For the first time, Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., has co-awarded the Reverend Louis Gaffney, SJ, Endowed Chair in the College of Arts and Sciences. Christina Roberts, PhD, and Rob Efird, PhD, will work within the theme: dᶻixᵂ dxᵂɁugᵂusaϮ tiɁǝɁ swatixᵂtǝd “The Earth is Our First Teacher”: Celebrating the Legacy of taqwšəblu Vi Hilbert and Honoring Sacred Relationships with Coast Salish Lands in the academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23. This endowed chair is made possible by Seattle University Jesuit community and promotes issues germane to the Jesuit mission and identity of the faith that does justice and supports the Jesuit ideal of teaching.
"We are deeply honored and grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary person and legacy of taqwšəblu Vi Hilbert,” said Dr. Roberts and Dr. Efird. “In the wake of a pandemic that has distanced us from one another, we envision this as an opportunity to not only connect with the land, but to re-connect with one another in a process of healing through community. We are excited to work closely with existing partners to plan and provide Seattle University students, staff, and faculty with meaningful opportunities to engage with and learn from local Indigenous peoples concerning issues of ecological stewardship that impact all of us."
“My congratulations to Dr. Roberts and Dr. Efird,” said David V. Powers, PhD, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This appointment recognizes their contributions to teaching and scholarship connected to our local Indigenous people and to building authentic connection between them and our university community. Their proposal is an example of the College’s commitment to centering the margins as outlined in the College’s 2020-25 Strategic Plan.”
Over the course of the next two academic years, the co-chairs will closely consult and collaborate with Indigenous partners to produce programming that engages students, staff, and faculty across our university community.
Dr. Christina Roberts, Nakoda and Aaniiih Nations, is the inaugural Director of the Indigenous Peoples Institute; Associate Director, Matteo Ricci Institute; and Associate Professor, English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She earned her doctorate in English with specialization in Native American Literature, Early to Nineteenth-Century American Literature, Postcolonial Theory, and Ecocriticism at the University of Arizona. At Seattle U, she received the 2018-2019 James B. McGoldrick Fellowship, 2016 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, 2010 Spirit of Community Faculty Award, and 2009-2010 Service-Learning Faculty Fellowship. Her courses demonstrate the importance of detailed analysis and offer students the opportunity to engage in provocative discussions about social justice issues. She recently received a Leadership Award from the Native Action Network alongside 17 other Indigenous women who completed a 10-month long Legacy of Leadership Cohort program that “nurtures community leaders and advocates that serve Native populations across Washington.”
Rob Efird, PhD, Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies, received his doctorate in Socio-cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington. He served as chair of the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work from 2013 to 2016. He is the co-creator of Seattle University’s taqᵂšǝblu Vi Hilbert Ethnobotanical Garden, which showcases the relationship between Lushootseed language-speaking peoples and the native plants of our southern Salish Sea region. Recent awards include National Committee on U.S.-China Relations Public Intellectual Program Fellow (2014-2016) and Fulbright Senior Research Scholar-China (2011-2012) His current research is focused on children’s environmental learning both in China and here in the Pacific Northwest, and his most recent publication is “Nature for Nurture in Urban Chinese Childrearing” in the edited volume Greening East Asia (UW Press, 2020).
From Their Proposal
Through our connection to the extraordinary person and legacy of taqwšəblu Vi Hilbert, we in the Seattle University community have a unique opportunity to deepen our engagement with local Indigenous peoples and build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships that embody the core Jesuit values of our institution. This joint application builds upon existing relationships and offers a two-year framework for enhancing the connections between the Seattle University community and local Indigenous peoples.
As Gaffney Co-Chairs, we will make the most of this opportunity by collaboratively creating and implementing two years of powerful, inclusive, and intentional programming focused on honoring the life and work of Vi Hilbert and raising up the sensitive and sustainable relationships that local Indigenous peoples have developed with the land. Before and during this two-year period, we will work closely with existing partners to plan and provide Seattle University students, staff, and faculty with meaningful opportunities to engage with and learn from local Indigenous peoples concerning issues of ecological stewardship that impact all of us.
In addition to elevating Indigenous voices, we envision this conversation as a locally grounded response to Pope Francis’ appeal in Laudato Si’ “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” In this conversation, Francis emphasizes that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners.” We envision a series of such conversations, events that respectfully showcase the cultural traditions and ecological roles of Coast Salish peoples and pay special heed to Lushootseed, the language of the land, and Vi Hilbert’s lifelong commitment to “reawaken” it. In doing so, we will link SU’s mission and identity with carefully designed programs that inspire members of our university community to, in the words of Pope Francis, “care for our common home.” We will also honor Louis Gaffney, SJ’s memory at a challenging time for Seattle U, particularly his spirit of “contagious optimism” during difficult economic circumstances and declining enrollments.
This contagious optimism is reflected in our plans to engage the campus community and beyond with the life-sustaining knowledge we all need to address urgent and timely issues in our shared region and beyond. When Upper Skagit elder taqwšəblu Vi Hilbert helped us to create the Seattle University ethnobotanical garden that bears her name, she gave us a phrase in Lushootseed that expresses the relationship between Indigenous people and the land: “The earth is our first teacher”. To honor Vi’s memory and the sensitive, sustainable relationship between Lushootseed peoples and the land, we offer this phrase as the guiding theme of our term as Gaffney Co-Chairs. As events are scheduled, they will be listed on the program website.