As Retirement Approaches, Daniel Boxberger Looks Back on a Career ‘He Just Sort of Fell Into’

By Jazmine Torres
Office of Communications and Marketing intern
  • Daniel Boxberger
    Daniel Boxberger

Professor and former chair of the Anthropology Department, Daniel Boxberger is retiring after fall quarter, but he said he plans to stay busy and will continue to focus on his research and advocacy work with Native American tribes. 

Boxberger, who has taught at Western since 1983, said when he came to Western’s campus in 1971 as an undergraduate student, he never imagined he would have stayed for so long or that he would become a professor.

“I never had a goal to be a professor, I kind of just fell into it,” Boxberger said.

What drew him into a 35-year career at Western was the students. While he was at the University Of British Columbia as a graduate student, he was asked to teach at Western part-time.

“Initially, I was terrified to talk in front of a room full of students,” Boxberger said.

He was asked to teach Native Peoples of North America and Native Peoples of the Northwest as a non-tenure-track faculty member. After remaining in that position for three years he then applied for a tenure-track position and was hired.

“During those three years I got over my anxiety and really started to enjoy interacting with the students. I think the culture at WWU that puts students ahead of research and service makes teaching enjoyable. It is hard work, but the students are what makes it rewarding,” Boxberger said.

A Passion for Tribal Advocacy

He is known for his research with Native American tribes in communities throughout British Columbia, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and California, and he has written over four books and over 40 articles relating to research with Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. He recently completed a book called “Before and After the State: Politics, Poetics and People(s) in the Pacific Northwest,” which he co-authored with Alan McDougall and Lisa Philips.

He has written government reports of the San Juan Island National Historical Park and North Cascades National Park.

Boxberger is also well remembered for his major role in the research of Kennewick Man, also known as “The Ancient One,” the skeletal remains of a prehistoric Paleoamerican man found along the Columbia River.

When the body was determined to be of a Native American, Boxberger worked with the National Park Service to investigate the ethnographic and historical data concerning the Kennewick Man’s cultural affiliation.

 He was asked to review published materials concerning traditional ethnography such as kinship, patterns of residence, histories and artifact types and dwellings and other things related to the ethnographic history of the remains. Kennewick Man sparked controversy for more than three decades. The remains were in the middle of an ongoing court case between the Umatilla, Yakama, Colville, Nez Perce and Wanapum, collectively referred to as the Claimant Tribes, and scientists who wanted to study the remains and the United States Army Corps of Engineers who oversaw the land that Kennewick Man was found on.

The Claimant Tribes demanded the remains be returned to them for reburial under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, but in order to do that archeologist and anthropologists had to prove that Kennewick Man was indeed a native, thus it became a battle for ownership.  After a lengthy court battle, in 2017 Kennewick Man was reburied by 200 members of the Columbia Basin tribes at an undisclosed location, ending the dispute.

Looking Back

Reflecting on his time at Western as a professor and chair, he said he found teaching to be an interesting career - and his efforts were recognized in 2008, the year he won WWU’S Paul Olscamp Research Award. This award is given annually to a faculty member nominated by other faculty who are from either the College of Humanities and Social Sciences or the College of Science and Engineering as recognition of outstanding contributions to research.

Boxberger also recently was awarded and recognized as a Fulbright Scholar in Canada for his research in Aboriginal Studies at Vancouver Island University in fall of 2017.

His colleagues also appreciate Boxberger’s outstanding contribution to the Anthropology Department. Todd Koetje, the chair of the Anthropology Department, shared his experience working alongside Boxberger for the past several years.

“Daniel has had an outstanding career, and been instrumental in our department. While a prolific scholar, he also did an excellent job serving as department chair for three terms, through some very rough times. We are all greatly indebted to him,” said Koetje.

Boxberger said he has been slowly easing his way toward retirement for the past couple of years.

“Why now? Well, because it’s time,” Boxberger said.

Even though he is retiring, he plans to continue his research and will work with Native tribes, primarily with the Sechelt and Quinault nations, on legal issues such as fishing rights.

He plans to spend his retirement with his wife, Cheryl, in Tucson, Arizona where he has spent the winters for the past several years.

His dedication to advocacy work with Native tribes and longtime influence as an educator will be the legacy that he leaves behind at Western.

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Monday, June 4, 2018 - 2:12pm