization in the early 1970s. New research projects include essays on the politics of form in the short fiction of Ruth Muskrat Bronson, edited collections on Indigenous modernisms with Modernism/modernity journal and Routledge Press, and continuing work in Native American and Cherokee studies.

Charise Cheney is the Director of the Black Studies Program and an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies. Her research interests focus on black popular and political cultures, Black nationalist ideologies and practices, and gender and sexuality.  Cheney’s first book Brothers Gonna Work it Out: Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism (2005) situates the politicized rap music of the late-1980s to the early-1990s within the historical tradition of black nationalist thought. She is currently completing a second monograph called Blacks against Brown:  The Black Anti-Integration Movement in Topeka, Kansas, 1941-1954. It documents the intra-racial conflict among black Topekans over the city’s Jim Crow education system. When black civil rights activists began challenging the Topeka School Board’s segregationist policy during the 1940s, they faced opposition with the city’s black communities. The School Board operationalized the separate-but-equal Plessy standard in Topeka schools. Their unusual approach to Jim Crow schools facilitated black support for segregated schools. Many black parents and alumni valued all-black learning environments for black children. Cheney’s third work-in-progress examines black and white Americans’ imaginings of “Africa” and “African culture.” By focusing on West African dance and drum classes, camps, and cultural immersions, she interrogates how Western projections of “Africa” and “Africans” are framed by and fantasized through racial, ethnic, gender and sexual lenses. It also explores how Western consumption of “African” drum and dance not only influences African cultural performances, but also shapes economic opportunities for African cultural workers both in the U.S. and abroad.   

Lynn Stephen is Philip H. Knight Chair and Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Anthropology, and a participating faculty member in Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies, Latin American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She founded the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS, and served as director for 9 years (2007-2016). She served as President Elect, President, and Past President of the 12,000 member Latin  American Studies Association from 2017-2020. Her research focuses on immigration, asylum and gendered asylum in the U.S., gendered violence, transborder communities, Indigenous social movements, social justice, Indigenous immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Mexico, and Central America, and Latinx community histories in the Northwest. Stephen has authored or edited 14 books, three special journal issues and over 90  scholarly articles and chapters in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Stephen has been awarded grants and fellowships the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard, the NSF, NEH, and other sources. Her publications have won book prizes from Anthropology and Latin American Studies professional associations. Her 2013 book, We are the Face of Oaxaca: Testimony and Social Movements, won the 2014 Society for the Anthropology of North America (SANA) book prize. Her latest books include: Stories that Make History: Mexico through Elena Poniatowska’s Crónicas (Duke University Press, 2021) and Indigenous Women and Violence: Feminist Activist Research in Heightened States of Injustice, coedited with Shannon Speed (University of Arizona Press, 2021)

Panel One: AIR

Kari Marie Norgaard is Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at University of Oregon where she thinks and writes about the intersections of climate change, emotions, tribal environmental justice, gender, colonialism, health, race and climate denial.

Ron and Kari have been working together on policy-relevant research on tribal environmental health since 2003. Together they have co-supervised over a dozen undergraduate theses and co-authored half a dozen articles and book chapters.

Ron Reed is a traditional Karuk dipnet fisherman who served for over a decade as the Cultural Biologist for the Karuk Tribe. Ron Reed comes from a long and prominent family of traditional spiritual leaders and cultural practitioners, and is the father of six children. Ron has long been an important tribal spokesperson communicating the cultural and health impacts of river and forest mismanagement to audiences around the world. At home Ron works to restore Karuk culture and society through reconnecting people, especially tribal youth, to the natural world.

His work has been featured in prominent news outlets around the world including National Geographic, National Public Radio and High Country News.

Ryan Reed is Karuk, Hupa and Yurok, from Northern California. He’s a senior at the University of Oregon studying Environment Studies, and Native American Studies. Ryan grew up practicing and participating in cultural ceremonies, pikyavish (World Renewal Ceremony) and other traditional ceremony(ies), and activities such as fishing, hunting, gathering and other culturally significant acts. His participation includes, but not limited to, commitment and dedication to his
tribal/Native communities.

Valentín Sánchez is from San Juan Cahuayaxi, Oaxaca, Mexico, and speaks Mixteco as his native language. He emigrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of 12 years old. Mr. Sanchez is a Community Educator with the Oregon Law Center’s Farmworker Program, assisting in intake, outreach, and in every phase of litigation in collaboration with attorneys. His deep understanding of farmworker issues, e.g., language access, the impact of COVID-19, pesticides, employer-provided labor housing, wages, and other employment-related issues, makes him a valuable and effective farmworker advocate. He serves on the State of Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force, whose goal is to provide guidance and recommendations to the state’s natural resources agencies and the Governor’s Office on Environmental Justice issues. Furthermore, he has developed many worker’s rights educational materials in various languages, such as Mixteco, Triqui, Zapoteco, Mam, and other indigenous languages, and conducts various outreach activities. During the past 12 months, he has spoken with numerous farmworkers regarding their experiences living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panel Two: WATER

Lofanitani Aisea is a (Black, Tongan, Klamath, Modoc and Tahlequah, Digital Creator, Model, Actor, Activist, in the Margin Ensemble member, and UO alumni.

 J’reyesha Brannon (she/her) is a Black/Filipina woman and lifelong Oregonian, where half of her family has lived since the 1940’s. She is a civil/environmental engineering alumni from University of Portland (’15). J’reyesha currently works as a design engineer and project manager for the City of Portland, where she has worked on a variety of water infrastructure projects: sewers, potable water distribution, facility upgrades, and reservoirs. She is passionate about environmental justice and inclusion for communities of color, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Outside of work she is an avid volunteer, currently holding roles in a variety of community and civic organizations – NAACP Environmental Justice Chair, President Elect of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Portland Professionals, Metro Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee etc.

Jessica T. Brown is a Guyanese American integrative artist, educator, and storyteller based in Eugene, Oregon, on Kalapuya Ilihi. She is a first-year doctoral student in the University of Oregon Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies department, the executive director of Fernland Studios, and a strategic communications consultant. Brown’s research explores settler colonialism, critical environmental justice, and identity in the Guyanese diaspora.

Rachel Cushman  is a direct descendant of Clatsop Chief Wasilta, a primary negotiator and signer of the 1851 Tansy Point treaties. She is the elected Secretary/Treasurer of Chinook Indian Nation. The focus of her tenure is restorative justice. Cushman is committed to ensuring that Chinook Indian Nation exercises sovereignty, practices self-determination and has autonomous control over their narrative and aboriginal territory.

Cushman is also a dedicated leader of the Chinook Canoe Family. She is a lead puller, singer, dancer and in 2019 became a skipper. All her work is grounded in the commitment to preserve and carry-on Chinook’s cultural protocols.

In September 2021 Cushman joined the UO Indigenous Race and Ethnic Studies Department as a member of their inaugural cohort of doctoral students. 

Cushman has been working on environmental justice and Indigenous rights issues for over twenty years. Cushman feels that her most important role, is that of mother. She is the mother of sons Kanim (canoe) and Isik (paddle).


Amber Starks (aka Melanin Mvskoke) is an Afro Indigenous (African-American and Native American) activist, organizer, cultural critic, decolonial theorist, and budding abolitionist. She is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and is also of Shawnee, Yuchi, Quapaw, and   Cherokee descent.

Her passion is the intersection of Black and Native American identity. Her activism seeks to normalize, affirm, and uplift the multidimensional identities of Black and Native peoples through discourse and advocacy around anti-Blackness, abolishing blood quantum, Black liberation, and Indigenous sovereignty.

She hopes to encourage Black and Indigenous peoples to prioritize one another and divest from compartmentalizing struggles. She ultimately believes the partnerships between Black and Indigenous peoples (and all POC) will aid in the dismantling of anti-blackness, white supremacy, and settler colonialism, globally. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in General Science from the University of Oregon. Her pronouns are she/her.

Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, Maya-K’iche’ journalist, activist, and Stanford University visiting professor from Guatemala.  Dr. Velásquez Nimatuj is an international spokeswoman for Indigenous communities in Central America and was the first Maya-K’iche’ woman to earn a doctorate in social anthropology in Guatemala.  Dr. Velásquez Nimatuj was also instrumental in making racial discrimination illegal in Guatemala and is featured in 500 Years, a documentary about Indigenous resistance movements, for her role as an activist and expert witness in war crime trials. Dr. Nimatuj writes a weekly newspaper column for El Periódico de Guatemala and has served on UN Women as a representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. This fall, she joined the Anthropology department, as visiting professor, where she teaches a course about Indigenous women and territories in Latin America. She is part of a long line of struggle and resistance in her community since the Spanish invasion in 1524.  She is the author of the books:  La pequeña Burguesía Comercial de Guatemala: Desigualdades de clasa, raza y género (2003),  Pueblos indígenas, Estado y lucha por tierra en Guatemala: Estrategias de sobrevivencia y negociación ante la desigualdad globalizada (2008), Lunas y Calendarios, colección poesía guatemalteca (2018) and “La Justicia nunca estuvo de nuestro lado” Peritaje cultural sobre conflicto armado y violencia sexual en el caso Sepur Zarco, Guatemala (2019), Doscientos años de Lucha (2021).  In 2020 she was awardee with LASA/Oxfam America Martin Diskin Memorial Lectureship.

