Black and Indigenous Futures
In this final webinar of the series, archaeologists, artists, and cultural theorists turn to questions of what’s next in the struggle for the recognition and promotion of Indigenous and Black life. They ask: How can archaeology, the study of material worlds past and present, help construct new futures? This work will include recognizing the ongoing experiences of cultural genocide and how to sustain ancestral homelands while cultivating new ones for diasporas always in the making. We will explore the intersection of Black and Indigenous communities in the continued fight for justice. Join the conversation to look back and to look ahead.
Rae Gould, Ph.D. (Nipmuc Nation), Native American Indigenous Studies Initiative at Brown University
Tao Leigh Goffe, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Assistant Professor Africana Studies and Feminist Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Cornell University
Keolu Fox, Ph.D. (Kanaka Maoli), Assistant Professor, UC San Diego
Mohamed Ali, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Archaeology, International University of Africa, Sudan
Grace L. Dillon, Ph.D. (Anishinaabe), Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies, Portland State University
Ayana Omilade Flewellen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Riverside
Mai el Shamy
The Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research
Society of Black Archaeologists
Indigenous Archaeology Collective
Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies
From the Margins to the Mainstream: Black and Indigenous Futures in Archaeology
>> ADAM SMITH: Welcome, everyone, we’ll be getting started shortly as we let everyone file in through the waiting room.
>> ADAM SMITH: Welcome, everyone. As I just mentioned, we’ll be getting started very shortly as we let everyone file in from the Zoom waiting room.
>> ADAM SMITH: We’re ready to go ahead and get started. Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome to the final installment of the webinar
Series: “From the Margins to the Mainstream: Black and Indigenous Futures in Archaeology”. Today’s capstone conversation is entitled: “Black and Indigenous Futures”.
My name is Adam Smith, I am director of the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, one of the sponsors of this series in collaboration with the Society of Black Archaeologists, the Indigenous Archaeology Collective, the Wenner‑Gren Foundation, and SAPIENS.
Today’s discussion is made possible by the generous support of The Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Let me provide just a brief orientation to the webinar format. Only our Panelists will be visible and audible during the discussion‑‑your audio and video are not active. But we do hope that we will hear a lot from you through the Q and A function on your zoom toolbar. When you click that button, you can pose questions for our panelists and upvote queries from other attendees. On the toolbar you should also find the globe interpretation button where you can find a simultaneous translation of the discussion in Arabic.
Before we begin, I want to acknowledge that I am attending this discussion from the campus of Cornell University, which is located on the traditional Homelands of the Cayuga Nation, members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land, precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. I want to honor the ongoing connection of Cayuga people, past, and present, to these lands and waters and encourage you to investigate the indigenous histories and living communities connected to the places that you occupy.
Our moderator for today’s discussion is Dr. Ayana Flewellen, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UC Riverside and a member of the organizing Committee that has worked to bring you these webinars. Welcome Dr.Flewellen.
>> Thank you, Adam.
>> ADAM SMITH: Dr. Flewellen, the current president‑elect of the Society of Black Archaeologists and will lead the discussion today.
Dr. Rae Gould is a member of the Nipmuc Nation, Hassanamisco Band, Faculty in American Studies and Executive Director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Brown University. Welcome Dr. Gould.
Rae, I think you may be muted.
>> RAE GOULD: Right. First glitch, being muted. Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this series, especially the final event in the series. I’m really honored and excited to be joining my colleagues here this afternoon and I would like to do an acknowledgment of some sort but not the traditional land acknowledgment. I would like to acknowledge my kin and my relations, my ‑‑ in the region of southern New England. (Speaking Native language) and acknowledge I also have Black ancestry on my father’s side and French Canadian on my mother’s side so this is all part of my heritage and what I bring to the conversation this afternoon so I’m really looking forward to it, thank you.
>> ADAM SMITH: Delighted to have you. We are also very fortunate to have a colleague of mine from here at Cornell University,
Dr. Tao Leigh Goffe, an assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies and the Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ithica. Welcome, Dr. Goffe.
>> Thank you. I would like to echo the remarks before and say I’m so honored to be here today.
>> ADAM SMITH: Thank you.
Dr. Keolu Fox is Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and an assistant professor at University of California, San Diego, affiliated with the Department of Anthropology, the Global Health Program, the Halicioglu Data Science Institute, the Climate Action Lab, the Design Lab and the Indigenous Futures Institute. Welcome, Dr. Fox.
>> KEOLU FOX: Aloha everyone and I’m here at UCSD in La Jolla, California, hello, look forward to chatting with everyone.
>> ADAM SMITH: Welcome.
Dr. Mohamed Ali is an assistant professor of archaeology at the International University of Africa in Sudan. The founder and the director of The American Sudanese Archaeological Research Center. We are extremely fortunate to have him with us.
