IndigenoUs Northern Virginia

In 2023, the CHR began work on a new public humanities project thanks to a $50,000 seed grant from Mason’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (ARIE) Task Force, in partnership with the Office of Research Innovation and Economic Impact and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Sara Jefferson, photo credit Wayne K. Thomas

“IndigenoUs Northern Virginia: Activating Local and Diasporic Native Identities at Mason" seeks to indigenize learning at GMU by empowering student leadership through community partnerships with Native peoples and communities in NOVA.

Northern Virginia has long been the destination of migrants from both Central and South America, which has led to the development of robust Latinx communities in the region, and which is reflected in Mason’s diverse student body. But these identities are complicated, shaped both, but not always equally, by a relationship to national homelands (Bolivia, El Salvador, Peru, etc.) and to an indigenous ancestry. “IndigenoUs Northern Virginia” will bring the Mason community into contact with site-specific and community-based indigenous knowledge and history to activate a too-often submerged Native American presence on our campus and in our region. From the Doeg and Piscataway ancient lands on which we live, to the intertribal American Indian population and the dynamic diasporic Latin American indigenous communities that persist in the present, Northern Virginia is a Native place.

To make this deep history visible and meaningful, “IndigenoUs Northern Virginia” will create opportunities for experiential place-based learning through site visits to sacred and historic indigenous sites; inspire deep discussions on campus through native knowledge round table dialogues; and incorporate and foster these objectives through ongoing work at the Public History Lab and a series of existing courses on these topics. Taken together, these activities will enable an exploration of identity for Mason students, faculty, and staff who are interested in indigeneity in the broadest sense. Furthermore, this knowledge has the capacity to foster respect across categories of difference, and in so doing to foster a culture of anti-racism.

This public humanities project will take place over the 2023-2024 academic year under the direction of Professor Gabrielle Tayac (PI),  Hayley Madl (GRA), Professors Alison Landsberg and Mills Kelly (co-PIs), and Catherine Olien (Project Manager) bringing together the resources of both CHR and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM).

This project began with a Summer Research Institute of students who connected with diverse indigenous communities in NOVA through experiential listening and dialogue. These community partners included the Piscataway people, Barrios Unidos, Indigenous Andean Worlds in Northern Virginia, Intertribal Cultures and Community, and the International Mayan League. The purpose of this institute was to develop recommendations for engaged course-learning, reciprocal community service, and student development at Mason.

Student Researchers 

Fatma Fareha: I am currently a third-year student pursuing a degree in anthropology. My research interests include exploring the cultures and perspectives of indigenous communities, investigating religious practices, studying warfare and conflict throughout history, and delving into various issues in prehistory. I also have an interest in linguistic anthropology.

Domi Hannon: I am a fifth-year undergraduate student originally from Puyallup, Muckleshoot, and Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla-Walla lands (Washington State) with my ancestors arriving recently to Turtle Island from Ireland. I am a poet and artist. I find the most joy working with the communities I have become apart of here at George Mason, namely the Native American and Indigenous Alliance, which I have been Internal President of and continue to be Treasurer. I am greatly interested in community allyship and using my critical analysis skills to further enhance and protect Indigenous histories, lives, and cultures. I find great strength in the work I am doing now and in the future from my friends and found family as well as my ancestors, lineal and adoptive.

Vick Maddox: I've been in higher education since 2015, studying subjects across the spectrum. Prior to GMU, I was part of an ASL Interpretation program. I joined GMU with a Systems Engineering major, but switched to Integrative Studies after finding that the program did not leave room to bring knowledge from Humanities alongside STEM fields. My own background is very mixed. I am not tribally affiliated, but also do not come from a Western cultural background.

Ethan Mercado: My name is Ethan Mercado (he/him) and I am a rising Senior from Woodbridge, Virginia. Of Quechua descent, I serve as an Officer of George Mason University's Native American & Indigenous Alliance. Some of my interests include music, art, and nature. On any given day, you can find me watching birds with kombucha in hand. In the future, I hope to work in voiceover, research, and social work.

Eric Nelson: I'm a recently graduated alumni working towards a career in tribal relations. I'm the former Vice President of GMU's Native American and Indigenous Alliance, holding a Major in communications and a minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies. In my spare time I enjoy lifting.

Griffin Park: I am from Alexandria, VA, and currently attending GMU as a junior transfer student from Northern Virginia Community College. I am also a geography major and a proud member of the Native American and Indigenous Alliance (NAIA) on campus. In my free time I enjoy music, reading, basketball, and socializing with friends and family.

Pari Sabti: I was born and raised in Iran, and moved here when I was fifteen. My first language is Farsi, and I also speak some Korean. In my free time, I like to forage for berries and make jam!

Zo Salgado: I am a 20 year old Lenca person with a background in the different fine arts and 8 years of viola under my belt. I’m an activist for what I believe in and a teacher when asked about the vision needed for people like myself to be seen even more in modern times. I make art and music but even faster cars, all for the people that have given up a lot just for me to have a spot at the table.

Sean Simmons: I was born in Maryland and grew up in Northern Virginia. My undergraduate study focused on Enslavement in Early America alongside minors in music and political philosophy. I love reading and writing, and I am always excited to learn new things and have the things I need to unlearn challenged.

Ruth Tesfaye: I am a first gen Ethiopian-American. I am love music and have a very eclectic music taste. I am an aspiring cultural anthropologist, but I'm also into film and obsessed with animation (although I can't draw). I hope to combine those two in some way in the future.

Nardi Velasquez: I am from Cochabamba, Bolivia and have Quechua ancestry. I currently am a senior at George Mason University and serve as President of UndocuMason. In my free time, I like to play/write music and play volleyball.

Matthew Zilic: I am a recent graduate of GMU and going into my first semester towards my M.A. in history in the fall. My specialty in graduate school will be public history and my other interests of history include European and Middle Eastern history and many other subjects! Other than history, I enjoy reading, playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, and animals.