Jacque Kocer, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, is working on a dissertation investigating ancient Indigenous peoples around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

Kocer is a native New Mexican and got her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Davis on an athletic scholarship playing soccer. She majored in international relations and Spanish, not completely knowing where that would take her. After graduating, Kocer experienced gender inequity in “male-dominated, money-driven industries” at a small financial advisory company in Northern California, which was part of why she left.

“I left in 2011 and walked away from this really unfulfilling but high-salary career, and I wanted to pursue this academic career in archaeology,” Kocer said.

Kocer has now found her center, and her research focuses on the archaeologically defined group of the Gallina, who occupied land 70 km northwest of Chaco Canyon from approximately A.D. 1100 to 1300. 

“There’s a lot of groups that claim ancestry to Chaco … but in the Gallina area, no Indigenous group yet claims descent or affiliation with the Gallina,” Kocer said. “That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but that’s what’s kind of intriguing. How do they fit into the whole pre-Hispanic Southwest story?”

Clarence Cruz, an assistant professor for the UNM Art Department, met Kocer when she was a student in one of his classes. Cruz admired the hardworking and curious traits that Kocer exhibited as his student that have now transferred to her research and the work she does with the nonprofit she established, the Gallina Research Institute for Indigenous Technology (GRIIT), which is trying to ascertain current and past Gallina identities.

“(Kocer) actually wanted to go out and discover and process things,” Cruz said. “Those skills are great to have … She knows where she’s going and what she wants to do and achieve. I see her very much so accomplishing what she is trying to accomplish at this point.”

Although Kocer’s former corporate job in California was a far cry from the work she does now as an anthropologist, some of the technological skills she learned from that position have transferred well.

“I did what was soulless, and now I’m using any gifts that I got from that industry as far as the ability to number-crunch or use (Microsoft) Excel and kind of convert that to something I could use in my research,” Kocer said.

UNM and GRIIT have been a nice change for Kocer from what she has experienced as far as being a woman in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It’s really empowering to be at a university where they cater to pushing women and having them be at the forefront of science,” Kocer said. “While in graduate school I became the mother of two girls, and I think it’s made me a better researcher (and) it’s made me refocus my goals to the extent where I can incorporate a nonprofit.”

GRIIT, which Kocer founded with her husband, works on funding collaborative projects geared to include Native women and girls.

“(The nonprofit) has a permit right now with the Santa Fe National Forest to conduct a 3,000-acre archaeological survey,” Kocer said. “We’re building funds now to take two Indigenous students out there to come with us and serve as our interns.”

Cruz is on the committee for GRIIT and said Kocer’s goals to provide opportunities to Indigenous students is very unique.

“Being a woman, sometimes you’re not given so much of an opportunity to expand and grow,” Cruz said. “She’s strong and she’ll go right after (what she’s working for) — she’s not (one) to leave.”

Kocer’s main motivation for returning to graduate school was to reconnect with her roots in New Mexico; she felt disjointed from her heritage and wasn’t certain of where she came from.

“When you’re away from your home, your identity is just so fluid … I don’t know how many times I got the question, ‘What are you?’” Kocer said. “I think that fueled my interest in trying to go back to school, understand my roots, understand my heritage … I knew it’s where I needed to be.”

Emma Trevino is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @itsemmatr