Welcome Dr. Ali.
>> MOHAMED ALI: Thank you very much, Adam, thank you for inviting me to this conversation today. Thank you.
>> ADAM SMITH: Dr. Grace Dillon is Anishinaabe and an associate professor in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program at Portland State University. Welcome, Dr. Dillon.
>> GRACE DILLON: Welcome. (Speaking Native language) I see the light in you. That’s our expression for saying hello. I was trying to light up just a little bit of (Speaking Native language) or sweet grass which I had earlier smudged with. I have it aunties and uncleless from the Sioux Nation, that’s what we call it, some people call it the (?) nation, my family is from ‑‑ nation and garden river nation, so on both sides of the 49th parallel. I am very honored and humbled to join the rest of us here. Thank you.
>> ADAM SMITH: Thank you so much.
During the last 10 minutes or so of today’s discussion, Dr. Flewellen will be joined by the other members of the webinar series organizing committee to reflect on the series and think towards the future. But without further ado, let me hand the floor over to our moderator to get the conversation started.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you so much, Adam, it’s so great to be thinking through Black and Indigenous futurity. This evening the final webinar brings together archaeologists, artist and cultural theorists to turn to questions of what’s next in the struggle for the recognition and promotion of Black and Indigenous life. This work necessitates recognizing the ongoing experience and cultural genocide and how to sustain ancestral homelands while cultivating new ones for diasporas that are always in the making. During our time together, we’ll explore the intersections of Indigenous and Black communities and the continued fight for justice. So I want to start this discussion off, which will be really conversational, by asking the panelists a question that really shapes this final series or the final webinar that we have.
So how does the study of material worlds, past and present, help construct, shape, imagine, Black and Indigenous futures?S.
>> RAE GOULD: I’m happy to start the conversation since I have trained as an archaeologist, and looking at these things, I’ve looked at artifacts that are thousands of years old and at the same time I’m holding them in my hand and sitting and thinking about my son and futures. So I was thinking about this question this morning and thinking about archaeology mostly and how it’s really a type of documentation, right? Here I’m going back and forth between being tribal and being a scientist, which is something which is like those are spaces that I move between all the time so it’s really a science and it’s powerful, it’s a powerful tool, you know, and I would never say that it’s not a powerful tool because it allows us to use the language of the colonizer, right, to research and interpret our own past.
So I think this is why I chose this discipline for my role in academia, because I really wanted to have this tool and it really allows us to really reach into the deep past, if we so choose, and then kind of bring it into the present ask think about the future and most importantly it allows us to become the authors of our own stories. So I think that’s probably one of the key things that we’re all really thinking about here.
I can just say from my own personal experience using archaeology and anthropology as my chosen field, that one of the reasons I chose it was it was very, very frustrating to others were constantly being referred to as the experts in our history and culture and even our present instead of our own tribal people and our own knowledge keepers, and I could see from an early age, so I’m talking an early age for me now is like 30‑ish, that this really needed to change.
So being involved in the federal recognition process for my tribe which started in 1980 and ended in around 2004 and then we had appeals and all this other stuff, we were constantly thinking about the paths, while at the same time engaging in federal acknowledgment thinking about, you know, the futures for, you know, my son, maybe grandchildren someday, and hoping that we could garner the resources, you know, for them.
So it’s been quite a journey thinking about why I chose archaeology and anthropology and, you know, how and why material culture is really important. So artifacts, features and landscapes are very tangible pieces of our past, they’re real, we can’t deny them, I would say, so I think that’s how they’re very use informal our work. And then when tribal people, and I’ll probably sound like a broken record this afternoon, when tribal people are involved in the interpretation of material culture, which, you know, clearly is happening, but needs to happen more, and, you know, even in excavation, we are in essence reasserting our continued presence, right, so this is a foundation for our future presence too.
So I’m just going to put that out there as a conversation starter and see if my colleagues have anything else to add.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: Sure, I guess I could step in and add to where we’re coming from in different disciplinary modes. So I am not a trained archaeologist. I did my Ph.D. in American studies, I consider myself a literary critic, scholar and cultural historian. But when you say the word, Ayana materialism or materiality, it brings to mind feminist methodology which I hope we’ll talk about tonight and a kind of genealogy that for me is as much about geology as it is about intellectual histories.
So by that I mean that I actually began as an undergraduate want to go study archaeology and ended up in American studies after changing my major five times in undergrad, and I think that materialism, these different methodologies offer a kind of object‑driven way to answer a question. And for me as an interdisciplinary scholar, that question has always been the same, and it’s something that I am trying to understand by listening, by tuning in.
