Since its founding as a research institute in 1969, the UCLA American Indian Studies Center has addressed American Indian issues and supported Native communities — both on and off campus.

In addition to generating impactful research, the center publishes books, maintains a reference library, and organizes conferences and other events. Its website serves as a digital hub, promoting indigenous visibility and a sense of community for Native Bruins.

For instance, an online calendar lists events ranging from Native American metal rock concerts on campus to Native American film festivals in Hollywood.

The center also runs a monthly spotlight series called Native Bruins, which features profiles on Indigenous students, staff, faculty and alumni. To help honor Native American Heritage Month, meet four alumni who have been featured in the section below. Then, check out more stories about Native Bruins under the News section of the homepage. 

Kimberly Norris Guerrero (Colville, Salish-Kootenai, Cherokee)

Since earning a bachelor’s degree in history at UCLA in 1989, Kimberly Norris Guerrero has had one foot in Hollywood and one in academia — becoming a guiding voice in championing the sovereign voices of indigenous people in film and TV as an actress and professor at UC Riverside.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Norris Guerrero realized her dream of going to UCLA when she was accepted into the freshman class of 1985. A reservation member of the Colville Indian tribe with Salish-Kootenai heritage, she quickly found a home at the American Indian Studies Center.

With guidance from UCLA mentors and peers, she began an acting career that would take her from daytime soaps to a memorable turn as Jerry’s Seinfeld’s Native American girlfriend on “Seinfeld,” NBC’s hit sitcom.  After that, Norris Guerrero originated the role of Johnna in Tracy Lett’s Tony Award-winning play, “August: Osage County” on Broadway, and played Chief Wilma Mankiller in the Gloria Steinem biopic, “The Glorias.”

As if by design, Norris Guerrero’s education in history shaped the respectful and informed way she prepared — and still prepares — to play Native characters from different nations.

Learn more about Kimberly Norris Guerrero.

James Riding In (Pawnee)

Double Bruin James Riding In has been a pillar in the Native academic community for almost 40 years. After receiving a master’s degree in American Indian Studies at UCLA in 1985, he remained on campus and earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history. Riding In became the first president of the American Indian Studies Association; from 2005 to 2019 he was editor of the Wicazo Sa Review: A Journal of Native American Studies.

As a citizen of the Pawnee Nation, Riding In’s scholarship comes from a perspective that empowers Indian nations, communities, organizations and peoples in their struggles to overcome the harmful consequences of colonialism.

In 2021, Riding In retired from a three-decade tenure at Arizona State University, where he co-founded the school’s American Indian Studies program, and taught graduate and undergraduate courses about sovereignty, repatriation, sacred place protections, activism and federal Indian law and policy.

He is also the founding chair of the Pawnee Nation College’s Board of Trustees, co-editor of the book “Native Historians Write Back: Decolonizing American Indian History,” and a contributor to the National Museum of the American Indian writer series. He is currently writing a book about Pawnee’s cultural survival under U.S. colonial domination.

Learn more about James Riding In.

Temryss Xeli’tia Lane (Lummi Nation)

Temryss Xeli’tia Lane reaches a wide audience with her many talents, all of which she uses to tell Native stories and generate visibility for Indigenous leadership.

The UCLA alumna and Lummi Tribe member is a public speaker and expert on culturally specific solutions that address challenges to wellness within the Indigenous community. Currently, she is director of the Indian Country Team at Pyramid Communications, a Seattle-based public relations and strategic communications firm that supports tribes and tribal organizations.

Between getting her master’s degree in American Indian Studies at UCLA and settling in Seattle, the Bruin found success as a collegiate and a professional soccer player, then as a sports journalist and broadcaster. Lane remains an active ambassador for Nike N7, a program that helps provide Native youth access to sports, and is on the board for the Chief Seattle Club, a native-led housing and human services agency.

Learn more about Temryss Xeli’tia Lane.

Joseph Nelson ( Tlingit/Eyak Nation)

Joseph Nelson is known for his student leadership roles within Native groups on campus and for his unrelenting advocacy on campus in the late 1990s. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in American Indian Studies in 1996 and a master’s degree in American Indian Studies in 1998, before heading off to law school.

While at UCLA, Nelson, who is Kaaxúxgu from the Tlingit/Eyak Nation, helped start the Native Bruin publication and served as president of the American Indian Student Association. He was also a project manager for the “Retention of American Indians Now!” initiative and a founding member of the American Indian Recruitment project.

Nelson grew up commercial fishing and subsistence living in Yakutat, Alaska. After becoming a licensed attorney, Nelson returned home and fully immersed himself in Alaska Native business and policy, while also spending much of his career serving as a vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Today, he is chairman of the Sealaska Corp., a Juneau-based Native institution owned by thousands of tribal shareholders.

Learn more about Joseph Nelson.