Indigenous Studies

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Indigenous Peoples’ claims for retributive justice are leading to debates over restitution, and the legal, political and moral consequences of the acknowledgement of past wrongs. What are the ramifications of the right to self-determination for Indigenous Peoples in a contemporary world? Collective and individual identities and human rights may be in tension with each other. How are these to be reconciled? Gender and generational differentiations may underscore not just individual rifts, but potentially broader conflict within groups themselves. What could be a human rights response to such conflicts? Economic interests of majorities are put forward to justify displacement, dispossession and other violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. And the hunger for the world’s still unexplored natural resources that reside on Indigenous Peoples’ lands motivates major decisions of governments and the private sector, with unclear commitment to benefit sharing and even the human rights of Indigenous Peoples.  How are conflicting claims and rights between Indigenous Peoples and the dominant society to be resolved? What should be the role of the state in these conflicts? Is the dichotomy between western knowledge and indigenous knowledge a true dichotomy? Can one think “scientifically” and yet be open to an indigenous worldview? Does the adoption of Western epistemologies, ontologies, and methodologies really entail the wholesale rejection of their indigenous counterparts and vice-versa? What is the role of expressive culture and aesthetics in these inquiries? How do they reveal and help us think through indigenous sovereignty or its pursuit, indigenous epistemologies, inter- and intra-community conflict over definitions of identity, social roles, relationships to the physical world and political organization and action?

The University Seminar on Indigenous Studies at Columbia provides the opportunity for sharing research on these many critical issues, which are challenging and unsettling scholars, researchers, and practitioners in and around this field. Discussions revolve around contentious and emerging issues in the field of indigenous studies and research and contribute to the advancement of the field.

Professor Elizabeth A. Povinelli

Professor Elsa Stamatopoulou

Amanda Earl

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.




10/04/2016 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Biocultural Sacred Sites across the Americas: An Initiative from Original Peoples to UNESCO
Geraldine Patrick, Otomi-Hñahñu Regional Council in Mexico and the Center for Earth Ethics, Union Theological Seminary

Mindahi Bastida, Otomi-Hñahñu Regional Council in Mexico and the Center for Earth Ethics, Union Theological Seminary

11/10/2016 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Improvisational Realism: Notes from the Karrabing Film Collective
Elizabeth Povinelli, Chair and Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

Respondent: Meg McLagan, Visiting Professor of Professional Practice and Film Studies, Barnard College, Columbia University

12/06/2016 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Balancing the Scales-Community Protocols in the Context of Extractive Activities and Associated Infrastructure Projects
Johanna von Braun, Executive Director, Natural Justice

Respondent: Ryan Schlief, Executive Director, International Accountability Project

02/07/2017 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Negotiating who Owns Penobscot Culture
Jane Anderson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies, New York University

Respondent: James Eric Francis Sr., Director of Cultural and Historic Preservation and Tribal Historian at the Penobscot Nation, Maine

03/07/2017 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Seeing Red: Race, Citizenship, and Indigeneity in the Old Northwest
Michael Witgen, Associate Professor of History and of American Culture, University of Michigan

Respondent: Andrew Lipman, Assistant Professor of History, Barnard College, Columbia University

04/04/2017 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
The Transformative Potential of Indigenous Rights
Sheryl Lightfoot, Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, Associate Professor of Political Science and First Nations and Indigenous Studies, University of British Columbia

Respondent: Audra Simpson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University