Also from my work as a DJ. And that requires grappling with what I describe as racial sedimentation. So the history of this hemisphere, the Western hemisphere, and how in order to do any serious study, we have to look at the layers that are there. So I mean that quite literally in this kind of metaphor of sedimentary rock and Indigenous presence is where we have to begin this kind of entanglement of the dispossession of Native sovereignty ongoing, right, African enslavement and defining what abolition means.
So these questions will continue to preoccupy me throughout my academic career and life and they really are a matter of the bedrock of the hemisphere that I think we all ought to be listening for in that kind of vibrational sense. So I would love to talk more about what that means and why it led me to start the Dark Laboratory as a place for that listening and tuning in, but I’m just so thrilled to be with all of you here coming from different fields bras I’m dreaming like what if we were one department? I feel like in some ways we are trying to answer the same question that’s about a deep history and a future, and we have different methods or ways of getting to that answer. Thanks.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Grace, Keolu or Mohamed would you like to add?
>> GRACE DILLON: I’ll wait for Mohamed. You go ahead.
>> MOHAMED ALI: Yes. I started out my career even before I got to college, it’s not like my career, but when I had that kind of conversation among the community in our community here in Sudan, that they would know many scholars in ‑‑ there were not many scholars in Sudan that were in this field in Sudan, so I decided just to start studying archaeology in Sudan, and there was only one department of archaeology at that time. And I was looking at the past and I didn’t know too much about the history of Sudan, especially before the prehistoric period in Sudan because of the lack of education about the history of Sudan, and I decided from that time really to get involved, and I studied archaeology and that was the second department in Dunglu University in Sudan. From that time I was looking at a publication that was nearly published by foreigners at that time.
And I decided that I really would like to get advanced education in archaeology, in order to get involved and participating in our archeological work in Sudan. And of course I’m later on probably going to talk a little bit about my journey in archaeology and the archeological center too, but I decided from that time really to understand much about archaeology and also as much as possible since there were not many archaeologists participating or publishing that much material about Sudan archaeology, and that’s what got me involved in archaeology in order to see how the Sudan part of the world heritage in general, to participate in that field. And also instruct the future of Sudan.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Absolutely. Keolu or Grace, did you want to add?
>> GRACE DILLON: Sure. I hope it’s okay if I get a little bit specific because when I work with Indigenous futurisms, there’s genuine stories going on, right? And so I just pulled a few quick examples. There’s so many. But I took one from the year 2000 with Steve ‑‑ who is ‑‑ Blackfeet, first novel, fast track road, a plan song, was actually his doctoral dissertation as well, and in it, and I couldn’t resist, you know, bringing this in, he uses a lot of what we as Nish people call Minwinduwog (sounds like) meaning is the Native giveaway of a story but as you’re doing it, it’s laced with satire. So it becomes a kind of form of decolonizing in the process.
So in this particular story, which you have to read the whole thing, and it’s a wild, wild ride, but pigeon is guided by a Native archaeologist Larry who is busy actually digging up and excavating in the Clovis area. And what’s fascinating is what they’re doing there is they are digging up snails, like these just incredibly huge phenomenally huge snails. And as they are digging it up, as a Native archaeology excavation group, there’s a helicopter that comes whirring in the air. And there are a number of academics and others connected with them that are wearing Spiro Agnew masks and are dropping in to try to steal this excavation that’s going on and the snails that are being lifted up and being brought. And pigeon who himself has been doing himself all kind of time traveling in all different kinds of ways, it becomes this beautiful moment of it string theory where they’re chewing on Spirit Gum, he and Larry and then they start telling each other stories. And these stories, like of napping, are tied in to this moment of this excavation. I could do so much more with that, but it’s just absolutely hilarious and fun and all kinds of things.
And then I’m going on switch over to Daniel H. Wilson, who is Cherokee and has written a lot of, he’s got his degree from Cornell, his Ph.D. in robotic engineering, so of course that becomes laced into his Cherokee and then he had many Osage relationships. And there’s a moment in which Lark Ironcloud, who is Cherokee and everyone else is Osage, and if you know the history between that and Daniel himself is Cherokee and got teased a lot by his Osage, you know, brothers and sisters and kin that were giving him a hard time, so he brings this into his stories, that kind of fascinating relationship.
But when lark ironcloud, you have this moment where it could appear to be just zombies, like oh, another zombie story, but instead materially what happens is that every part of him, and he takes off every instance of his flesh that is left, any kind of corporeality, and he’s left with this kind of iron steel body.
Now, in a nonindigenous sense you would probably just stop there. But no, Lark Ironcloud used this as a new kind of organic medium, and he immediately starts searching for kinship, you know. Where are these kinship and relations that he can now make because he has stripped himself away in this kind of sense. So that kind of spirit and ancestry and everything like, you know, when I went to, I gave a talk at Chicago Field Museum, then they brought me back into the back to see, you know, what was actually available, and I was saying, oh, my gosh, that’s the kind of tobogan, we would make, or those are the kind of snow shoes we would make, but for us all of that is animated as living. You know, it’s not a dead thing. So that’s an important feature that Indigenous futures and stories really brings in.
