James Riding In retires after 30 years of advocating for Native communities

Founding member of ASU's American Indian Studies program leaves behind remarkable legacy

July 1, 2021

When James Riding In first came to Arizona State University as a lecturer in fall 1990, Native American scholars around the country were leading a movement for change and empowerment for Native populations in higher education. Since then Riding In has been at the forefront of that movement at ASU, where he co-founded the school’s American Indian Studies program, mentored Native students and researched American Indian history.

“From past to present times, we American Indians have remained deeply entrenched under a system of infamous colonial control marred by serial acts of ethnocide, genocide, forced removals, boarding schools, political oppression and human rights violations, to name a few,” Riding In said. “I entered the scene when times were very slowly changing largely for the better … I hungered to be part of this important movement so I could become a warrior in the fight to protect and defend Indian sovereignty, homelands, sacred places, cultures, human rights and dignity.” In May, James Riding In retired from his position as interim director and associate professor of ASU's American Indian Studies program after more than 30 years with the university. Download Full Image

In May, Riding In retired from his position as interim director and associate professor of the American Indian Studies program, where he leaves behind a remarkable legacy.

“Dr. Riding In has been an esteemed member of the faculty for over 30 years. He has been a popular professor, known for his lively lectures, stories of the early years of American Indian activism and innovative teaching style,” said Stephanie Fitzgerald, associate professor and director of the American Indian Studies program. “Dr. Riding In was instrumental in building the American Indian Studies program into the robust program we know today. We are indebted to his vision and commitment to American Indian Studies.”

In the early 1990s, Riding In and fellow faculty members Carol Lujan and Manuel Pino began conceptualizing and implementing an American Indian justice studies certificate program in what was then the School of Justice Studies. The success of the certificate program encouraged them to push for a standalone degree-granting program in American Indian studies. 

In 2001, their proposal for an American Indian Studies program was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents. Over the years the program and the faculty has continued to grow in size, including the addition of a master’s degree. Many of the 179 undergraduate and 19 graduate students who have earned degrees through the program have gone on to establish successful careers in government, business, law and education.

Although Riding In and his colleagues were initially met with some challenges and pushback along the way, he said it taught him to remain persistent in the face of opposition.

“When we first proposed the idea of a standalone American Indian studies program to the upper ASU administration in the early 1990s, we were met with stonewalling and resistance,” he said. “Refusing to accept no for an answer, we worked diligently to reach that goal. The results, I must say, have been well worth the delays, barriers and frustrations we experienced along the way.”

As a citizen of the Pawnee Nation, Riding In has dedicated his life and work to advocating for Native communities. For years he worked in repatriation, where he would write reports and engage in consultations leading to the repatriation and reburial of thousands of ancestral human remains and funerary objects stolen by museums, universities, government agencies, state historical societies and other grave looters. He also served as an expert witness in cases involving hair, offensive sports mascots and team names, and sacred places protection.  

He has published dozens of journal articles and book chapters about a variety of topics including repatriation, Pawnee history and culture, and racist stereotypes. He previously served as the editor of Wicazo Sa Review: A Journal of Native American Studies, helping many up-and-coming Native scholars to publish their research. He also co-edited “Native Historians Write Back: Decolonizing American Indian History,” with Susan A. Miller, a book that examines crucial events in their own nations’ histories. He has shared his research at both national and international conferences.

He currently serves as a trustee on the Pawnee Nation College Board of Trustees on the Pawnee Reservation in Oklahoma.

Riding In said it has been most rewarding to work with and learn from his students.

“For me, engaging in service pertaining to American Indian issues has fulfilled my dreams and aspirations of being able to take meaningful measures that would not only benefit our people but U.S. society as well,” he said. “Sharing my knowledge with students has been a blessing and a reciprocal experience learning from them. Giving back is a powerful concept that I took fully to heart for the sake of Indian people and my personal decolonization journey.”

In his retirement, he hopes to remain as active as possible while taking time to enjoy some of his hobbies.

“I have several book projects to complete. When called upon, I will provide service to organizations and Indian nations,” he said. “With my wife, Ida, I also plan to pursue my passions for fishing, camping, powwow dancing and golf. At some point, we may move back to my Oklahoma homeland.”

