In Memoriam: Dr. Trudy Griffin-Pierce

Dr. Trudy Griffin-Pierce
just glowed with kindness. She was such an earnest and sincere person, so genuinely warm---radiant.

She taught the Anthropology senior capstone I took my last semester at the U of A. The minute she walked into class the first day, I knew that I really liked her. (Maybe she was wearing one of her homemade skirts, maybe the knee-length turquoise one with the white zigzag trim---she seemed so young, in such a true and honest way, in such an essential way.) Just being in that room with her made me feel smiley inside. There was something about her.

She died on January 6th, 2009, not long after the end of the semester. I feel lucky to have met her, to have had the pleasure of hearing her talk about her life and work, to have had her class as my last Anthropology course at the U of A.

She had us keep journals where we wrote about various snippets from our lives (a song, a story in the news, an outing, a class, anything.) We were then to take each experience and analyze it through an anthropological lens---angling at it either from a cultural, linguistic, biological or archaeological perspective. She wrote the kindest things in my journal, and I'll treasure these notes always.

Here is a little clip from what she wrote (one of the notes that tells a little bit about who she was and is):

"And your entries about Barack Obama were so very moving---yes, indeed, as someone who was in high school & university in the the 60's and 70's, I finally feel like this country is moving again, "standing up for something."

Thanks for being a generous teacher and an inspirational person, Dr. Griffin-Pierce. You will be remembered with love, even by those of us who only skimmed across the surface of your life for the very briefest of moments.


From an article at the Arizona Daily Star:

Trudy Griffin-Pierce: Navajo culture, beliefs were her inspiration

By Kimberly Matas, 02.02.2009

Anthropologist Trudy Griffin-Pierce didn't want to observe the rituals and elaborate spiritual ceremonies of the Navajo: She wanted to live the life of the Diné.
Though of Catawba Indian heritage and born in South Carolina, Griffin-Pierce was fascinated from childhood by the Navajo, said her aunt, Pat Wells of Florida. Diné, meaning "The People," is the name Navajos use for themselves.

"I remember her saying from the time she was 3 years old she had this interest," Wells said. "She had a children's book about Native Americans and she remembered her interest going back that far."

The Navajos' complex spiritual beliefs are based on Hózhó, which means existing in a state of balance, harmony, wellness, peace and completeness.

Griffin-Pierce, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, learned about Hózhó and other spiritual and cultural beliefs when she was informally adopted by a Navajo family in Northern Arizona. She learned about healing practices and ceremonial sand painting and that death is not to be feared because it is part of nature's course.

And it was Jan. 6 that 59-year-old Griffin-Pierce entered into the next phase of the ongoing cycle of birth, life and death. She died suddenly at home with her beloved sheepdog, Mr. Skippy, at her side. The cause of death is not known.

[...] While studying for a bachelor's degree in fine art from Florida State University, Griffin-Pierce wrote to the chairman of the Navajo Nation, asking him to find her a traditional Navajo family that she could join.

"I wanted to live with them as a daughter, not as an anthropologist. To learn from them, not about them," she said in a 1992 Arizona Daily Star article.

"I lived with them in their hogan, and I didn't speak any Navajo, and they didn't speak any English," she said. "Every morning, I'd go out and herd sheep all day, and I'd ride the buckboard into the trading post with them, too."

Avery Denny, a professor of healing, culture, oral history, and Navajo philosophy at Diné College, in Tsaile, Ariz., was her adopted Navajo brother. Until Griffin-Pierce learned the language, Denny and his wife translated conversations between the anthropologist and his parents, who were practitioners, or "chanters," and sang at healing ceremonies.

Unlike most anthropologists, who observe a culture from the outside over a period of hours or days or weeks, Griffin-Pierce immersed herself.

[...] Denny and Griffin-Pierce, whose graduate work focused on cultural and medical anthropology, were working on a presentation for a Navajo studies conference in Shiprock next month on diabetes. Along with her teaching duties, Griffin-Pierce also was working with the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium to provide outreach and education services to the state's tribes.

After finishing her master's degree in museum studies, Griffin-Pierce worked as curator of a small museum at Kitt Peak National Observatory. It was at the observatory that she met her future husband, Keith Pierce, an internationally known researcher of solar physics who was instrumental in selecting Kitt Peak as the site for the observatory. He also played a key role in the development of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.

Griffin-Pierce earned a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology in 1987 and began teaching at the UA a year later.

As a teacher, she inspired her students.

[...] "She wanted to know who we were as people, why we were taking this class, what we wanted to gain from it. She wanted to get to know us as people," Garcia Dixon said.

It was that interest in others that helped Griffin-Pierce make and keep many friends from all over the world.

[...] Sue Raymond, who met Griffin-Pierce in Hawaii in 1959 when their fathers were stationed at military installations there, became a lifelong friend.

"She always saw the good in everybody; she saw the good and she saw the potential," Raymond said.

Dr. Trudy Griffin-Pierce wrote 5 books, including Earth Is My Mother, Sky Is My Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting, Native Peoples of the Southwest and Chiricahua Apache Enduring Power: Naiche's Puberty Ceremony Paintings, Native Americans: Enduring Culture and Traditions and The Encyclopedia of Native America.

In addition to being an anthropologist, writer and teacher, she was also an artist. Her books include many of her own illustrations.


Here is a link to her memorial site.

This picture (with her dog Mr. Skippy), was taken in 2008 by Sandy Arbogast,
and is from the online slide show at her memorial site.

Extraordinary Spirit: A Tribute To The Life Of Trudy Griffin-Pierce
will be held in her honor tomorrow, April 18th 2009, here in Tucson.


Indra Adi Gunawan said...

My name Is Indra
Nice To meet u


Ms. Sushi said...

This is a very nice tribute. It made me wish I had taken one of her classes, though I never took any anthropology classes. I really should have.

Sara Gerard said...

I was lucky enough to have a few classes with Trudy. She was my favorite and I miss her. I was very sad to hear she had passed.

Post a Comment

Say hello?