So there’s a brand new novel by, oh, my goodness, LeeAnn Bettasimos Simpson, who is also Anishinaabe, her latest novel which came out in February called ‑‑ which in our language means going into the bush, you’re going into the bush, but when she describes the characters in the story, they’re all part of one’s body, so the lungs, for instance, become that it an elk, you know, and what she does is she picks up on her x‑ray art and creates a kind of new futurism that’s genuinely Indigenous because you’re bringing in like there’s an old man and he’s the narrator, there’s a maple tree, that there’s a another part of another character that’s all part of this one body that the maple tree is suddenly hugged out of the blue and really consensus should be asked of that maple tree. There’s many funny moments like that.
But that’s just a few different kind of elements of genuinely embedded materiality that are going on in Indigenous futurism, there are so many more examples, but that’s just a couple.
>> KEOLU FOX: You’re muted.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Please join. Yes.
>> KEOLU FOX: Oh, okay. Thank you for everyone else’s responses, they’re amazing. I think of this saying in Hawaiian and we have these (Speaking Hawaiian language) it means walking backwards in the future. And that saying is quite ubiquitous throughout oceania, Polynesia, et cetera, and what I take that to mean a lot of times is that we are reckoning with history, we’re tending not to or at least trying not to re‑create a lot. Mistakeswe made in the past, right, which is kind of like an age‑old adage in most cultures.
And it brings me to, oh, full disclosure, guys, I’m a geneticist, so also along with Tao like a little different of a take but I think it’s all valuable here and it is fun to imagine what a futuristic department would look like that was truly multidisciplinary. But did I works a historical archaeologist for a little bit and worked at the Y House which is an area where Frederick Douglass lived as a young slave and but working there it had a profound effect on me because I’m not Black, and I realized how profoundly minority it is to repatriate the past and future of other people’s cultures which is a huge responsibility, I don’t think a lot of my other colleagues, I don’t think it registered with them and I don’t think it’s really registered with a lot of people in the archaeology and anthropology community and I think that’s why we’re here and as a futurist I’m hoping that we’re looking back in 100 years we’re looking back at these moments of very much not exactly what we would have wanted, not the most accurate way to build narratives. And it’s an (Speaking Hawaiian language) from that perspective. This is really cool to observe and participate in the birth of this, and it’s people from our cultures interpreting all these type of data and making narratives, whether that’s genomes or archeological from material culture or ethnographical data as Dr. Dillon was kind of alluding to.
It’s not a moment. It’s a movement. And it’s beautiful to get to see it happening live. So thanks.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you all. I see so many spaces of intersection between everyone’s work, especially thinking about the animation or the stories, the life that’s imbued in objects and also in the ground we all work on and for many of us the ground that we excavate and what does it mean to find different mediums to share those stories.
And what I’m also hearing are the ways that Black and Indigenous, the intersections between these two peoples that are oftentimes spoken of as very disparate and are oftentimes in many ways embodied by same people.
I would love for us to also think through what are some of the challenges and opportunities of bringing together Black and Indigenous perspectives had to thinking through the intersections between ongoing colonial violence and ongoing anti‑Blackness.
>> RAE GOULD: I can again kind of start the conversation because so many Native people in southern New England have Black ancestry, and I’m actually working on a project with Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice in the Americas, or CSSJ. This is a really difficult topic because here in New England we have 400 years of colonization and dispossession and integration with other peoples. So we’ve been having these conversations. So this project is looking through a specific lens of the maritime and engagement with Black and Indigenous peoples of maritime. So we’re looking backward, but as we’re having these conversations and trying to engage local tribal people, we’re finding that some people are really challenged by dealing with this legacy and this history, right? And this reality.
So I don’t know if this speaks specifically to ongoing colonial violence, but in a way it does because part of this violence has been that if you’re Black, you can’t be Indigenous too, for some people. And I’ve actually had people that I’ve talked to in my tribe express that they would prefer to be identified as one or the other. So in the 1960s, for example, and this is really hitting home for me right now, I did a series of oral interviews for my tribe, and one person who is now a very active knowledge keeper and elder in our tribe, she told me, so this is, my son was a baby, so it’s like 25 years ago, she said, in the 1960s, late ’60s, early ’70s, it was easier to be Black and to be hated than to be Native and be hated. And that really struck a chord with me. I didn’t experience that, you know, because I was just really young.
