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Native Universe Recognized

UCR Historian’s Tribute to American Indians Wins National Award

Voices, art of many tribes included in Smithsonian’s “Native Universe”

(May 6, 2005)

Cliff TrafzerEnlarge

Cliff Trafzer

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- A book of Native American artwork and writing co-edited by a UC Riverside historian took an honorable mention award in the American Association of Museums (AAM) 2005 Publications Design Competition.

The AAM’s choice of “Native Universe: Voices of Indian America” came as a surprise to Professor of History Cliff Trafzer, who has been teaching and writing about American Indians’ social and cultural history for more than 30 years, 14 of them at UC Riverside.

“The book received an honorable mention award, not the top award, but you will see that we are stepping in high cotton with the wonderful books selected for the honor,” Trafzer said. “This is a juried award for which I did not apply, which makes the award sweeter.”

Published with the opening last fall of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, the large-format book features more than 300 color illustrations and poems by N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, Linda Hogan and others, plus essays on mythology, history and identity. There is even an excerpt from Sherman Alexie’s script for the movie “Smoke Signals.”

The essays, from histories to personal reflections, include writing by Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to be elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Gabrielle Tayac, daughter of medicine man Chief Turkey Tayac, and Vine Deloria Jr., author of “Custer Died for Your Sins.”

Trafzer, of Wyandot ancestry, and Canadian artist Gerald McMaster, Plains Cree and a member of the Siksika Nation, were commissioned by the Smithsonian to create the book. The project took about five years.

“It was really an honor to be chosen,” Trafzer said. “Any Indian scholar in the Americas would have jumped at the chance.”

McMaster is deputy assistant director of the museum, which was approved in 1989 by Congress and cost $200 million to build. “Native Universe” was published jointly by the Smithsonian and National Geographic.

Trafzer said hundreds of people and tribes up and down the Americas helped him and McMaster review the components of “Native Universe.” Before they settled on a piece of writing or artwork, it would be sent out for community-based review. As a result of that checking, he said, there have not been many complaints.

The competition drew more than 900 entries from museums across America and around the world. Judges chose as winners 130 museum publications, including books, exhibition catalogues, invitations, posters and press kits.

The AAM, founded in 1906 and based in Washington, D.C., helps member museums serve the visiting public across the country. It provides professional development for staff members and helps to keep standards high. AAM has more than 16,500 members, including more than 10,500 individual members, 2,700 corporate members and more than 3,200 museums.

Trafzer now is writing two books, one about how American Indian and mainstream medicine work together in Southern California, and another, with anthropologist Diane Weiner, about tuberculosis, shamanism and new medicine.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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