Writing the Indigenous Americas:
Quebec, Florida, Amazonia, the Caribbean
Winthrop-King Institute International Conference
5-7 April 2023
Face-to face conference, with options for online participation where required.
Martin Munro (FSU), Andrew Frank (FSU), Juan-Carlos Galeano (FSU) Rodney Saint-Éloi (Mémoire d’encrier), Eliana Vāgālāu (Loyola University Chicago)
Jorge Marcone (Rutgers University), Jeremy Narby (Author), Miguel Rocha (Universidad Javeriana)
“I speak French because I had no choice. However, French will be my weapon of mass destruction against colonialism, that outrageous attitude encountered every day. This weapon will refine my memory, it will emancipate my opinions and my speech.”
-Natasha Kanapé Fontaine
“I am naturally a warrior fighting against racism. What is human, is not the color of our skin, it is our sense of human intelligence, it is our capacity to be together. […] What interests me as writer and publisher, is the question of memory. Who will write the stories of these dispossessed peoples? The first dispossession, the most serious one, was not when the lands were stolen, it was when they stole the spirit, the soul of the people. The most complete genocide comes with the destruction of the symbols and signs that allow people to exist. And these people exist because they bear witness to humanity, because they write their stories. Can we live without the indigenous culture of Canada? A great people needs to be connected to other imaginaries.”
Following the words of the poet-publisher Rodney Saint-Éloi,this conference brings together the people and cultures of the First Nations of Canada with those of Florida, Amazonia, and the Caribbean. Conceived in a spirit of solidarity, the conference will welcome scholars, artists, authors, and activists from the four regions, in order to explore their particularities as well as the connections between them. What can the art and literature of these regions tell us about ecology, history, language, memory, and justice? What can Indigenous presence and survival tell us about the long history of colonialism and efforts to erase their histories and cultures?
The Winthrop-King Institute at Florida State University is dedicated to advancing knowledge of France and the French-speaking world in the United States as well as to promote interdisciplinary work that encourages new understandings of France and its relationship to the world. “Writing the Indigenous Americas” furthers its comparative and global mission by examining the ongoing presence and hemispheric importance of Indigenous communities and cultures throughout the western hemisphere. The conference stems from a desire to amplify and learn directly from and about Indigenous voices, whether they are expressed in their Native languages, French, Spanish, or English. In doing so, it reaffirms the survivance of Indigenous people.
While the study of Native American and Anglophone Canadian First-Nations literature is well established and flourishing, there has been relatively little scholarly attention paid to the work of indigenous authors from Quebec writing in French, and it barely features in discussions of Francophone postcolonial writing more broadly. And yet, since the early 1970s, a body of such work in French has developed, through texts that typically address issues of culture, history, and politics in attempts to raise awareness among and beyond the indigenous communities. During the 1980s and 1990s, the writing expanded beyond the preservation of old tales, and became increasingly creative in its use of genres such as the novel, poetry, and drama, and in its engagement with diverse social, cultural, and historical issues. As the literature develops, so does its audience, and awareness of this neglected but important literary tradition is slowly growing. One of the aims of this conference is to expand awareness, understanding, and appreciation of this important corpus of writing in French. Also, we will explore issues of publication and dissemination. As such, we will welcome the publisher/poet Rodney Saint-Éloi, whose Mémoire d’encrier in Montreal publishes many of the most important contemporary authors, a number of whom will also be special guests at the conference. We will also screen the film Kuessipan, based on Naomi Fontaine’s novel, and host readings and workshops with the invited guests.
Importantly, we will also host sessions that bring together our guests from the north with Indigenous artists, filmmakers, and scholars from Florida, the Amazon, and the Caribbean (including French Guyane) in a celebration of the cultures of the Indigenous peoples of the broader Americas.
The rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest and the lives of its culturally diverse inhabitants have had an important presence in the media and discourse on critical global issues such as destruction of the Amazonian biome and climate change. Whereas it is true that the Amazon rainforest still provides an ecological service to the world, no less important are the medicinal plants, cultural practices, epistemologies, and ecological spirituality native to the basin and its people. Cultural production, through the oral narratives of the Indigenous and Amazonian literature written in Spanish by non-Indigenous authors, have allowed Amazonian voices and perspectives to contribute to discourse examining the effects of globalization and the environmental crisis. Authors and researchers such as Marcos Colón, Jorge Marcone, Jeremy Narby, Miguel Rocha and the Amazonian Indigenous philosopher Rafael Chanchari Pizuri from the Shawi nation will speak and discuss these issues and other related themes at the conference.
The conference will also consider the ways in which Seminoles and other Indigenous Floridians have used the written and spoken word to defy acts of colonialism, acts that sought to erase their presence on the peninsula and deny their legitimacy as a people. Prior to and during the 19th-century war, Seminoles insisted that Florida was their ancestral homelands and rejected notions that they were newcomers. Instead they pointed to their primordial connections to their Florida homelands and tied their political authority to their connection to the territory’s peculiar ecology. As nineteenth-century headman Miconopy expressed, “Here our navel strings were first cut and blood from them sunk into the earth, and made the country dear to us.—We have heard that the Spaniards sold this Country to the Americans. This they had no right to do,—the land was not theirs, it belonged to the Seminole.” More recently the Indigenous elder and activist Bobby Billie explained “In the earlier days, before you called it Florida, when there were not too many newcomers in the one you call Florida, we lived our way of life, we hunted and fished and camped and lived through out the one you call Florida and beyond just as our Ancestors did.” Their testimonies then and now reveal how Seminoles defined their indigeneity through kinship, their cosmology, and the ecology.
We invite panel and paper proposals on any aspect of the Indigenous histories and cultures of Quebec, the Amazon, the Caribbean, and Florida, and the possible connections between these places, their traditions, and their contemporary realities.
Possible themes may include:
- Children’s writing
- Oral cultures
- Nature/the environment
- The reservation
- Gender Connections to other literary/cultural traditions