Writing the First peoples of the Americas: Quebec, Florida, Amazonia, the Caribbean

Winthrop-King Institute International Conference

5-7 April 2023 

Martin Munro (FSU), Andrew Frank (FSU), Juan-Carlos Galeano (FSU) Rodney Saint-Éloi (Mémoire d’encrier), Eliana Vāgālāu (Loyola University Chicago)

Keynote Speakers
Joséphine Bacon, Virginia Bordeleau, Jessica Cattelino, Rafael Chancharí Pizuri, Alejandra Dubcovsky, Norma Dunning, Jorge Marcone, Rita Mestokosho, Jeremy Narby, Tina Osceola, Louis Karl Picard Sioui, Miguel Rocha, Jean Sioui

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 First Peoples’ presence and survival tell us about the long history of colonialism and efforts to erase their histories and cultures?

“Writing the First Peoples of the Americas” furthers comparative and global mission of the Winthrop-King Institute by examining the ongoing presence and importance of these communities and cultures throughout the western hemisphere. The conference stems from a desire to amplify and learn directly from and about First Peoples’ voices, whether they are expressed in their own languages, French, Spanish, or English. In doing so, it reaffirms the survivance of the First Peoples.

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 First Nations 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 Frenchthrough hosting sessions and panels that bring together First nations experts, guests, artists, filmmakers, and scholars from Florida, the Amazon, and the Caribbean (including French Guyane) in a celebration of the first cultures 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 First Peoples 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 Jorge Marcone, Jeremy Narby, Miguel Rocha and the Amazonian 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 First 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 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 identity through kinship, their cosmology, and the ecology.

Film to be screened at the Conference

  • El Rio, directed by Dr. Juan Carlos Galeano