Plenary Sessions

Our four group Plenary Sessions are organized around  four topical foci: 

Memories / Objects / Stories | Santa Cruz, CA (August 2014)

Pursues how artifacts and narratives (histories, legends, literary fictions, testimony) work together to construct indigenous memories, and how in turn memorial processes spur culturally creative production or reinterpretation of objects and inherited narratives. Especially considering contested colonial histories and claims in the present to speak for an authorized indigenous past, we will build upon thinkers such as Ranajit Guha and Dipesh Chakrabarty to broaden our understanding of how indigenous peoples “make history.” Guha, for example, discusses how both Indian history-writers during the Raj and the personal meditations of the poet Tagore may be understood as different symbolic expressions of indigenous experiences of historicity, which remain largely unrecognizable within Western notions of world history.

Peoples / Migrations / Claims | Canberra, Australia (August 2015)

Concentrates on two major forces redefining indigeneity, geographical/cultural displacement in migration and the diversifying range of domains in which claims to indigeneity may be made (legal, political, cultural, linguistic, genomic, etc.). For example, in Australia’s Northern Territory, a Catholic Mission Station still owned by the Church and the attachment of the aboriginal “Mission people” to this “alienated” land rather than their traditional homeland together considerably complicate their indigenous identity. Local, national, and supernational contexts, expressed through interwoven cultural, territorial, and legal factors, have shaped their sense of tradition, their feelings of belonging with respect to both land sites, and their migratory movements between the sites in response to changing social contexts.

Human and Non-Human Belonging | Milwaukee, WI (May 2016)

Expands the defining frame of indigeneity to include human and non-human actors (e.g. climate, animal and plant species, topographical aspects of land, technical instruments) and their complex interactions. The internationally best-selling success of Lü Jiamin’s 2004 novel Wolf Totem, which draws together Lü’s memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution with the long trajectory of Chinese subjugation of the Mongols, the extermination of the Mongolian wolf, and the environmental devastation of the inner Mongolian grasslands, provides a useful example of how indigeneity is being globally redefined in relation to both human and non-human contexts. In parallel, Lü’s novel condemns Maoist collective agriculture and Han ethnic domination of the Mongol people, the ecological consequences of Chinese communist control over Mongolian territory and the destruction of indigenous nomadic forms of life in favor of stationary farming. Its impact in depicting the status of Mongol indigeneity cannot be separated from China’s economic liberalization and its prominent role in globalization, nor from the extraordinary global translation and dissemination of Lü’s book.

Territories / Spaces / Environments | Geissen, Germany (November 2016)

Considers dynamics of place and displacement in indigeneity, with special attention to how traditional conceptions of territory interact with more abstract notions of space and with highly contested, often transnationally scaled conceptions of environment. Michael Hathaway, for example, has documented how recent environmentalist concerns in China have led Chinese public intellectuals to designate an expanding range of rural peoples in environmentally sensitive or unique spaces as “indigenous,” to help strengthen their environmentalist case before transnational institutions like the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund.