Thomas Holm retired from the UA in 2009 after three decades of teaching. He returns to campus on Thursday, April 25, as the final speaker in the Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series. The series is sponsored by the American Indian Studies Program, which Holm helped develop in 1982, and reflects on the late Deloria's contributions as an American Indian scholar and activist. Holm's talk starts at 6 p.m. at the UA's Center for Creative Photography. Admission is free. For more information, call 621-7108 or visit ais.arizona.edu.
You were the keynote speaker for this series in 2011 at the Northwest Indian College (in Washington state). How does it feel to return with it to the UA?
That's going to be fun. All of (the speakers) are very strong advocates for Indian policy change. Suzan Harjo came back (this year) and she was actually the first Deloria scholar. ...We started this program with the notion that these folks are advocates and professors and scholars, kind of combining these disciplines. I'm happy to be a part of that now.
Do you see the series as more of an extension, or reflection, of your time in education?
What I saw it as when we first kicked it off was an extension of (Deloria's) legacy, bringing in... Native scholars who are still in the trenches. It's a reflection on the past, but it's also an attempt to stimulate those people who are in American Indian Studies to take up research that is very relevant and helpful to the tribes.
What will be the focus of your talk this year?
I really want to talk about those early years and (Deloria's) ideas, and then maybe introduce folks to a few stories about him and what we were doing at the time. I'm a pretty good storyteller. We had a weekly meeting in Vine's office; we'd talk about everything from the French Revolution to UFOs. That was as stimulating of an environment for learning as I've ever been in.
Is Deloria's legacy more about a resurgence of community and trying to bring people together to talk about these subjects again?
That's what I'm going to advocate. We've got to get back to this community of scholars—the idea that we can sit and talk and expand on notions.
You've been published more than 50 times and have served on numerous boards for Native American Studies. Is it difficult to condense those experiences into a talk like this one?
Not really. If I talk about that stuff, I feel like I'm bragging and I cut it off! Looking back, there are some really meaningful experiences. ... Maybe now I'm glad I'm out of academia, so I can go around and pontificate about how good it was!
Do you prefer speaking or writing for educating people?
What I prefer is storytelling. Even though I've had classes about policy, about religion, and things can be very broad, Native knowledge looks at things holistically. So what I try to do is become versed in all of these areas. The best thing that I've ever done in class is tell relevant stories.
What can the Indigenous Scholars Series offer to people unacquainted with the American Indian Studies program?
I hope that we can spark interest and that people will come. I have a feeling that (the budget) is decreasing every year. Hopefully we'll get a good solid attendance, and maybe we can get the administration and people interested in this kind of thing. I'm hoping that it will make people realize that (ethnic studies) are important.
What are your hopes for the future of programs like American Indian Studies?
Obviously, funding is the most important thing. The second thing, though, is to get the understanding from the powers that be that these programs are disciplines in and of themselves. I would really like to see others believing that we're genuine and relevant, instead of a tributary of a real or traditional discipline.