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Common Grounds: Toward (Re)Thinking Global Indigeneity

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Published January 4, 2023

Group of people on the Kahn Institute porch


Kahn Institute Long-Term Project, 2022-23

A year-long collaboration between the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute and the Five College NAIS Mellon Grant. Organized by Christen Mucher, American Studies, and Javier Puente, Latin American and Latino/a Studies

Project Description

Around the world indigenous peoples and their histories face questions of marginalization, climate change and global hegemony while maintaining their histories and distinct sovereignties. We are called to consider the forces of colonization, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism across North America, the western hemisphere, and the globe. Whether focused on Andean weavers, Maya tourism entrepreneurs, Cree forest management, Navajo language, Chicanx activisms, Anishinaabeg video games, Inuit throat-singing, Maori filmmaking or Sami reindeer herding, scholarly attention to Indigenous lives and histories must be bound in place as well as vastly networked across interdisciplinary understandings of space and time. Emerging opportunities for re-centering indigeneity, lying at the intersection of the arts and humanities, the social sciences, and STEM disciplines, should also  include reappraisals of energy economies, legal innovations, food science, migration, and city planning, among others.

Common Grounds seeks scholars working on topics that address the indigenous question “within” urgent issues such as: sea-level rise, femicide, agricultural sciences, territorial sovereignties, the digital world, public health, climate justice, border-crossing, the Anthropocene, global trade, and internationalism, among others. Our goal is to open discussions and develop collaborations across scholarship’s colonial/national, racial/ethnic, and linguistic borders, bringing together AAPI/Pasifika scholars, Latin Americanists, Russian-Americanists, Caribbeanists, NAIS scholars, and others who work on issues of indigeneity around the world from a diverse set of disciplinary and methodological perspectives. Can we foster a space to imagine and ask complex questions of labor, environmental resilience, knowledge-creation, art, and alternate economies in their relation to Indigenous peoples? What commonalities can we draw out while remaining grounded in the specificities of our own places and knowledges?  How can we share best practices to build on work already being done in classrooms, conference spaces, and community centers? From mathematical and economic modeling to data mining and management, and from geological and environmental questions to issues of labor and LGBTQI2S+ struggles, we can tackle the crises of colonialism together better than when we are apart.

With Common Grounds, we intend to revise the traditional Kahn seminar model to dovetail with the goals of the Mellon grant by increasing the number of Five College faculty fellows and allowing – for the first time – a small cohort of Smith student fellows. Building an inclusive community will also help us lay the foundation for expanded NAIS teaching and learning across the region, and begin the work of envisioning an interdisciplinary Indigenous Studies Center for the Five Colleges consortium. Each fellow will come to the project with an individual research project, but each will also be prepared to set aside occasional sessions for strategic planning conversations. In addition, the project will also program the annual NAIS spring symposium, to be held in the Skyline Room at the newly reopened, Maya Lin-designed Neilson Library at Smith. The site itself will animate conversations about place, history, and the grounds on which we situate ourselves and our work.

Project Fellows
  • Christen Mucher, American Studies, Organizing Fellow
    Broadening knowledge of indigeneity across the globe and thinking about comparative structures of power and resistance, especially around questions of land and belonging.
  • Javier Puente, Latin American and Latino/a Studies, Organizing Fellow
    Spurring conversations about the intertwined narratives of colonialism and imperialism across the world as the foundations for discussing global questions of Indigeneity with a particular interest in the intersection of climate, anthropocentric notions of (natural) disasters, and Indigenous livelihoods of the past, present, and future.
  • Nell Adkins '23, Government and Dance
  • Kiara Alvarez '24, Study of Women and Gender
    Exploring the intersection of indigeneity and movement by focusing on Indigenous narratives of migration and studying how border enforcement laws and practices in the Americas act as an agent of settler colonialism.
  • Johanna Brewer, Computer Science
    Investigating how Indigenous online content creators adopt and adapt platform surveillance technologies like live streaming to broadcast their own narratives of 21st century Native culture.
  • Abigail Chabitnoy, English, UMass–Amherst
  • Sylvia Cifuentes, Environmental Studies, Mount Holyoke College
    Analyzing how gender difference can (re)shape climate planning in Amazonia. Drawing from feminist political ecology and the literature on decolonial and Indigenous feminisms, this project seeks to illuminate the intersections among Indigenous women's territorial knowledges, their politics, and climate change adaptation.
  • Yanlong Guo, Art
    Focusing on the annual “national art exhibitions” organized by the puppet Manchukuo government (1931-1945), this project addresses the tension between indigeneity and coloniality in the Japanese-occupied Manchurian State in northeast China. It further complicates the current Indigenous Studies theories primarily derived from the histories of Euro-American colonialism.
  • Alice Hearst, Government
    Following the US Supreme Court challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act, which, among other things, vests jurisdiction over the adoptive and foster care placement of children who are, or are eligible to be, members of a recognized tribe with the appropriate tribal authorities while, on a broader level, looking at the impact of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on the adoption and foster care treatment of a variety of indigenous children in several countries, exploring the emergence of global norms around the treatment of children of indigenous communities are being absorbed, if at all, into domestic legal regimes.
  • Pinky Hota, Anthropology
    Locating right wing violence in India in the long arc of caste capitalism, and shows how indiegenity can operate as a fulcrum of racialized forms of capitalism to the detriment of landless minorities while also exploring how Indian indigenous groups are marginalized by state discourses of ecological conservation and ecotourism.
  • Yancey Orr, Environmental Science and Policy
    Analyze changes in the themes and methods in research articles among American Indian and Indigenous journals over the past 20 years through the use of National Language Processing. 
  • Yarrow Skoblow '24, Native American Indigenous Studies, Hampshire College
  • Nora Sullivan '24, Middle East Studies
    Exploring how Indigeneity is employed as a political identity and instrument in the Middle East and North Africa, focusing especially on the Amazigh in Morocco and how the authoritarian government co-opts the indigenous rights movement for its own political gains and positive international perception. 
  • Erica Tibbetts, Exercise and Sports Studies
  • Izzy Zheng '24, Economics