So, you know, that has been a lived experience for many of our peoples. And now as we’re having these renewed conversations again and this project that we’re involved with with Brown University and mystic seaport and Williams college it’s an amazing opportunity to explore these intersections and think about dispossession and servitude, slavery, ongoing violence, you know, all of this, and obviously it all ties into what’s going on now, right? You know, this ongoing violence and anti‑Blackness, and trying to invite some of the local tribal people that in some cases are my relatives. They’re telling me that if they participate in this project and acknowledge they have Black ancestry, then that is an erasure of their Native identity and that’s really powerful and it’s really painful.
I mean, you know, I feel very comfortable acknowledging all of my ancestry, but for some people, because of the history of this constant erasure especially of eastern Native peoples, they cannot acknowledge that they also have African American ancestry. So that’s not necessarily a positive note to start this part of our conversation on, but, you know, I just want to say that’s our experience here in the East, often, too often.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Absolutely. And you bring up a lot around just the tenderness involved in these conversations that have deep histories attached to them. Tao, I saw you unmute. Did you want to add?
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: Yeah. Just to second what Rae was saying, this is such an important conversation as solidarity as the keyword is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and just last night at the Dark Laboratory we were able to host an Afro Indigenous panel, so three Black Native people who talked about this difficulty within their own families, what they have negotiated.
And I come at this from a distance as someone who is not Native but someone who is Afro Asian, and Afro Asian solidarity is being talked about right now, and I just find that there’s a way in which this language of solidarity actually erases the fact that there are people who are both, that these are not always mutually exclusive categories. And it just felt really important to give the floor on people who negotiate this and navigate this every day, who are Black Cherokee, Muscogee, who are from Guyana and their different tribal are affiliations there, it’s thorny, knotted, we need to listen to people who are actually navigate it go, whether they’re enrolled or not. I learned a lot last night I can put a link to the chat for the video I just uploaded, it was a really great conversation to listen to from three people who come from those experiences because I think it’s true what Rae is saying, that we have to think about the people who were Black and Indigenous, Black and Native in the past, who are in family trees that are also being erased. It’s not just as if this is new.
There are centuries of people who have these shared bloodlines, if you want to see it that way. So I just think that it’s part of the stakes of what genocide would mean if we were to define it, you know, in a sense, as something ongoing and I mean, I’ve learned so much from Grace Dillon’s work on thinking through the definition of the apocalypse and what it means for us to not be meant to survive, and once I had read her work framing it that way, I couldn’t unthink it. Like what does the apocalypse mean for us? And in order for me to do my research on African and Chinese relationality on this hemisphere, I realize that I had to actually rewind all the way back to think about whose land this is and continues to be and to think about all of the asymmetries of this together and that we could listen to people who are actually negotiating it as a matter not necessarily always of politics, but of their own family history and family tree.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Feel free to add in.
>> KEOLU FOX: I just wanted to add in a few pieces.
So, I agree how we’re tossing around the word solidarity and we’re thinking about it and applying it and thinking about what it actually looks like, so I just wanted to explain a few examples from my own experience. I got to come together and think about ways in which we can create solidarity with Black and African, African American communities through actually something that happened in Hawaii through the Mamako movement and I got to write a piece with one of my good friends about with this so we can dispel all these horrible rumors about Hawaiians or Black communities as being anti‑science, right? And we took this opportunity to do this through that opportunity and anyway, it was really cool, you guys can check it out, I’ll shamelessly promote it in a little bit.
And then locally, we do things here, too, just to come together and make community and we have something called Black Surf Week and we take anybody who is trying to learn how to surf out and create these opportunities to commune with the ocean because it seems like there’s this popular narrative that that piece of connectivity has been erased, this has been erased from this community’s background. I don’t want to speak for others, but so we wanted to actively bring people into the water and do this.
But they’ve been just little things like this to create community and solidarity. So I just wanted to share that.
>> RAE GOULD: I just to want say a trip to Hawaii is on my bucket list and I need to know when this week is so I can get on my surfboard or your surfboard and learn because I’ve never tried it and I’m a Pisces and I think I was a fish in a previous life, so I’m very interested. So put it in the chat or e‑mail me later and I’ll be there.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Grace, yes, please add.
>> GRACE DILLON: Oh, well, this is such a beautiful culmination, and in terms of just the joy and revelation of friendships and kinships that I’ve formed throughout the years, there is a very, very strong Afro Indigenous tradition in writing both Afro‑futurisms and Indigenous futurisms, such as Noelle Hopkinson whose maroon grandmothers are Tayano and she knew about the archeological digs that were going on in Jamaica at Blue Mountain and those digs, I actually had the great honor of knowing Koffe Agurish who was actually the one that was responsible for the excavation and did his doctoral dissertation on it and really throughout the European histories before that that had been suggesting about what do you mean about the can intertribalism and relationships and Koffe got with all that were with him and they were really discovering how many of those that were what some were calling Black runaways, but they really weren’t at all, they were just deciding and self‑determination and autonomy that they would go join those in the mountain and in the bush and gather with the peoples and intermarry with them. Noelle Hopkinson in talking to me about this said yeah, Grace, I grew up know that go both my maroon grandmothers were therefore Indigenous, so that’s where she and I were both keynote speakers for an Indigenous futurisms conference not too long ago to illustrate that. There’s also Nici Shawl, and she does amazing things like with her epic novel Ever Fair where then she takes it into Congo and shows really the incredible scientific knowledges of particular Indigenous groups that were there and how clever they were with rubber and the use of rubber.
So that’s just a small part of that particular novel.
There’s Andrea Harriston, who is both Cherokee and ‑‑ but as she said, was raised culturally Black. So she’s known famously around the world as an Afro‑futurism playwright. And she’s a full professor at Smith College. But what she has done with all of her novels is like Redwood and Wildfire, for instance, is she brings in medicines and sciences that are connected to those that are either from the islands where they spoke the Gullah language and she introduced herself to that language as well, and the medicines of the seminole and also the Cherokee and the diasporic going on, Netti, many of her novels she has specific Indigenous groups that when you pay attention to them, those histories are there and are very rich and very embedded.
And then I also think of and NuQuar University which is in Sydney, Australia, and is starting to do all kinds of symposiums that are connecting Black critical theory with Indigenous critical theory and of course Eileen Wharton Robinson in writing about the White Possessive does an amazing, amazing job there.
Then even if you start looking at those that are edging into it, Tiffany Luthabo King, her book that she talks about with space and many worlds and that’s both Indigenous and Black, Pauline Alangoffs does that, Mark Rifkin when he wrote his book Indigenous futurisms, in talking with him, oh, and he’s queer, but he is not Native or African American, but he has honored and written many books and spent much time and has become a real ally for us.
So he’s written a beautiful book about the flesh and the fiction of Black and Indigenous peoples. And the one last thing that I wanted to bring up because this has become quite controversial and I was interviewed at New York Times and New Yorker and just places all around on Rebecca Rowenhorse if you’ve heard of her and the books she’s written, she is Pueblo and Black and her husband is Navajo, and her books she’s wren Trail of Lightning, Storm of Lopez, et cetera, is about the futuristic notion of a Navajo Nation, and there was much controversy and backlash to that from a few people within the Navajo Nation, not all of them, and I was working on a film called Antlers that will be coming out with Guillermo Deltoro and Scott Cooper, and Chris Air who is the most amazing Native filmmaker and has just done so much, who is Cheyenne and Arapahoe, he and I were on the film set together, and I introduced him to Rebecca Rowenhorse’ novels and he was reading it and said this needs to be turned into a film, right, or television series or something, and what do you think? And he said absolutely it does.
And then that’s when I shared with him some of the controversy. And he said, you know what, Gracie, we really have to watch out for that in Indian country, and he could say that from the expertise of being a world renowned Native filmmaker. And he was saying, you know, sometimes there’s a jealousy that can be created and it’s something that we really, really have to look out for.
So he’s been looking at her novels as a potential way to either create films or to create a TV series. So I just wanted to throw that in, you know, that there’s a whole world out there and I haven’t even listed all of these.
Just a few. And notice how they’re all women.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: Can I just add something very quick and will share my screen?
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Sure.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: As much as we’re talking about futures today and futurism, I wanted to propose like the syllabus as a speculative act in that it’s undetermined, unfinished often, appears professors, but that I have that essay on this engagement between Kinson and Grace Dillon and it’s really exciting that in a class I’m teaching at Cornell architecture generously funded by the melon foundation that’s entitled Black and Indigenous Metropolitan Ecologies and really just allowing us to be led by your work, Grace, by and Scott Mamada as you can see here because I think it’s part of a deep connection that we have to see past the borders of the nation state and the Caribbean to me has to be a parted of the story because it’s part of my personal geography but also hiring because if people want to focus on Columbus, he landed there, so how do we complicate this idea of kin across nation state and, I don’t know, I just wanted to kind of share on the screen the syllabus, which has really just been a dream come true. It’s been an act of dreaming, being led by Tony Morrison and playing in the dark by M Scott Mamaday and I wanted to have everyone see this footage that I have of Kahokia. So we are really thinking about Native burial, so to this question of excavation that we’ve all been talking about and really just thinking about burial mounds, the architecture of these cities and what do we do with that in terms of a future. So what I’ve tried to get my students to do is to build a sound sculpture with me. So we’re definitely being led by your work, by so many who are thinking critically to actually make a sound sculpture, looking at four locations.
So first is going to be New York City in order to contend with the African burial ground and Lenople homelands. Second will be Ithica. So in doing so ‑‑ Ithica. In doing so they’re consider the Cayuga territories that Adam reminded us of in the beginning in conjunction with the architecture of the underground railroad and then third we’ll be looking at the Caribbean. So plenty to think through there in terms of Carnival or other spaces of ceremony for Black and Indigenous people.
