February 2024 - Sustainability Champion: Angel Riotutar

This month we are highlighting Angel Riotutar, Director of the American Indian Resource Center and People of Color Sustainability Collective. Read on to learn about Angel and her amazing work on our campus.

February 08, 2024


Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and how your path led to where you are today. 

I was born and raised in Santa Cruz. When I was about 7 mom decided to move to West Virginia as my step dad was working on the coal mines. We lived there for 4 years, and from there we moved to New Orleans.  I went to junior high and part of high school there, which opened up my world of belonging and fitting in because I was a-riotutar-2022-profile-photo-1.jpg “different.” I had dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, and it was hard to fit in, but when I got to New Orleans, it made it a bit easier.

I moved back to Santa Cruz, and attended local high schools. I wasn’t a great student and ended up graduating from a local continuation high school, but was not really on a path to a four year College after. 

I went to Cabrillo for  a couple of years, didn’t succeed there, then worked until my mid-thirties when I decided to go back to college. It took me 11 years total to graduate with a Bachelors.

I wanted to stay in the town I was born in, so I attended UCSC. As a student, I was an intern at El Centro, bounced around between [ethnic resource] centers and eventually graduated. That was not an easy path.

During that time I lived in Santa Cruz, I was still connected to UCSC via Sofia Robles Garcia who worked at the financial aid office and Rosie Cabrera who was the director of El Centro at the time.

They were really involved with the Santa Cruz Indian Council, which my family had started, and I was very involved with (I was a second generation). We helped with the pow wow up on campus and other events.

I had met one of the first directors of the center, who was so amazing and kind, and I became attached to her. Later on, I met Dennis Tibbetts, the second director of the center and I mentioned to Rosie: “I can do this job,” and Rosie said, “mi’hija, if you go to school, yes, you can do this job.” Rosie was my inspiration to go back to college in 2004. I had a whole life prior to this, raising my three daughters. 

Fast forward, I applied to graduate school, and was also looking for work when I saw the job announcement for the AIRC director. I decided to apply for the job, got an interview. In the meantime while waiting, I was on my path to get my MSW at SDSU, I learned I got accepted to graduate school. I was offered the AIRC director position so I gave up grad school to work within my dream job. The rest is history.

Being in this capacity is something I had manifested years ago. So I am really happy to have been an alumni, to be a former intern, to be a Santa Cruz local, and be immersed in the native community in the area and beyond. I felt like I had a lot to bring to the native community on campus and show students that there is a whole community outside of UCSC to support you, to guide you, and to create a home away from home. 


As the Director of American Indian Resource Center (AIRC), and the co-director for the People of Color Sustainability Collective (PoCSC), tell us about the most challenging and the most rewarding part of your work?

The most challenging is the BIPOC communities are still finding their path to this landscape of social justice and environmental justice, still finding their sense of belonging with confidence.

So continuing to spread information about social and environmental justice so students keep finding the confidence in themselves to accept that campus and this community is their place. And knowing that there are spaces open to them and that they have great knowledge to give to this activism movement, with justice and equity. It is so big. 

The reward is that the students embrace the space that develops this new sense of belonging, this new sense of identity and this passion to create a sense of equity. They become driven to create the change and be the change that they want to see. With the programs that they do, reaching out to students, I have seen the numbers of students wanting to participate, and other departments wanting to join the work that they do, increase. That is very rewarding.

The relationships that are built from this, are the most rewarding part for me also. Getting to know the students, to be able to have these relationships with them is my ultimate reward.


You have had extensive experience working with (and in) the American Indian community in so many counties near us, and farther south. Can you tell us about your experience with new partnerships at UCSC, compared to other communities you worked with before? What is unique here, and what do you see as a commonality amongst all communities you worked with?

My experience with building new partnerships at UCSC has been the opportunity to meet the diverse community that we have, and being able to get to know folks, what their goals are, what their passions are. Painting the 

PoCSC students

picture of the world they want to see. Having these conversations about how to make that picture real, what do we need to add to it, what colors do we need to bring into it to make this complete picture of what our ideal earth looks like.

Building the relationships, having these conversations, and putting all of this knowledge and these ideas together so we can create what it is that we want to find on this campus, that is what makes our effort sustainable for our students.  

We transition our students, they come and go. So what can we keep as a constant rhythm to keep moving towards a constant that is sustainable for each incoming student at UCSC. That is what is unique. We can share common goals, we share comradery together, in creating a healthier environment for not only for us, but for our students.

What knowledge are we going to pass down to them as they come in? We are sharing our knowledge and our ideas with incoming students as we continue to carry these traditions. That would be the commonality I share with communities outside of this area. We are storytellers, we are keepers of knowledge and tradition, and it is our responsibility to continue to share in this way. 

Not everything is written down in black and white. It comes through the relationships, it comes through the stories, it comes from this inherited knowledge that we have as humans.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability to me is a constant of shared knowledge and practices and culture that is everlasting but it takes us, willingly and consciously working to make those movements to keep those practices going. We have been here for thousands of years and if we are reflective of our time here, that is sustainability! All of those practices and all of the knowledge that we continue to pass onto generations is what sustainability means to me.

Is there anything else about the work you do that you would like to share? Anything in the horizon of the centers you are in charge of, that is exciting for the near future?

This year we have built new collaborations with the student organizations here on campus. They have been collaborating and planing with so many student led organization. Yes, administrators have talked and thought these to be great topics, but really all the ideas have come from the students.

They wanted to work with Roots of Tradition, with SEJA, with the Climate Coalition, with all of the gardens on campus and many different groups. They have been instrumental in doing the event planning for these activities to outreach to more students, and as mentioned earlier the numbers have grown significantly.

I have been really happy with seeing the growth take place, the relationships being built, hearing them talk, laugh and learning how to organize. They are learning from each other and building long lasting relationships that will carry them through their college experience.

Lastly, what do you do for fun outside of work?

I have fruit trees, a yard, and I like to play in and keep up the yard. 
I have plums, persimmons, pears, oranges, and fig trees; I like to grow the food and eat it. I like to go on motorcycle rides and to rollerskate. I Iike to sew, do crafts, and love being with my friends and family (and eating and cooking with them)!