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Documenting Native Nations

Research on Native Nations to be Easier Because of Materials Donated to UC Riverside Libraries Special Collections

Reception celebrating Michelsen-Owen papers set for Friday, Jan. 19

(January 9, 2007)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Vital historical papers concerning Indian nations in California and Mexico have been donated to UC Riverside Libraries Special Collections.

The papers and photographs of Ralph C. Michelsen and Roger Owen, scholars of the Cahuilla, Cocopah, Kiliwa and Kumeyaay nations are included, as are papers discussing the Pechanga, Rincon and Soboba nations of the Luiseno group of Indians.

The papers will be housed at the Rupert Costo Library of the American Indian, Special Collections, on the 4th floor of Rivera Library. A celebration will be held there from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19.

“These works enjoy exceptional cultural value, and will provide insight and ideas for dissertations and papers,” said Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections, UC Riverside Libraries. “We are very pleased that they are coming to UCR.”

The collection was donated by anthropologist Susan Lobo, a distinguished visiting scholar in American Indian studies at the University of Arizona — and a former student of Michelsen. She had permission from Michelsen’s widow Mary-Kay.
The materials cover work between the 1950s and the 1980s related to the PaiPai and Kiliwa of Baja California; various Luiseno groups in southern California; the Mohave and Cocopah; the Seri of Mexico; and other groups in Mexico and Guatemala.

Ralph Copeland Michelsen, who died in 1996, became interested in the Pai Pai Indians of Santa Catarina, Baja California. Roger Owen, an anthropologist who was completing his field work with the Pai Pai for a Ph.D. from UCLA, urged Michelsen to write about his observations and eventually Michelsen was admitted to the School of Social Sciences at UC Irvine, and received his Ph.D. in 1981 at age 68. He taught at UC Irvine until he retired.

“As an anthropologist working with Native peoples in the Americas for many years, I recognize the immense value of the Michelsen and Owen papers for scholars and students, but just as importantly for Native people and communities, especially in southern California and northern Mexico,” Lobo said. “The photographs, field notes, documents and publications represent a rich source of first-hand information gathered primarily between the 1950s and 1980s. Most are rare or one-of-a-kind primary source materials, valuable as historic, ethnographic and personal documentation.”

Michelsen’s papers, Lobo says - especially his work regarding the southern California native game of Peon - add invaluable documentation of core cultural aspects, important today to Native Californians and all others with an interest in and appreciation of Native cultures.

“In contrast to the amount of research carried out in southern California, very little ethnographic work has taken place in Baja California with the Pai Pai and Kiliwa peoples,” Lobo said. “In addition to the direct usefulness to scholars, it is my hope that these Baja California materials will prove useful for Native peoples themselves in efforts related to cultural revitalization and language restoration, as well as personal uses.”

Lobo says a goal of applied anthropology is that the work ultimately benefits those with whom a scholar works.

“Now these materials will be well-cared for and accessible to everyone as a part of the Costo Collection at UC Riverside,” Lobo said. “I believe that in the future they will be utilized and beneficial in many ways that today we can only begin to imagine.”

The Rupert Costo Library of the American Indian comprises more than 7,000 books and thousands of documents, artifacts and baskets collected over a period of 50 years by Native American activists Rupert and Jeannette Costo.

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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