F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

Indigenous Studies Panel

I attended the roundtable entitled “Indigenous Studies and British Literatures” moderated by Dr. Megan Peiser of Oakland University and featuringDr. Nikki Hessell  of Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington) New Zealand and Dr. Robbie Richardson of Princeton University. The event was organized as part of The University of Maryland Center for Literary and Comparative Studies’ year-long series, "Antiracism: Research, Teaching, Public Engagement," which aims to support the work of emerging, early-, and mid-career scholars and teachers, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian, and other minority ethnicities, with the goal of the contributing to the development of antiracist scholarship and pedagogy and promoting antiracism through public engagement. 

 The roundtable made its political and ideological orientations apparent from the very outset. The moderator began with an acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter protests currently occurring across the country, as well as a land acknowledgement that identified the original indigenous inhabitants of the land on which the University of Maryland sits and the land on which her own university sits in what is now recognized as Rochester, Michigan. She thin invited all attendees to share their own acknowledgements in the chat. The moderator then introduced herself in the indigenous language of her Choctaw heritage. I appreciated these deliberate acts of reclamation of the intellectual space that we shared as indigenous space, which set the tone for the entire event.

A few ideas from the roundtable stood out to me. Dr. Richardson made the point that when it comes to the relationship between British literature and indigenous studies, Indigenous studies doesn’t have to fit itself into British lit; it is the work of colonizing fields to orient or situate themselves within indigenous studies. He stated that scholars of British literature should recognize that the long 18th-century never ended, and any study of transatlantic British literature must necessarily concern itself with the character of what he calls “indigenous survivance” and the continuities of lived indigenous experiences. This also means reading indigenous texts such as treaties as British literature. There was also discussion of decolonization work in universities as a largely performative enterprise. Dr. Hessel noted that universities are inherently settler institutions, and that even as decolonization becomes an academic buzzword and land acknowledgements become are increasingly becoming common practice, structural progress is being rolled back and no new progress is being made. Even Indigenous Studies departments are often add-ons to academic structures that will never change fundamentally. Dr. Peiser suggested a framework that privileges “re-indigenizing” over “de-colonizing.” Since the fact of colonialism will always be with us, the question we must ask ourselves is how can we become more connected to the indigenous world and indigenous ways of being? 

Another interesting topic related to the ways in which the field of Indigenous Studies is in conversation with Critical Race Studies. The speakers noted that Black studies especially resonant for indigenous studies, as the experiences of enslaved Africans and their descendants have been and continue to be directly related to the experiences of indigenous peoples under settler-colonial regimes. In contrast, postcolonial theory is much more fraught for indigenous people because “post” suggests a colonized condition that is in the past, whereas the settler-colonial system persists. The panelists concluded that for this reason, Afro-indigenous histories should be central areas of analysis in Indigenous Studies. 

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