Skip to main content

April 2023

Hills with wildflowers

Hills with wildflowers

Santa Clara University to Host Native American Symposium on Challenges of the Federal Recognition Process

Educational symposium to discuss federal recognition of Native People

SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 25, 2023— Santa Clara University (SCU) announces its inaugural Native American Symposium for Friday, May 5, 2023, the day before SCU’s 3rd annual Powwow. 

This newly developed symposium is being planned in collaboration with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area and co-presented by SCU’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, de Saisset Museum, Community Heritage Lab, and Center for the Arts and Humanities. The symposium is just one component of the University’s ongoing collaboration with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and is intended to bring greater dialogue and civic engagement to the campus community and regional community. SCU sees the importance of providing a space in which Native leaders and community members come together with academics and others to explore themes and issues important to Native community partners; a responsibility that is important for all Bay Area institutions. 

This year’s Santa Clara University Native American Symposium is titled, “Challenges of the Federal Recognition Process.” The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is not federally recognized, which is true for many of California’s Native American tribes that were colonized into the mission system, as well as other tribal communities whose ancestral territories are located throughout present-day California.

“We’re so pleased to partner with Santa Clara University on what we hope is just the first of many events where we can raise awareness and interest in our Muwekma Ohlone history and culture and the issues concerning Native People here in the Bay Area," said Charlene Nijmeh, Chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. “Federal recognition is vital for future Muwekma to stay here in our tribal land and I’m glad that this symposium will discuss what we and other tribes face as we seek to have our homeland acknowledged and protected.”

During the May 5 symposium, audiences will hear from Tribal Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh; learn about the history of Bay Area indigenous peoples from SCU’s Dr. Lee Panich, Associate Professor of Anthropology; and gain a greater understanding of the federal recognition process and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe’s efforts to re-establish their federal recognition from Alan Leventhal, the Tribe’s ethnohistorian, and Emeritus Lecturer at San José State University, and Dr. Les Field, Professor of Ethnology at the University of New Mexico. Native American Coalition for Change, an SCU student group, will also participate in the program, with their President providing opening remarks and a later panel discussion will bring together the aforementioned speakers as well as regional experts and academics to reflect on the process of federal recognition. 

Santa Clara University is located on the ancestral homeland of the Ohlone and Muwekma Ohlone people and the site of Mission Santa Clara, the eighth of the 21 Alta California missions established by Franciscan padres. This symposium builds upon the efforts of the university in recent years to better address the history and legacy of the lands upon which the university was founded and to continue building a stronger partnership with local Indigenous communities in the spirit of reconciliation. 

As a Jesuit institution rooted in our tradition and values, and stewards of this land, SCU has a responsibility to not only acknowledge but also to reflect, learn, and engage with our Indigenous communities. 

In addition to the adoption of a land acknowledgment, SCU has held annual Indigenous Peoples Day events since 2018, and established the Ohlone History Working Group which delivered its report in 2020 resulting in several immediate changes on campus and other initiatives that continue to this day including: In Fall 2022, on Indigenous Peoples Day, SCU announced the launch of the Ohlone and Muwekma Ohlone Student Scholarship Fund; a scholarship open to all Native students regardless of their tribe’s federal recognition status, an important distinction from Native student scholarships offered at other universities.

“As Santa Clara University continues on a path of reconciliation and dialogue, our plan is that the Native American Symposium model will become an annual event,” said Raymond V. Plaza, Ph.D., senior director of the SCU Office for Diversity and Inclusion. “We look forward to future collaboration with our Native community partners to address topics that are most important to them.”

The May 5th symposium is structured as an all-day event starting at 9:30 a.m. with sessions running through 4:30 p.m., followed by a reception. The event is free and guests are welcome to attend throughout the day as their schedules permit. The entire program will be held in SCU’s Louis B. Mayer Theatre and via live stream. Guests are encouraged to pre-register on Eventbrite. 

To register:

All registered attendees have the option of attending in person or via live streaming. A link to the live stream will be shared closer to the event.

About Santa Clara University

Founded in 1851, Santa Clara University sits in the heart of Silicon Valley—the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial region. The University’s stunningly landscaped 106-acre campus is home to the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Ranked among the top 15 percent of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, SCU has among the best four-year graduation rates in the nation and is rated by PayScale in the top 1 percent of universities with the highest-paid graduates. SCU has produced elite levels of Fulbright Scholars as well as four Rhodes Scholars. With undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, and graduate programs in six disciplines, the curriculum blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in the tradition of Jesuit, Catholic education. For more information see 

Symposium Contacts: Dr. Ray Plaza, Senior Director, Office for Diversity & Inclusion | | (408) 551-3383; Lauren Baines, Interim Director, de Saisset Museum | | (408) 554-2741

SCU Media Contact: Lisa Robinson, Associate Director, Communications | | (408) 551-3601

Culture, Diversity, Press Release
Recent Headlines