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Paul Apodaca M.A. ’95, Ph.D. ’99

Posted On - May 28, 2015


Paul Apodaca is that rare individual who has successfully combined a full-time professional position with the successful pursuit of an M.A., completing the latter two-year program in just four quarters! His achievements as a student and as a member of both the scholarly and museum communities, as well as his contribution to the Native American community are both individually and collectively impressive and significant.

While conducting original research which led to pioneering his master’s thesis – a cultural and ethnomusicological study of Cahuilla bird songs – Apodaca, of Navajo and Mexican descent, has continued as the curator of the Native American Indian art collection at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. He has also been directly responsible for the California history collection, the folk art collection and the overall collections management.

His thesis is the first study to document the important revival of this style of indigenous song among the Cahuilla and other desert Indians of Southern California. His approach was that of a true participant-observer since he has been accepted as a regular performer of these songs by many of the Cahuilla leaders even though he is not a Cahuilla himself. He has been involved with the recording of indigenous music as well as with the disposition of musical tapes with the archives of various Native American reservations.

Apodaca plays a unique and valuable role in mediating between Indian communities, academia and the general public. He has twice brought Cahuilla bird singers to the UCLA campus – the first to UCLA’s annual Pow Wow and the second as part of the California Indian conference. He was also one of the creative people behind Knott’s Berry Farm’s Indian Trails, an entertaining and educational experience.

Apodaca is an unusually gifted artist, organizer, contributor to the community and researcher. He serves as a professor at Chapman University in the sociology department and as a visiting professor at UCLA in the world arts and culture department. Apodaca was part of the team that won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1985. The film, Broken Rainbow, dealt with the Navajo and Hopi land dispute. Apodaca is a board member of the California Council for the Humanities and oversees the museum grant program.

In addition to his community services, Apodaca is the regional advisor for California and consultant to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian. He is enrolled in the doctoral program in UCLA’s folklore and mythology department.