Featured Faculty, Dr. Gabriel Sanchez

Assistant professor Dr. Gabriel Sanchez joined the Michigan State University Department of Anthropology as a tenure stream faculty member in 2021, having previously served as a College of Social Science Dean’s Research Associate at MSU from 2019-2021.

Dr. Sanchez received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2019, where his dissertation was titled “The Historical Ecology and Ancient Fisheries of the Central California Coast: Insights from Point Reyes National Seashore and the Santa Cruz Coast”. Prior to receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Sanchez received his M.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2015, and his B.A.in Anthropology from the University of Oregon in 2014. Dr. Sanchez states that he pursued a degree in anthropology after witnessing first-hand how anthropological archaeology has broad relevance in many contemporary issues, especially related to the cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples and long-term relationships between people and place. He first became interested in anthropology in community college following recently being discharged from the military and enrolling in general education requirements, one of which was cultural anthropology. He quickly enrolled in the entire series of courses the institution offered in anthropology and was fortunate to be taught by an amazing scholar and teacher, Dr. Helzer, a paleoethnobotanist working in Oregon.

In his current research, he is broadly interested in understanding human-environmental relationships in coastal settings, Indigenous archaeology, and community-based research, and is particularly interested in understanding Indigenous fisheries. These interests intersect with his collaborative research project initiated at the request of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band investigating the biogeography of threatened and federally endangered salmon species and steelhead in California. As the native range of Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kitsch) is highly debated, the research of Dr. Sanchez and his collaborators seeks to clarify what salmonids were present in coastal streams to help guide contemporary fisheries management. 

When asked about the underlying curiosities or questions that drive his work, Dr. Sanchez says, “I am particularly interested in reimagining human-environmental relationships. Often, narratives of Indigenous engagement with their environments are derived from evolutionary perspectives that lack historical context. These same studies often contain significant sampling biases in data recovery and analyses. So I am interested in better understanding Indigenous agency and how including information that has not been previously considered alters interpretations”. The component of his work that he enjoys the most are the amazing people he has had the honor and privilege to work with, including undergraduate and graduate students, academic and agency collaborators, and the Indigenous communities who have provided the opportunity to collaborate. In terms of an overall impact, he hopes that his research will continue to have relevance and value to his community partners and tribal collaborators. At MSU, Dr. Sanchez says he really enjoys the collegiality of the department. Within his current position, he especially values the opportunity to train the next generation of anthropological archaeologists in the classroom, laboratory, and in the field.

Prior to living in East Lansing, Dr. Sanchez lived in Berkeley, California. He says the most challenging component of the move to Michigan was the major change in diversity and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after his family’s move. However, he enjoys exploring the Midwest with his partner and daughter, especially hiking in and around the forests of Michigan and Lake Michigan. He also enjoys playing music, especially Son Jarocho, an afro-Indigenous musical tradition from Veracruz, Mexico. Through this music, he has been able to form an international community and convivir with some amazing people. When asked what is next on his horizon, Dr. Sanchez shared that he and his colleagues are working on an edited volume synthesizing their collaborative research with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band investigating Indigenous landscape and seascape stewardship.