And then last is the future. So yeah, I’m just really excited because I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the semester, but in a couple weeks we’ll be reading your work, Grace, and I honestly feel like I’m letting all of these other people teach the class and that we’re going to create something, but it’s going to require listening and thinking about the deep past but also the future because survivance is so important, it can’t always just be about the past. It’s an entangled temporality so I wanted to share that can very quickly.
>> GRACE DILLON: That’s so beautiful. Do you mind sending your syllabus to us? That looks so cool.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: Sure. I’m going on make a public version available, but I would love to share with you the documents for it.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you.
>> GRACE DILLON: Also back to the idea of survivance with Joe, he’s Anishinaabe like I am, I grew up with my language, speaking it, and so survivance and also the celebration of overgoing dominance, tragedy and victimization. And when he talks about that celebration, it’s through story, it’s through natural reason, and by natural reason, I’m thinking of the Black surfing week that you’re having, Keolu, that would qualify as natural reason, right?
And then it’s the connection of the stories and the narratives to that. So yeah, survivance is such a beautiful, beautiful, not even close to subsistence, right, kind of thinking. Yeah.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you all for that sharing and the back and forth. I wanted to invite Mohamed into the dialogue and ask him if he could share more about the American Sudanese archeological Research Center with et cetera current goal of building a facility in Khartoum, can you highlight the transformative significance on the center and how it sheds light on the past in this region as well as what it means for the future? (Correction, significance on the center).
>> MOHAMED ALI: Thank you very much. I want to tell you how this initiative came to my mind. In fact, it came to my mind for some reason at the beginning of my first job, it was told Sudanese were allowed to publish, for example, and this idea realize it goes back to the colonial period it (Correction, were not ‑‑ and continued. And inspectors at that time were not considered scholars, but just a representative had in this for admissions and also it most of the publication or history was written by the colonial scholars at that time. And also the can antiquities, no consideration for the youngest scholars in their agreement and that was another issue just triggered in my mind that something was going on there. And also when I went to the United States, I realized that anthropological archaeology that is very productive kind of, I studied there, and I decide to do introduce it to Sudan and therefore ‑‑ was born at that time with the help of, with American scholars there, including my supervisor, of course, and have a really good Board of Directors, and including Michelle from the University and also Rhonda Decker from Arizona University and ‑‑ and from Chicago. And minor also.
In fact, the permanent presence of MSARC, American Anthropological Association in Sudan promotes associations for scholars and institutions and served as space for those who carry out or intend to carry out are studies in Sudan and supports scientific activities in Sudan.
And the facility itself includes like a lab and studies in conservation and also we are planning the American Sudanese field work school, this would be in it collaboration with antiquities surface, for training American and Sudanese youngest scholars in anthropological archaeology, and also sponsor and carry out cultural and educational event in order to promote the Sudanese cultural heritage locally and internationally, and such events shall serve for exchange of ideas and experiences and information related to the needs of studying cultural heritage and as means of finding ways to address such needs.
And also to establish and mane attend library and career learning support, learning and support literacy and education and help shape the new ideas and proceed speck ‑‑ and perspectives that are central to creative and innovative society in Sudan.
And I would consider the center at this point that it’s open, it would be open for all the scholars from around the world and strictly for American archaeologists for collaborative research, and this is an invitation for all the scholars and institutions for MSARC the center and for sure that will help all the institutions and scholars who come over there, facilitate their work and help them like to collaborate with the local institutions, like the antiquities service and so on, and in fact, when we established, before we established the center, we had been struggling with the former regime in Sudan, of course, because Sudan was in the sanction at that time, but for now, I think the gate is open for more American institution and scholars in order to come and join us and also to exchange ideas in order to shape and reconsider or study the earlier, critique earlier publication and studies about Sudan archaeology of course because most of these publications have been published, these articles or books, publications have been published by the colonialist during the colonial period in Sudan. And our idea is to have more scholars like from the American in order to develop and introduce anthropological archaeology as I see it because I studied in California and I understand it really well and I would love to see younger scholars that instead of looking at them like just helping other missions to be really very productive and help construct or shape the future of Sudan and the history of Sudan and be studying earlier, we studied early especially material culture in Sudan, and from my own experience, I realize that me participating in this research with the missions since I wasn’t antiquities inspector at that time, to analyze or give them the meaning of these material cultures, and most of these publications we were not involved in the publication itself, but it was published by others, of course, at that time, as we were just considered, like I said, just members or representatives of the antiquities service at that time. So now the gate is open and our scholars, we have so many young scholars, they’re waiting for more younger scholars too and of course professionals from antiquities from America to join us, to also look at it from the Black perspectives, and in fact, I have many friends, I invited them really to join us, and then our University of Africa international University of Africa department of archaeology, it’s open now for its new department, and we also invite you to join us and whoever wants to do like collaborative research in Sudan for archaeology, we are open for that.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you so much.
