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Cutcha Risling Baldy empowers next generation and Indigenous communities

Cutcha Risling Baldy Ph.D began working at Cal Poly Humboldt in Spring of 2016; she is currently an Associate Professor of Native American studies, the department chair of Native American Studies and the interim graduate program coordinator for the Environmental and Community Masters program.
Risling Baldy is pushing for future changes in her community and surrounding communities. As she continues to teach here at CPH, her goal is to have “Indigeneity”.

“I have all these examples in my life of the impossible being made possible within my own lifetime. Like being told that when we were younger when the Wiyot were saying, ‘we’re gonna get Tuluwat back’ and then being told that, ‘it’s impossible that’ll never happen, why are you even bringing it up?” Risling Baldy said.
She remembers when Tuluwat Island was returned in October 2019. “…I was there when they gave it back and I was like, ‘look at this impossible thing being
possible in my lifetime,” Risling Baldy said.

Cutcha Risling Baldy | Photo courtesy of CPH MARCOM

She graduated from Stanford with an undergraduate in Psychology and then received a masters of fine arts from San Diego State University where she studied creative writing and literary research. To achieve her Ph.D, Risling Baldy proceeded to attend UC Davis where she studied Native American Studies with a concentration in feminist theory and research.

“I really wanted to work with the next generation of people and I really wanted to work and to understand what are the things that we can do to tell the stories of our communities,” she said.

Risling Baldy grew up in Humboldt County and is enrolled in the Hoopa Valley Tribe and often went back and forth from Mckinleyville and the Hoopa Valley. She went to college to focus on being involved within her community. Risling Baldy went to Stanford with the intention of going to medical school, until an advisor of hers encouraged her to study a subject that would interest her.

“She kept saying you can major in anything you want and still be able to do really good things with your community… .She said, ‘major in whatever you want, find the things you’re interested in and make your own path,'” she said.

That advice and the encouragement of others made Risling Baldy consider being a writer. Towards the end of her first quarter as a psychology major she gave a speech to incoming freshmen. Afterwards a woman came up to her and said ‘she was a writer.’

“I took this detour toward writing school because I had a number of people that were like you need to write, you need to find your voice and I think it helped me alot to feel comfortable saying on top of everything I write and then I came back to Native American studies after all that because I was figuring I really wanted to work in higher education,” said Risling Baldy.

She has always been passionate about being of service to her community and how she can help those in her community. Risling Baldy wrote a book named “We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and The Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies” and in this book she talks about the voices of people who were transformed by cultural revitalization and also addresses gender inequality and gender violence with Native communities.

“I didn’t want it to be an academic book, I wanted it to be a book that people felt like they could read and really invest in and that it could be accessible to multiple people,” she said.

A year after the book’s release it won an international award as the Best First Book in Native American and Indigenous Studies at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

“I’m glad I got to finish that book and it meant something for people in my community and the people I work with,” Risling Baldy said.

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