2016 YGSNA and NACC Graduates Receive University Prizes

July 27, 2016

At Yale’s 2016 Commencement, YGSNA member Isaiah Wilner was awarded the Theron Rockwell Field Prize for his History Department dissertation, “Raven Cried for Me: Narratives of Transformation on the Northwest Coast.” Annually awarded to outstanding dissertations for their “poetic, literary or religious” qualities, the Field Prize is one of two University-wide prizes handed out to graduating doctoral students. Using an extensive corpus of personal letters, published ethnographies, and sets of historical documents, “Raven Cried for Me” traces the decades-long relationships and influences between Kwakwaka’wakw leader George Hunt of British Columbia and the German ethnographer Franz Boas. As Wilner relays, Hunt not only guided Boas to the famous Kwakwaka’wakw villages of British Columbia; organized and led their performances and dances at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair; welcomed Boas into the famous ‘potlatch’ community dances and governing structures that became immortalized in Boas’s writings; sent loads of ethnographic materials, objects, and art to, first Berlin, and eventually New York that now sit in the Museum of Natural History; befriend and corresponded with Boas for three decades thereafter; and became his most trusted informant. He also shaped Boas’s ideas in essential ways. Tracing the ways that Hunt’s teachings informed Boasian thought, Wilner locates Hunt and Kwakwaka’wakw “narratives of transformation” at the center of global process of cultural analysis. His thesis was also awarded The Frederick W. Beinecke Prize in the field of Western American History.

Two graduating seniors from Yale’s Native American Cultural Center community were also awarded University prizes:

Willam Tanner Allread received the 2016 James Andrew Haas Memorial Prize from Yale College which is awarded annually to “that member of the Senior Class in Yale College whose breadth of intellectual achievement, strength of character, and fundamental humanity shall be adjudged by the faculty to have provided leadership for his or her fellow students, inspiring in them a love of learning and concern for others.” Graduating with Distinction in History, Allread authored the award-winning thesis, Chahta Anumpa Alhpisa: Indigenous Governance in the Removal Era, 1825-1834,” that traced the multiple political efforts initiated by the Choctaw Nation to ward off the processes of U.S. expansion. While unsuccessful in maintaining their recognized treaty lands in the American Southeast, such reforms, Allread argues, enabled the Choctaw Nation to reestablish political security in Indian Territory and provided clear and effective forms of political organization that shaped the Nation for generations to come.

Sebastian Medina-Tayac also received recognition from Yale College, co-receiving the Nakanishi Prize that recognizes “two graduating seniors who have provided exemplary leadership in enhancing race and/or ethnic relations at Yale College during their undergraduate career while maintaining high standards of academic achievement.”  An American Studies Major, Medina-Tayac worked to increase Native American awareness at Yale and helped to lead the Association of Native Americans at Yale and Blue Feather Drum Group. He also actively worked to partner with New Haven community organizations, helping to host, for example, expanded Indigenous Peoples’ Day activities both on and off campus.

Congratulations to each and to the Class of 2016.

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