Clifford Trafzer honored with American Indian Lifetime Achievement Award

Author: Tess Eyrich
October 24, 2018

Clifford Trafzer, a distinguished professor in UCR’s history department, is the recipient of the Western History Association’s 2018 American Indian Lifetime Achievement Award. Trafzer, who also holds the university’s Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs, was presented with the award during the association’s annual conference, held this year in San Antonio from Oct. 17-20. Awarded by election since 1997, the honor recognizes both its recipient’s body of research and commitment to mentoring the next generation of Native American scholars to advance the study of American Indian history.

“I am humbled and honored by the Lifetime Achievement Award,” Trafzer said. “I am hopeful my work has encouraged other scholars to work with American Indian people and communities so other scholars might become inclusive of indigenous knowledge within their academic writings. By using Native American knowledge, we can and will change the historiography of Native America.”

Trafzer earned his doctorate in American history, with a focus on Native American history, from Oklahoma State University in 1973. He joined UCR’s faculty in 1991 and has authored or edited more than a dozen books, including a trio about American Indian educational experiences at schools such as Riverside’s Sherman Institute, now known as Sherman Indian High School. He said one of his crowning achievements involved co-editing “Native Universe: Voices of Indian America,” a book released by National Geographic in 2004 in conjunction with the grand opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“My work continues because I love to learn and grow through research,” Trafzer said. His forthcoming publications will highlight relationships between public health nurses and American Indians living in Southern California between the 1920s and 1940s. During that period, American Indians throughout the region battled bacteria, viruses, and other ailments introduced to their communities by non-Native settlers. Conditions worsened without reprieve until 1928, when college-trained public health nurses first arrived on the Morongo Indian Reservation.

“By the 1940s, Native Americans and nurses had arrested infectious diseases and curbed the crude death rates Indians had suffered in the past,” Trafzer said. “Indians and nurses accomplished this by working together cooperatively before the use of antibiotics to fight tuberculosis, the primary killer among Native Americans from the 1920s to the 1940s.”

In addition to teaching and publishing, Trafzer has served as director of UCR’s California Center for Native Nations and on the statewide California Native American Heritage Commission. As a longtime member of the committee to establish a permanent California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento, he has spent more than a decade advocating for the project, which would include a museum, library, curation center, and cultural spaces positioned at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers to represent the history and culture of California tribes.