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  • Interview with Inés Talamantez
  • Natalie Avalos (bio)

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Inés Talamantez

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Natalie Avalos

Inés Talamantez is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and has taught courses there on Native American and Indigenous religious traditions for almost forty years. She was born in Old Mesilla, New Mexico, and is Mescalero/Lipan Apache and Chicana. Her forthcoming book, Becoming: Introducing Apache Girls to the World of Spiritual and Cultural Values, examines present-day Mescalero Apache female rites of passage. Dr. Talamantez developed the concentration in Native American religious traditions in the Department of Religious Studies and was instrumental in creating the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor at UCSB. Dr. Talamantez is often referred to as the mother of the field of Native American religious traditions, as she was instrumental in defining its epistemological boundaries during its inchoate stages and then populating it with her own students. Her exploration of gender as an ongoing process of becoming contributes valuable insights on Native ontology to the fields of Native American [End Page 153] religion and philosophy as well as feminist, gender, and women’s studies. She has served as my graduate adviser and mentor for the last eight years. During that time, she has become more than a mentor—she has become family—a dynamic to which many of her other students can also attest.

Like Dr. Talamantez, I am also of Apache and Chicana descent—an experience that has profoundly shaped my own research questions. Dr. Talamantez’s work on sacred power has inspired me to explore the relationship between spiritual empowerment, healing, and movements of decolonization among transnational Native American and Indigenous communities. Some aspects of her forthcoming book Becoming, such as Talamantez’s emphasis on “exemplary womanhood,” may appear to reflect normative (patriarchal) articulations of gender, wherein women are held to asymmetrical standards of behavior and expectations of “purity” not exacted for men. This would be a misreading of the text. For Apaches, women are sacred. Their transition to womanhood not only demarcates a critical time in every young woman’s life but also honors the sacred power with which she becomes endowed at that time and carries with her into her life. And so, I chose to discuss this process explicitly with Dr. Talamantez, among other related topics, as it reflects a Native ontological order that is distinct from what may be assumed in a “Western” worldview and reveals the fundamental role each person plays in the cycle of life of such interconnected communities.


Did your research interests change after being in the field of religious studies for a few years?


The short answer is no. I was hired in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the 1970s to develop the field of Native American religious traditions. My research interests have been in the continuous effort to expand this new field of study, which by nature is interdisciplinary. Over the decades, I have done extensive research, traveled to a variety of archives, and have done in situ research in the American Southwest and Mexico. I have also done work on three indigenous languages: Apache, Navajo, and classical Nahuatl, in which I have translated and published. During this time, I trained fifteen doctoral students studying the Indigenous religious traditions of the Americas. My pedagogy has always been focused on issues of authenticity: religious, historical, linguistic, and political, both in the past and present. I am open to and excited about the theme of reimagining communication and cooperation. What is it that inspires us in terms of the uniqueness of our cultures? It’s time to recognize each other in a new way that we never thought of before. I’m amazed by what we know and curious about learning more about each other with sincere respect—dropping our fear of each other and learning the true definitions of power.


How would you describe your current field of study? [End Page 154]


I describe my current field of study as Native American and Indigenous religious...


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pp. 153-168
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