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Global Indigenous Literature and Human Rights

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Organizer: Audrey Golden

Co-Organizer: Alex Harmon

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In the decades following the ratification of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), scholars across disciplines have begun considering the relationship between indigenous studies and postcolonial studies. During that period, there has been heightened attention to the historical and ongoing effects of settler colonial violence on Indigenous Peoples in the Americas, Southeast Asia, Northern Eurasia, and the Pacific.

At a time in which questions of citizenship and statelessness are garnering ever-increasing attention in both domestic and international politics, how do we conceive of Indigeneity and Indigenous rights? Constitutions have become a source for enumerating rights to self-determination, from the written constitutions of Indigenous groups in North and South America and Southeast Asia to constitutional reform initiatives in Australia, New Zealand, and the Nordic states. Land rights also loom large—e.g., for the Standing Rock Sioux’s #NODAPL movement in response to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, for the Wangan and Jagalingou of Australia who have taken their fight against a coal mine to the United Nations as a human rights violation, and for Indigenous rights activists in Guatemala who have been arrested for voicing opposition to government land intrusions.

Alternative approaches to understanding the legal status of Indigenous Peoples have centered on citizenship and sovereignty, political constructs that, while borrowed from a western tradition, have been remade by Indigenous communities worldwide. At the same time, scholars have critiqued initiatives like the UNDRIP for a lack of enforceability and for privileging the sovereignty of states while locating Indigenous sovereignty as subordinate—a colonial condition that the document nominally seeks to redress (Cheyfitz).

Where, then, do Indigenous civil and human rights come from? This seminar looks to wide-ranging global Indigenous literary traditions (e.g., fiction, poetry, cinema) to understand questions of citizenship and statelessness in the 21st century, as well as to illuminate the transnational and global confluences that are constructed by and against the complex and overlapping legal circumstances under which life for Indigenous peoples unfolds. Can literature, as a creative undertaking and artistic invention, perform the transformative labor of adapting western forms of governance to Indigenous forms of life and community? If such an adaptation can be achieved, what models does literature enact for such a transformation?

Topics might include:

Indigenous constitutions and constitution-making practices
Human rights and Indigenous literature
Indigenous literary responses to federal/state constitutions
Rights to language
Sovereignty and rights to self-determination
Land rights and environmental activism
UNDRIP in the 21st century
Truth commissions on settler colonial violence

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