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Etching an impact on ASU geography

Influential cartographer Barbara Trapido-Lurie retires after 34 years

July 1, 2021

When Barbara Trapido-Lurie was hired by Arizona State University as a cartographer in fall 1987, the geography department looked different than it does today.

There were less than half of today’s students on campus. The building in which the department is now housed did not yet exist. Personal computers were a rarity, and the creation of all scientific graphics and maps — her specialty — were still meticulously drawn by hand. Barbara Trapido-Lurie, senior research professional and cartographer in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning retires after 34 years. Download Full Image

“It was a different time. We had no internet, no PDFs, no computers. It was all about creating things that would work visually in printed form,” Trapido-Lurie recalled in a recent Zoom interview from her home. “I had different types of pens, chalks, really artists’ tools, wax crayons; there was a little tool for shading, you shaded things by rubbing the graphite of the pencil.”

Trapido-Lurie this month retired from ASU after more than three decades. In her tenure, she has created thousands of maps used by hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and researchers from around the globe. But her influence on ASU’s geography department — now the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning — moves far beyond the creation of specialized education tools, but lies in the community she’s nurtured, the responsibilities she’s taken on, and the impact she’s had on what the school has become today.

“Ultimately, her impact on the school has been far greater than any other faculty member I can recall,” said Ron Dorn, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a colleague of Trapido-Lurie’s for more than 30 years. 

“Barbara grew and evolved her professional activities in parallel with the ebbs and flows of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and ASU as an institution. ... If there was an ‘MVP’ award at ASU, she would have won the award annually for the last two decades.” 

Growing with the school 

Hired as the department’s cartographer at a time when the geography department was going through many changes, Trapido-Lurie focused on supporting faculty by creating maps, graphics and slides used in publications and presentations. But as the department inevitability grew, so did her role and her reach. 

When a professor took leave she offered to teach his cartography class in his place, and soon she became the lead instructor for the course. When an opportunity to teach an upper-division geography class opened up, she stepped into the role. When there was a gap in staffing to manage the department’s website, she took the lead. And when two colleagues were retiring, she sought to learn how to write news stories so their legacies wouldn’t be forgotten. Trapido-Lurie, again and again, took on new responsibilities on top of her ever-expanding cartography duties for the betterment of the school. 

“Barbara changes the face of geography in fundamental ways,” said Elizabeth Wentz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate College and a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “She always had a high standard and worked tirelessly to support students and faculty. She was always adapting, too.” 

Her contributions to the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning are unending. 

Trapido-Lurie created thousands of maps and other illustrations for academic research, instructed hundreds of students in courses of cartography, geographic information systems (GIS) and quantitative methods. She, for a period, managed the department's website, spearheaded all communications and marketing and served as the editor of the department's weekly e-newsletter, annual alumni newsletter and “The Arizona State Geographer," an annual printed newsletter to the Arizona geography community. 

Trapido-Lurie was also the face of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at ASU community-facing events. For years, she organized the school’s presence at both homecoming and at ASU’s Open Door, introducing teenagers, children, parents, teachers and alumni to the work and projects of the school's students and faculty. 

“As the needs in the school changed, she made herself available for new roles,” said Wentz, who also served as the director of the school from 2013–15, and has been a colleague of Trapido-Lurie for more than two decades. “We are a better school because of her.”

Barbara Trapido-Lurie in ASU's geography department in 1988.

Introducing youth to the world of geography

The design of a map can do many different things, and the decisions a cartographer makes can control the story. It can transmit propaganda, provide insight or drive motivation to learn more. Trapido-Lurie always hoped her work would inspire. 

Trapido-Lurie designed what is perhaps the largest map of Arizona in existence. The giant 17-by-22-foot heavy-vinyl floor map easily carpets an entire classroom and is used by dozens of schools and hundreds of elementary students each year. Kids play games on the map to learn about things like longitude and latitude and how to use a legend. 

