Deserea Langley, local Susanville resident, was one of four recipients awarded the 14th annual Rodney T. Matthews Jr. Scholarship program for California Indians for 2018. Langley, who currently studies at UC Davis, took the time to speak with the Times.
Langley discussed her education, research and personal experience. She gave insight into local and at-large, Native American history and experiences. She shed light on how her research ties into that history and the research of her mentors.
Langley’s Ph.D. research is in Native American studies, but she started her higher education at Lassen College, receiving her associates in social science in 2011, while also participating in softball. Her journey took her to Sacramento State, where she received her bachelors in social sciences, with a minor in Native American studies and history.
Not only does her work connect her to her home, Langley’s research is also a personal means to cultural revitalization and healing of intergenerational trauma. She has her goals set to become a mentor and energize youth through education and hopes to work as a higher education program coordinator.
As the current vice president of the Native American Graduate Student Association, its former president of two years and as the coordinator of the Native American Studies Graduate Student Symposium, Langley expressed the importance of “making a connection to people in Indian country.”
Because of the nature of her studies, she is encouraged to engage the local community to foster relationships and build connections.
“By connecting with community members, you’re not only educating yourself in the academic realm, but also educating yourself on a community level, because many of these community members have experienced some of these processes of dislocation, dispossession of the land or even reclaiming land and a revitalized language,” said Langley.
With only two universities in the nation (UC Davis and Arizona State University) offering a doctorate degree in Native American studies, Langley made the choice to study at Davis.
Langley said, “My mentor, professor Annette Reed, actually encouraged me to apply … at UC Davis,” but divulged the monumental stress of applying to the program, “I had about two weeks to apply, which is insane. I do not encourage anybody to do that.”
Many reasons prompted Langley’s choice. With attending Davis came the benefit of going home when she wanted or needed. Attending Davis also meant she could build her research through preceding relationships in the Susanville area. There was also the availability of personal mentors.
Professor Reed’s husband, who became one of her mentors, walked Langley through the application process, giving her ample reason to choose Davis.
When beginning her doctorate program, Langley admitted she didn’t feel academically prepared and mentioned her writing needed improvement. However Langley was up to the challenge.
“As a native student I have encountered many barriers to getting a higher education.”
She mentioned not feeling prepared for what she was getting into, but mentioned she is still “very much improving.”
In the context of educational barriers for Native American students, Langley articulated her experience and pointed to the fact she didn’t have people around who understood or cared what it meant to be a native woman or a person of color.
Steve Robertson, Langley’s high school history teacher, college professor and softball coach, was an important figure for her through her time in Susanville.
Langley spoke about Robertson saying, “He was always valuing my voice and what I brought to the classroom.” He gave her the opportunity to talk personally about native culture and communities.
Langley talked frankly about the history of the American education system and native children saying, “These educational institutions weren’t meant for our success. My grandparents and many older generations were forced to go to boarding school and assimilate into American society, so you have this idea of education being bad.”
The context of Langley’s research is geared toward the impact of the Dawes Act to Native Americans in the Susanville area, and to share the knowledge with the community. Langley expanded on the Dawes Act itself, which she described as being formally known as the General Allotment Act and similar to the Homestead Act.
Langley described the Dawes Act as “a way to assimilate Indian people to these western ideals. It granted Indian heads of households about 160 acres to males … and then selling the land to non-Indian, mostly white, purchasers … and to exploitive industries.”
Langley mentioned the legislation changed the way Native Americans govern and familial structures, “When we think about native families, we don’t necessarily think about our family as just being our mother, father and siblings. We tend to think about our aunts and our uncles … it’s really a community. It’s not just this idea of a nuclear family. Everybody in a native community is value and knowledge is shared, so it started to take that away.”
Langley continued to describe how legislation, such as the Dawes Act, altered the land natives had occupied “since time immemorial” describing western agrarian practices as taking away from traditional knowledge of how the natives tended the land.
“Governance in a lot of native communities were matrilineal, so whenever you are granting land to a male head-of-household, what you are saying is that the female has no rights to the land.” To Langley, the move emulated a central message that women were of no value to the settlers.
Langley described the move saying it took away their power and their relationship to the land.
Langley expanded on the idea saying, “In many cases women were the primary tenders of land. Whenever you’re taking that right, you’re imposing the idea the male is responsible for the land and the male is in charge, which is really different in native society … women are really powerful in native societies.”
Langley said, “The whole idea of the Dawes Act was to break up these big tribal societies that held large areas of land. So the way to do that was to grant them individual allotments and sell what (they could).”
Langley detailed that, of the many scholars who research the Dawes Act’s impacts, there has yet to be extensive research of its implementation in northeastern California, with the exception of her other mentor Beth Rose Middleton’s book “Upstream.” The book addresses Maidu allotments and Pacific Gas and Electic’s exploitation of those allotments around Lake Almanor.
Langley elaborated on the contrast of the Dawes Act implementation in northeastern California, which Langley detailed as different than in other areas of the nation.
One key difference, Langley noted was, “Women received allotments in northeastern California.”
Langley detailed the way rocky, inhospitable land was purposefully sold to the natives; land with no access to water and covered by mainly timber. Langley called it, “No place to establish a home site.”
“They were granting land to Indian people so that Indian people would then turn around and sell that land to these exploitive industries and these extractive industries that would ultimately profit off the land,” said Langley, giving her perspective as to why the settlers gave such a deal.
Langley labeled the actions as a form of “economically induced displacement,” whereby “individual Indian allottees would be advised by Indian agents to sell their 160 acres of land and in many cases you see it bought by lumber companies.”
Langley said, “You see a lot of ranching families coming in and purchasing the land, and that leads to further degradation to the land.”
She also detailed the arrival of railroad and the industry brought with it, which Langley said was “ultimately exploiting Indian land for the benefit of the northeastern California economies.”
Langley enjoys sharing how the economy in northeastern California was built on Indian land. Langley drew comparisons to the local legends such as Westwood’s Paul Bunyan, conveying discontent concerning the lack in recognition of the exploitation of local Indian land for the sake of the industry and profit.
Langley shared that when the lumber companies came in to northeastern California, they established mill sites but needed a means to transport, “so you (saw) railroads companies buying up the land.”
Langley spoke about the functions of settler colonialism, and the effects thereof, in the United States and on the local tribes.
Settler colonialism, which is a distinct type of colonialism, functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive and structured settler society, which comes with the intention of staying. This society, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty.
Langley said, “The whole idea of settler colonialism (was) to remove Indian people off the land and ultimately exploit the land.”
Langley recounted the stories of local Native Americans, who share the effects of forced displacement, assimilation to western culture; about “what happened on the land (and) about why they sold” their lands.
Langley explained the complexity of the four tribal entities, describing them as people who were pushed together, forced to live together and done so without the recognition of prior cultural ties. Langley described these circumstances as causing the erasure of networks built on recognizing the inhabitant’s space.
“So whenever … coming into Susanville you see a lot of these hierarchies being established because of exploitive industries and their influence,” said Langley.
Answers to these issues are complex, but Langley discussed how land reclamation facilitates more of an even ground.
Ceremonies such as the Bear Dance, to Langley, were about the strengthening of social ties and the showing of the resilience as a community. Langley spoke of how historically, the multiple tribes, crossing tribal boundaries and building strength, would attend the ceremony together. To Langley, blended families and shared identities of differing tribes, which are found in her family, exemplify this strength.