Jason Yonker (Many Nations Longhouse, Asst. VP and Advisor to the President on Sovereignty and Government-to-Government Relations)

Panel Three: LAND

Kayla Godowa-Tufti is a Kalapuya and Molalla descendant from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Kayla is a passionate advocate for Indigenous sovereignty and #landback movements, and believes strongly in elevating Kalapuya and Molalla voices, histories, knowledges, and contemporary experiences at the UO, in Eugene, and across the wider Willamette Valley region. Kayla will be speaking on the complex relationships between land acknowledgements, land activism, coalitional politics, and the place of educational institutions in such struggles.

Eddie Hill is the Executive Director of Black Food Northwest. He is an innovator and driver of work at the intersections of food justice, food systems improvement, and BIPOC food economies for Black and Brown People in the Pacific Northwest. Starting as an organic small-acre farmer apprentice in Olympia, WA, he continues to promote and demonstrate how community-based food systems, equity, and green workforce development intersect. He has advocated for innovative environmental and food-based programs and business development for the Black community in the Northwest, helping to launch the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Red Barn Ranch Farms for Tilth Alliance, working at Growing Power with Will Allen, and consulting internationally on urban design, equitable development, and urban farm projects as a food systems planner.

Steph Littlebird is an artist, writer, curator and registered member of Oregon’s Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes. Steph earned her B.F.A. in Painting and Printmaking from the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, Oregon, she currently lives and works in Las Vegas.

Littlebird is known for her vibrant imagery, combining the traditional totem styles of her Indigenous ancestors with contemporary illustration aesthetics. Her work frequently touches upon issues of contemporary tribal identity, cultural survivance, and responsible land stewardship.

Steph has received three grants from the Art + Science Initiative and is the 2020-21  N.O.A.A. National Artist Fellow. Littlebird is also the recent recipient of a writing grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, and her work has been featured by brands like Luna Bar, U.S.P.S. the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, Wells Fargo, and media outlets such as PBS News and ArtNews.

Jakeline Romero Epiayu is a Wayúu woman human rights defender in the department of Guajira, in the northeast of Colombia. Jakeline is part of the organization Sütsuin Jieyuu Wayúu (Force of Wayuu Women), created in 2006 with the aim of visibilising and denouncing violations of the rights of the Wayúu indigenous people, which are a result of the mining megaprojects, forced displacement, the situation of vulnerability of the victims of the armed conflict and the presence of armed groups and the militarization of the Guajira territory. 


This panel is a conversation and Q&A with Isaiah Martinez and Arnold E. Morgan, Jr., African-descended local business owners who have a conscious and conscientious approach to sustainable food systems. Isaiah Martinez is the founder of Yardy Eugene, an Afro-Caribbean food cart that uses local and seasonal food to create dishes with African Diasporic influences. Arnold E. Morgan, Jr. founded Morganic Roots, a company that cultivates sustainable landscapes with a keen awareness of regenerative land practices and food production.

Isaiah Martinez is the chef and founder of Yardy Eugene. He is a third-generation American with roots in Puerto Rico and Grenada. A native New Yorker and graduate of The Art Institute of California-San Francisco, Martinez merges modern and classical cooking techniques with regional and seasonal foodstuffs. His approach to Slow Food and farm-to-table cooking is inspired by his Afro-Caribbean background.

Julius McGee is an Assistant Professor in Sociology. His scholarship focuses on the relationship between social inequality and climate change. He has also published on topics related to organic farming, renewable energy, global urban development, and transportation. His most recent work explores how mass incarceration contributes to climate change.

Arnold E Morgan Jr. 

Arnold E Morgan Jr. Is a naturalist born in Eugene Oregon, where he grew up playing basketball and helping his father with his landscaping business. He graduated from University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor in Marketing. In PR, he started changing his lifestyle, the way he ate, and the way he looked at life. From there, Morganic Roots Eco Firm was developed – a firm that specializes in Education, EcoScaping, Installation and Design. He takes pride in his work, bringing nature to the city and sharing knowledge and opportunities to all no matter color or economic status. On his journey he has gathered a Horticulture, Permaculture and Advance Permaculture Certificate from Oregon State University, where he now grades assignments for the Permaculture Design Course. He is also fully licensed as a Landscape Contractor here in the state of Oregon. The world is his canvas as he sees himself as someone that can help in many different places. Arnold, also known by many as JR, loves to travel, learn new things, be in nature, and spend time with family. For more information and photos of his work please check out