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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.

Pamela Calla

Elizabeth Hutchinson

Sara Pan Algarra

Meeting Schedule

09/20/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Collective of Amazonian Women in Ecuador: The protection of the environment and the rights of women and the land
Patricia Gualinga, Independent Scholar

10/10/2022 Zoom
7:00 PM
Indigenous Fire: wildfires, cultural burning, and the preservation of community
Nardy Velasco, CHICHAR, Bolivia

Don L. Hankins, Professor of Geography and Planning, CSU Chico

Rachael Cavangh, Community Programs & Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Firesticks, Gumbaynggirr Country, New South Wales, Australia

12/14/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
6:00 PM
Lucía Ixchu, Solidarity Festivals


This conversation with Lucia Ixchiu (Solidarity Festivals) hosted by Ximena Bustamante (9M Translocal, Undocumented Women’s Fund and DSA Latinos Socialistas) focuses on how indigenous women in Guatemala utilize art and community media as tools for decolonization, popular mobilization against extractivism and the building of historical memory. The talk will also address the pervasiveness of State-sponsored mechanisms of repression against social leaders and land defenders in times of “peace”, as well as the power of translocal solidarity. This talk is part of the “Growing Solidarity with Guatemala Speaking Tour” organized by Lucía Ixchu and Carlos Cano, members in exile of Festivales Solidarios, in collaboration with community organizations and academic institutions in cities across the United States.

This event is organized by the University Seminar on Indigenous Studies at Columbia University and the Feminist Constellations Platform at the Center of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. The event is also made possible with support from co-sponsors Festivales Solidarios, 9M Translocal, Undocumented Women's Fund, DSA Latinos Socialistas.

Ximena Bustamante, Undocumented Women’s Fund and 9M Translocal

02/08/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Medicine, Drug, Sacrament: Prohibition and the Formation of the Native American Church
Nanea Rentería, Columbia University

02/23/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Ways of knowing, feeling, and being indigenous within the United Nations system: Indigenous Peruvian Participation
Urpi Saco, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies


This talk is motivated and inspired by multiple encounters, embodied resistances, and situated experiences. I would like to share some reflections on the indigenous peoples' participation within specific United Nations mechanisms. These ongoing insights are being crafted from my doctoral research on how indigenous participation becomes concrete and can advance indigenous peoples' rights within the United Nations system and in their territories. Throughout my research, I have tried to grasp personal and intimate past/current/future indigenous resistances. These exist in indigenous peoples' bodies and territories and in created spaces for the pursuit of recognition of their human rights, knowledges, and justice. One of the many international platforms is the United Nations, particularly the mechanisms in which indigenous peoples actively participate. I concentrate my research on the Peruvian indigenous participation within a specific United Nations (UN) mechanism, the Indigenous Fellowship Programme. Concretely, on how their identities are co-constituted by their UN experiences and their everyday lives. I explore how they mobilize the UN indigenous peoples' rights discourses and mechanisms after participating in the UN realm.

More broadly, from my ethnographic encounters and conversations with self-identified indigenous persons, I would like to briefly discuss some reflections on the protocols and bureaucratic ways of doing of the United Nations, on the personal trajectories, emotions, epistemic resistances, and identity co-constitution processes that occur during the participation of self-identified indigenous persons in these UN spaces. These reflections allowed me to start understanding how indigenous delegates enact (un)expected ways of being indigenous; and how they embody, adjust, co-constitute, and expand ways of doing and being indigenous through their experiences in the international human rights milieu.

Elsa Stamatopoulou, Columbia University

03/08/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Indigenous Religious Traditions in the Post-Civil War Era
Tiffany Hale, Barnard College


The Ghost Dance was a pan-Indigenous religious movement that began in the 1860s. Reservation authorities in the American West responded to this new movement with panic and violence. This aggression eventually included the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, during which over two hundred Miniconjou Lakota people were killed by the United States Army. The Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor to the soldiers who took part in the massacre, and these honors have yet to be rescinded despite ongoing demands to do so by Indigenous activists. Some scholars have recently sought to rethink the circumstances surrounding Wounded Knee by emphasizing that the Ghost Dance was a peaceful expression of Native American Christianity that the American public in the late nineteenth century did not recognize or comprehend. An earlier generation of scholars underscored that Ghost Dancing did in fact represent a militant threat to national interests. My work examines how misinterpretations of Indigenous religious traditions have roots that can be traced through various attempts to document and name the Ghost Dance. I introduce the concept of fugitive religion as a new lens for understanding the power of displaced Indigenous people who lived and died in an era characterized by post-Civil War reassertions of white supremacy.

04/18/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Masked Identities: The Life and Art of Don “Chief Lelooska” Smith
Anya Montiel, Curator of women's craft at the Smithsonian American Art Foundation