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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 acknowledgment 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 the 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 Pamela Calla

Professor Elizabeth Hutchinson

Romina Quezada Morales

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

10/06/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Alternative Models of Teacher Education for, with and by Indigenous Communities in Higher Education
Huia Tomlins Jahnke, Massey University (Aoetaroa/New Zealand)

Respondent: Regina Cortina, Teachers College, Columbia University

11/10/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Indigenous LGBTI in Bolivia: Myths and Realities
Edson Hurtado, Independent Journalist

02/02/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Commemorating Indigenous History - A Media Exploration
Anita Bakshi, Rutgers University


In the 1960s-70s the Ford Motor Company dumped toxic paint sludge in the mining shafts and forests near the lands of the Ramapough Lunaape Turtle Clan in Ringwood, New Jersey. Contamination has led to environmental degradation, illness, and loss of traditional practices connected to the land. Although partially remediated through the EPA’s Superfund program, contaminated material remains on the site to this day despite the significant role the Ramapough continue to play in keeping pressure on the authorities. I describe recent efforts to communicate this story and to engage with emotional aspects of environmental loss. Through several media - a book, an exhibit, a documentary film, and a social media campaign – we have been working with the Ramapough to create empathic engagement with loss, interconnectivity, survival, and regeneration. This talk includes material from the Our Land, Our Stories book and The Meaning of the Seed documentary - featuring a talking circle of Ramapough elders and project partners.

03/09/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Space-Time Colonialism: Alaska's Indigenous and Asian Entanglements
Juliana Hu Pegues, University of Minnesota


As the enduring “last frontier,” Alaska proves an indispensable context for examining the form and function of American colonialism, particularly in the shift from western continental expansion to global empire. Juliana Hu Pegues will discuss her forthcoming book, which examines colonial and racial entanglements between Alaska Native peoples and Asian immigrants. As she demonstrates, the American colonial project in Alaska advanced by differentially racializing and gendering Indigenous and Asian peoples, constructing Asian immigrants as “out of place” and Alaska Natives as “out of time.” Counter to this space-time colonialism, Native and Asian peoples created alternative modes of meaning and belonging through their literature, photography, political organizing, and sociality. Dr. Hu Pegues will focus her talk on one of the book’s chapters, closely reading the poetry of Tlingit author Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan’s novel America Is in the Heart to ask how unbecoming workers elucidate contingent understandings of land and labor.

05/04/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Zapatista Indigenous Autonomy, the politics of life-existence and the colonial underpinnings of the 'capataz gobierno
Mariana Mora, Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology (Mexico)


This talk focuses on Tseltal indigenous theorizations of colonial structures of power and the political in Chiapas, Mexico. Community members, who for more than a quarter century have engaged in the daily practices of autonomy through the municipalities of the rebel army, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), place at the forefront of their analysis of Mexican state formation, the finca, or agricultural estate, as the institution that condensed racialized and gendered forms of exploitation. In relation to this “capataz gobierno”, or foremen government, indigenous autonomy becomes the central expression to engender decolonial politics centered on establishing the conditions for socio-natural life-existence.