Three Native American siblings were honored October 2 by San Francisco State University (SFSU) at the annual College of Ethnic Studies Exemplary Leadership Awards ceremony.
Paula Gunn Allen, Lee Francis III and Carol Lee Sanchez Allen, of Laguna Pueblo, Metis and Scottish heritage, were honored with the 2011 Exemplar Leadership Awards for advances they made in the field of Native American studies and civil rights.
All the siblings were connected to SFSU in some way. Paula was once director of the American Indian Studies program at the university, Lee graduated from SFSU in 1982 with his bachelor’s and 1983 with his master’s, and Carol taught American Indian studies, ethnic studies and women’s studies at the university.
Paula, who walked on May 29, 2008, “was a foremost voice in Native American literature and the study of American literature…Her more recent work Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat (2004, Harper-Collins), received a Pulitzer Prize nomination…Her edited anthology Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs (1983, MLA) laid the foundation for the study of Native American literature,” reads PaulaGunnAllen.net, a memorial website.
Paula published six volumes of poetry and promoted the work of other Native American writers through anthologies like Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women (1989, Ballantine Books), which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.
Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers has a remembrance web page dedicated to Lee, who walked on July 7, 2003: “He had a vision. Built it over two decades. Born of tragedy and inspiration, the way all good visions often come about. He was dedicated and tireless in his promotion of Native writers and storytellers for over ten years.” Lee founded Wordcraft in 1992.
Lee also taught Native American and American studies at American University and the University of New Mexico.
Carol, who walked on April 6, 2011, taught at SFSU from 1976 to 1985. In 1993 she spoke at various seminars in Germany and Latvia as a Native American cultural specialist, author and visual artist by invite of the Art American Division of the United States Information Agency (USIA).
A blog by Bill Vartnaw, who met Carol in 1973, said he was “blown away” by her poetry. “Though her poems sometimes included using two languages, it was her thought forms that enchanted me and that experience did not wear off,” he says in his blog. “She is also the first person I heard use the term, multi-cultural, to describe her work.”
In an interview with The Examiner, SFSU College of Ethnic Studies dean Kenneth Monteiro explained how the winners were chosen. “Each person we choose, we choose them not just because of their individual contribution, but because they are people who worked with a piece of the movement.”