Commencement 2021: Respected Spiritual Leader of Yurok Tribe to be Awarded Honorary Doctorate

Humboldt State University will confer an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to Walter James Lara, Sr. at a May 15 Commencement Ceremony.

Lara is a respected spiritual leader and wisdom keeper of the Yurok Tribal people and recognized as a Native cultural and political luminary among Tribal Nations throughout the State of California.

“I will always be thankful for the choices that Walt, and others like him made to hold on to and outspokenly protect the ceremonial places, the Yurok values and expertise in so many areas of Yurok life and ceremony,” says Jim McQuillen, Education Director, Yurok Tribe. “I am even more grateful for his tireless efforts to pass on the knowledge that he learned from his elders and how he continues to teach, share, and work with the next generations.”

Lara has invested in establishing and nurturing partnerships with HSU. As a forester for the Yurok Tribe, he and his team guest-lectured in the Department of Forestry & Wildland Resources for several years. In addition, he has guest-lectured in the Art department on Native American Art of the North Coast; the Native American Studies department on Environmental Justice; and the Child Development department on Policy and Advocacy.

Lara is actively involved in student-led activities on campus such as American Indian College Motivation Day, California Indian Big Time & Social Gathering, Indigenous People’s Week, and events sponsored by Indian Natural Resource Science & Engineering Program and Indian Tribal & Educational Personnel Program. He is an advocate of higher education and his children have acquired five degrees from HSU. He is currently mentoring HSU students on the production of a video that highlights Indigenous knowledge.

“Dr. Lara’s contributions to the Yurok Tribe, the surrounding community, and Humboldt State University epitomize meaningful and life-long service,” says Jenn Capps, HSU Provost & Vice President of Academic Affairs. “Recognition of Dr. Lara and the conferral of this degree are well deserved and long overdue.”

Further, with the support of the Child Development department and the Yurok Tribe, he is co-coordinating a Ka’m-t’em: Next Steps for K-12 Educators Course for 80 local teachers in Humboldt and Del Norte County. In doing so, he has assisted HSU in its vision to “commit to increasing our diversity of people and perspectives” and to “be exemplary partners with our communities, including Tribal Nations.”

“Mr. Lara’s work for Indigenous revitalization through, research, practice, and education have
influenced at least two subsequent generations of educators and scholars throughout
California,” says Victor Bjelajac, District Superintendent, California State Parks/NorthCoast Redwoods. “Mr. Lara’s reach has extended across the nation and the world, with special emphasis across Indigenous ancestral lands on the North Coast of California.”

Lara will receive a Doctorate of Humane Letters during the College of Professional Studies ceremony on Saturday, May 15 at 4 p.m. Past Honorary Degree recipients.