In answer to the question about my background, at 70 years old, it can be a long discussion, with the things most important often being obscure even to me as life brings changes and different things to focus upon. A brief look today shows the following:
My grandfather raised me beginning in 1949, when I was five. He was a Tsalagi man returning to his own ways, after having lived much of his life in a bi-cultural world. My mother later told me she wanted me to learn his ways, so she gave me to him. I’m glad she did.
After having served as a volunteer in the military in the sixties, in the Far East during the early years of Vietnam, I returned and attended college, receiving a Master’s in Language Arts. This introduced me to the power of language and rhythm in thought and expression, and the beauty of stories.
I lived and worked in Guatemala in the seventies, Hawaii in the eighties, both of which taught me a lot about Indigenous issues and sensibilities, then began teaching full-time at Cabrillo College in ’91.
I wrote a book back in ‘91, called Sam Woods American Healing, which a good Chiricahua friend calls a Tsalagi perspective, though it is not about Tsalagi perspective at all. I felt there were too many books about Indigenous thought at the time, so I didn’t want to enter that fray. It wasn’t the way I was brought up. A literature instructor at Cabrillo College read the book and insisted that I had to take over the Native American Literature class Cabrillo was then offering. I accepted his offer, and I’ve been teaching that class ever since, over twenty years now.
During that time, I also taught in American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and worked in Oakes College Core classes for some years, where I brought Indigenous curriculum and speakers. I also taught numerous Critical Thinking classes around Indigenous issues at Cabrillo over the years, and was co-director of the Puente Program at Cabrillo for six years, a writing-intensive program for the Chicano community. I currently also speak in other classes consistently and help host forums on Indigenous issues across campus, since Indigenous issues are largely ignored in mainstream education, in my opinion, much to everyone’s loss.
For many years, I’ve brought members of the Santa Cruz Indian council into classes, and Dr. Darryl “Babe” Wilson has been a guest speaker and participant in my classes for a very long time. Dr. Wilson is one of the most significant Indigenous writers of our time, and I take every opportunity to expose students and faculty to his ideas and writing and stories. He has also participated in our Social Justice Conference, another forum in which we seek to include Indigenous issues.
Over time, I’ve also had the opportunity to work outside the academic community as well, focusing on different Indigenous land and human rights issues to the best of my abilities, including current concerns about Mission curriculum given to California’s fourth-graders. I’ve met many wonderful, committed and concerned people in these movements, and am currently an active member of HoDahTen Wellness Circle, an Indigenous group advocating for Indigenous peoples through speaking, hosting speakers, supporting land and human rights issues, veterans’ issues, and through maintaining traditional ceremony, which is for me, the root of it all.