The University of New Mexico's Native American Studies (NAS) department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. To mark the event, the NAS hosts its 16th annual Viola F. Cordova Symposium Wednesday, Feb. 19, starting at 10 a.m. in the Student Union Building Ballroom C. Former NAS coordinator Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, an American historian, writer, and activist, will give the keynote address. The event is free and open to the public. 

The symposium begins with opening remarks from department chair and professor Tiffany Lee (Diné and Lakota), followed by reflections on the origins of NAS at UNM, NAS student research poster presentations, a roundtable discussion about the future of NAS and Indigenous studies, and a presentation by the NAS Alumni Connections to Community.

Dunbar-Ortiz is an author and professor emerita of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Hayward. She has had a long career as an activist and educator and is the author of several books about Native American issues and history. 

The NAS began in the 1970s, as other minority groups have, when Native Americans, African Americans, Chicanos, and women called for more inclusive classes that reflected more than the traditional Eurocentric male perspective of history. 

Kiva Club
Kiva Club

Native American Studies started due to student demand and activism. Students demanded UNM be more inclusive of Native people’s histories, experiences and perspectives,” Lee explained, adding that the Kiva Club, a group of Native American students formed in 1952, is credited as the student organization that brought the NAS to fruition.

The focus today is on leadership and community-building, she said, and is committed to Indigenous academic scholarship and research excellence.

“Our students learn about the present-day issues that continuously affect our communities and are trained with skills to address them through research, writing, policy analysis, and innovative collaborations,” Lee explained.

Each year, NAS holds a symposium in honor of Viola Cordova, the first Native American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and a UNM professor. Cordova was Jicarilla Apache. She wrote How It Is: A Native American Creation Story and Who We Are, a book about Native American identity. Cordova passed away suddenly in 2002 and the symposium honors her every year.

“We are excited that our invited presenters will share the evolution of NAS from its origins to reflections on the future of NAS at UNM and beyond,” Lee said.

For more information about the symposium, call 505-277-3917 or email