Our Legacy: Indigenous-African Relations
Across the Americas
April 29, 30 and May 1, 2011
"The essence of this country is bound up in Indian land and African slave labour."1
These words by Commanche activist Paul Smith speak to the processes underlying the development of the United States. And yet, clearly, these same processes have shaped the development of the Americas, as a range of distinct colonial regimes in different regions based on appropriating Indigenous land, and to a greater or lesser extent, on importing African slave labour. Moreover, the repercussions of these underlying formative processes are manifested today in every nation-state in the Americas, as communities of diasporic Africans and Indigenous peoples struggle with the commonalities and contradictions relating to their sometimes divergent and sometimes shared histories—as distinct Black or Indigenous communities, or as the "red-black" peoples created by their intermarriage. Across the Americas, relations between diasporic Africans and Indigenous peoples have fostered both magnificent alliances and intense conflicts, which vary according to region or nation-state.
In the United States, for example, in a context where the lines of slavery and segregation have remorselessly been drawn across Indian country, and where Native identity is heavily regulated, Native-Black relations have been marked both by strong interconnections and intense intergroup struggle. Outside of the United States, however, the global repercussions of African liberation struggles, and the hegemonic weight of the American civil rights movement have intersected with a range of contemporary struggles for Indigenous self-determination, with a diverse range of developments. In Brazil and the Caribbean, for example, myths of Indigenous extinction and questions of "authenticity"—whether related to phenotype or the linking of notions of "real Indianness" to savagery—are in some regions being accompanied by new attempts to regulate identities as "Indigenous" or "Black". However, the Caribbean, as well as Central America, are also sites where the Garifuna—an Indigenous people created out of 18th century intermarriage between Africans escaping slavery and the Carib peoples who took them in—have remained the only truly hybrid Indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere; despite forced migration and diaspora, they have refused to be reduced to choosing between their Indigenous African and Kalinago roots. In still other nations, including Mexico, Honduras and Canada, the presence of African peoples and their histories of relationships with Indigenous peoples have been submerged and "written out" of the history of the nation while various nation-building policies have also minimizing the presence of distinct Indigenous peoples; as a result, in these nations, both Black and Native presence—as well as the history of Black-Native alliances within these nations—is frequently untheorized or unwritten.
For this conference, papers are invited that explore and theorize relations between Indigenous peoples and diasporic Africans across the Americas. Topics might include, but are not limited to:
- Revisioning histories of slavery and resistance (including Indigenous slavery, historical alliances or divisions between Africans and Indigenous peoples under slavery, and comparative explorations of slavery and Indigenous forced labour under different colonial regimes)
- Indigenous peoples' resistance to the colonial imposition of slave societies within their territories; the transformation of their societies in the face of slavery
- Historical or contemporary ethnographies of "red/black" communities
- The effects of formal state identity regulation on Native-Black relations in Canada or the United States; attempts to regulate identity in states where Indigenous resurgence struggles and African resistance struggles are taking place
- Theories addressing racial formation in connections to genocide and slavery, or to nation-building policies shaped by notions of mestizaje, miscegenation, or multiculturalism
- The transformation of Indigenous or African identities with diaspora and migration
- Spirituality and diaspora, for Africans in diaspora or for diasporic Indigenous peoples
- Indigenous identity relating to phenotype, to "racial purity", or to myths of savagery and "real Indianness"
- Changes in theorizing Blackness in the face of Indigenous resurgence and the presence of "red-black" peoples.
- Cultural production (e.g. literature, art, and the performing arts) and Indigenous and/or diasporic African resistance
- Public policy relating to education or cultural production pertaining to Indigenous/African diasporic communities.
Comparative, hemispheric, and interdisciplinary approaches are especially welcome.
1 Paul Smith. "Lost in America". Borderlines: Cultures, Contexts, Canadas. 1992, 17-18.