Trapido-Lurie not only used her creativity and cartography skills in research academic settings but also as a way to introduce youth to the world of geography. For 20 years, she’s designed maps for ASU’s Arizona Geographic Alliance, a K–12 outreach program to promote geographic education in Arizona, helping inspire and educate students about the world around them. 

“Barbara has achieved something that has impacted the field of geography far more than any tenure-track faculty member,” said Dorn, who also is a former co-coordinator of the Arizona Geographic Alliance. He pointed to the organization’s website, which houses more than 250 maps created by Trapido-Lurie and her students, and hundreds of lesson plans in which the maps are used. “This website has done far more to develop and promote geography than any other project to come out of our school.

“Barbara's map site has been accessed by hundreds of thousands of geography teachers across Earth to the benefit of us all in having a more geographically literate society.” 

Connecting students and professionals

For all the work she’s done, Trapido-Lurie says that helping students find their passions through internships and professional connections has always been the most rewarding. It’s a reflection, she says, of her own circuitous path from being a student to her career at ASU. 

Trapido-Lurie was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Following college graduation with a fine art degree, she worked a variety of part-time jobs, unsure about her future career path, until she was introduced to a medical illustrator at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. That person then introduced her to a scientific illustrator, who became a valued mentor and introduced her to the field of cartography. 

“She mentored myself and a friend for at least six months, maybe a year, giving us a series of assignments, introducing us to techniques of scientific illustration and explaining the whole print production process,” Trapido-Lurie recalled of her mentor. “But then, she had this tip. She said that a course in cartography really helped her understand the whole printing process. … That was why I took that first course in cartography.” 

How others have impacted her own career is not lost upon her. Two decades later, at ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Trapido-Lurie became a leading force behind student internships and career development. She organized and developed the geography and urban planning internship programs. She helped create the first internship class and taught it for 23 years. And she worked tirelessly to build connections with the community and develop strategies to support students in finding ways to apply their education outside of the classroom.  

Trapido-Lurie organized career expos, job fairs and professional panels focused on networking. The last expo in 2019 attracted nearly 100 professionals and more than 300 students. She also, alongside other colleagues, developed a website called Career Navigator that houses videos in which professionals in geography, GIS and urban planning describe their work and offer advice to students.

“Barbara does so much and was never too busy to help when needed,” said Heather Moll, an alumna of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and co-coordinator of the Arizona Geographic Alliance. “Nothing to her was too small or large of a project.”

Trapido-Lurie also was a valued mentor to students and inspired many in the fields of GIS and cartography. 

“I learned so much from her class and from subsequent classes with her,” said Becky Eden, a former student of Trapido-Lurie who now uses cartography and GIS in her job with the state of Arizona. “Barbara noticed (my work), and she said I should apply for a job as a cartographer with the Arizona Geographic Alliance. I applied, got the job, and worked with her and the rest of her team for 10 years creating maps part-time for K–12 education. It was one of my favorite jobs.” 

Trapido-Lurie looks with empathy and admiration as students navigate their own journeys.

“It’s so rewarding to see students find their passions in a school environment, and then connect with careers that allow them to make a meaningful impact,” Trapido-Lurie said with a smile. “I’ve been so privileged to see this transition, through my work with students in finding internships, hearing about their experiences as an instructor of the internship classes, and then in many cases, seeing their careers develop over the years.”

Humbly looking ahead 

Following retirement, Trapido-Lurie says she looks forward to traveling with her husband more and contributing in new ways to the community. 

“I feel like I'm kind of exploring,” Trapido-Lurie said of her volunteer work locally. She’s already helped the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy develop maps for an annual education week, and was a COVID-19 vaccine site volunteer. “But I definitely want to use my additional time to engage with the place I've lived for the last 34 years.” 

In her career at ASU, Trapido-Lurie has etched more than maps but made her mark on a school that has benefited from her dedication to move it forward. She always generously and humbly found ways to do more and prioritize others first. 

“I have to say, I will miss interacting with the students, our amazing staff and our faculty, but I'm exploring ways to keep doing that, so the book isn't necessarily closed,” she said.

“I have so much appreciation for our very, very talented team of staff in our school. Every single person makes such a huge contribution to impact so many people at the university. Oh, it's just awesome.”

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications