The SOHA community presented the 2020 Mink Award to Professor William (Willy) Bauer on September 11, 2020 at the Award Ceremony during the Zoom-hosted conference. Congratulations! The James V. Mink award was established in 1984 and named after an important figure in the field of oral history. Mink dedicated himself immensely to SOHA during the organization’s early days, thus the award carries a long legacy and highlights significant contributors and contributions in the field of oral history. Please enjoy his address that he delivered live to our attendees.
“Willy’s use of oral histories and oral traditions throughout his life and career has expanded and elevated our ability to bring unheard and too often unacknowledged Native voices and life stories to light.”
– Professor Marcie Gallo, SOHA Past-President
Good evening everyone. First off, I would like to thank the Southwest Oral History Association for the Mink Award. Thank you to Dr. Marcie Gallo for contacting me about the award back in January – that sure seems like a long time ago. We miss you at UNLV Marcie! Thanks for Dr. Farina King for organizing this year’s conference – in unusual circumstances no doubt. Thanks to Jennifer Keil for guiding me through the conference stages. And, to Caryll Dziedziak for dropping off the award at my house last night!
As these notes of congratulations reveal and you all no doubt know, this has been an unusual year. We are meeting in September – a far cry from March, when the conference was originally scheduled. We are meeting on Zoom – ensuring that we remain socially distant during the ongoing COVID pandemic. We spent the summer watching and/or participating in the social justice and Black Lives Matter movements. And, we on are the eve of a truly momentous Presidential election in November. I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to hear, read and see the oral history projects that will come from the events of the last few months.
It is truly an honor to be recognized by the Southwest Oral History Association with the prestigious Mink Award. In many ways, the Southwest Oral History Association launched my academic career. As a graduate student, I won a mini-grant to conduct oral history interviews with elders from the Round Valley Indian Reservation. These interviews became the foundation for my first book, a study of Indigenous People as migrant farmworkers in northern California.
As I thought about the importance of oral history to my research as well as others, I was struck by one theme – relationships. Oral history is a very intimate experience; we sit down with friends, family, strangers and we ask about their life stories. I am reminded of the first interview I conducted for my dissertation and first book – funded by the SOHA mini-grant – it was with my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago. My grandmother was an irascible woman – and I mean that in the best way. We have all likely interviewed someone like her – she would not allow me to tape the session; she didn’t want to talk about certain aspects of her life. All with good reason, of course. Still, I remember that interview and later ones fondly – I would not trade any part of that interview for anything; that oral history brought me closer to family members.
The other theme that I thought out in terms of oral history is the relationship to place. I think this reflects the theme of this year’s conference: “Home(Lands) and Oral Histories of (Re)Vitalization.” Those of you familiar with my second book California Through Native Eyes will hopefully recognize the relationship between place and history that I attempted to discuss. More than that, though, it is the place and setting of our interviews with people that comes through. I recall interviewing Norman Whipple, former chairman of the Round Valley Reservation. We sat in green and white lawn chairs outside his house. And, during the interview, he raised his arm and gestured to the mountains and related how in the 1960s the state of California wanted to build a dam that would have flooded the Valley and Reservation. As looked up at those mountains, about two thousand feet above us, I could almost feel the weight of the water that would have been on top of us had not Norm and other Round Valley leaders fought so hard to protect the reservation. As always, it is one thing to read about historical events in primary sources; tucked away in an archive. It is another, as well as know, to discuss those events with the people who participated in them, in the places that they occurred.
Thank you again for this honor. I am deeply grateful to everyone for this recognition. I hope that we can all get together and celebrate at next year’s SOHA conference. Thank you!