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Giving Voice to Identity

Ernest Santos’ concentration work, done over semesters three through six at Hampshire, was a comprehensive study of the lives of the indigenous peoples of New England. Similar studies have been done, but Santos, a Tohono O’odham student from southern Arizona, brought a personal twist to the work.

“I specifically looked at the science of ethnography in relation to me as an indigenous person studying indigenous people,” he says. Coming from the western U.S., Santos first had to acquaint himself with a new region. He began with general research on the Northeast, and found that there were about ten tribes with U.S. federally recognized governments living along the East Coast. Eight were in New England.

“The focus was to try to get some sense of what their lives were like today,” he says. “I wanted to humanize them, too, and bring them into the general consciousness.” Along the way, Santos had knowledgeable assistance from Kathleen Brown-Perez, co-chair of the Five College Native American Indian Studies Certificate Program. Brown-Perez mentored Santos early in his studies.

Santos has helped revitalize an on-campus organization of Native American students. “Among the population of indigenous students, differences arise, but we agree that there needs to be an increase of volume for our voice as students, and we are going to take what resources we have and push them as long as we can,” he says.

Now a fourth-year student, Santos envisions writing a book about the present-day lives of eight Native American tribes in New England as his final Hampshire project, or Division III. The tribes include the well-known Mashantucket Pequot of Connecticut. “Much of that work involves exploring questions of nuanced identity and the casino enterprise they own and how those two crisscross, forming a patchwork,” Santos says.

“It’s a personal journey for me as much as it is an academic work of ethnography/sociology,” Santos says. He hopes the book and some of his other research can find a permanent home within the Five Colleges as a resource. “The goal is to initiate some sort of legacy that can be continued,” he says, “because these cultures live and breathe and are not static.”

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