>> MOHAMED ALI: Also I forgot one part. Now we offer also scholarship and fellowship for Americans Sudanese students to benefit from the MSARC too. So if you have any student, you’re welcome to apply for that.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you so much, Mohamed, for that sharing, especially around how your work is pushing against early publications from this colonial framework to recenter with the history, the present and the futures from a Sudanese perspective.
I want to pivot to Keolu really thinking about indigenizing genomics because I feel like it’s in the same vein around giving Indigenous people the ‑‑ or rather thinking of and rearticulating what genomics looks like from an Indigenous perspective. So I would love it if you can share more about this work you are doing, especially in light of this booming industry for ancient ancestral remains, which you’ve talked about as earlier, you know, as this nonrenewable resource, and what it means for genomics and sequencing technologies to be in the hands of Indigenous people.
>> KEOLU FOX: Yeah, I’m happy to lay it down. Honestly, there’s quite a bit of just the word in Hawaii (speaking Hawaiian language) a lot of criminal shit that’s going on right now, so let’s be realistic. All of our ancestors are found in cold steel drawers and dusty boxes all around the world, whether it’s the British museum or even locally at museums in places like Honolulu and literally you name it, right? We put out a little paper in the journal Nature talking about and kind of evaluating how many ancient samples, ancestors, let’s be real, there was somebody in the comments who mentioned this, the terminology and how we refer to our ancestors with respect, have been processed from 2019 to kind of 2020 and it was more than the entirety of history, so there’s this exponential growth, there’s this acceleration. We look at infrastructure building as well.
There have been more ancient genomics laboratories, the workflow that is required to process our ancestors’ remains since 2010 and then many the entire of history and we published a map of those individual locations. It’s not that it’s a bad thing that these aren’t valid scientific questions, the real problem is that the vast majority of these investigators and let’s name names here because there’s almost 200 people listening, the David Rykes of the world, the MoxPlunk institutes of the world are pillaging our ancestors’ remains and they are turning it into digital information that is included in the surveillance economy and that information is extremely valuable, you can do all kinds of things. The scientific questions are interesting, they allow us to ask new questions or validate things we’ve already known in a lot of cases that our communities have already known but the majority of investigators are seeking one thing and that’s authorization, they’re not seeking connectivity, they’re not seeking consensus build and go they are window dressing community based participatory research methods which is getting old, from my point of view.
So we decided to one bring that to the attention of many other people, I think a lot of us have known this and our ancestors have known this and this builds on a history of repatriation methods. Additionally, though, we’ve had to think about ways to can create deterrent technologies using a number of different digital techniques, implementing things like blockchain and museum settings so that people understand what’s being processed when, what are the time stamps, because you’re not trading our genomes around like baseball cards anymore. We’re done with that. Not as long as all of the people here have Ph.D.’s, now we’re moving into leadership positions, that era of colonialism is finished.
And we’re letting them know, putting them on blast, by name.
Finally there are other deterrent technologies that work really well, cool, because there’s a whole industry of people selling our ancestors remains on Etsy, e‑bay, Instagram, et cetera. So that is a thriving market and we have to use different forms of machine learning to understand who is involved in that. So we’re using those types of technologies because we’re some Indigenous futurists so we’re going to use the best tools available and we are literally going to create new tools to prevent the sale of such things.
And then there’s the idea of just controlling stacks of technology. That’s exactly what we’re doing by creating consortia like neobiodata consortia, we have to prevent communities in places like Honolulu from outsourcing our ancestors’ remains on these little Ivy League institutions, the Harvards, Stanfords, the whoever it is, let’s again, and we have to build those Fort Wayne structures locally. We have to be in control of those things.
And we’re building all of those things I’m happy to talk to everyone about those things at any given time. But I think that’s very much the future is us in the driving seat making every single decision and then choosing when we want to let other people play with our ball, instead of sending it over to some other institution. And I apologize, I’ve probably taken up way too much time, but I just wanted to kind of paint the picture and the changing landscape of what’s going on here.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: No, not at all. And actually, I see that Rae unmuted herself, and I wanted to weave you into this conversation with new work coming out on Indigenous archaeology and is moving expanding beyond consultation that’s outlined in section 106 of the national historic preservation act so I would love to hear more of your commentary on what the future of this research looks like and what collaboration is.
>> RAE GOULD: Yeah. I’m super‑happy to talk about that, but I’ve button has been pushed here because a lot of people know that I have published and engaged with the repatriation for decades both as a tribal representative and as an institutional rep. Soiled like to just acknowledge what was just talked about in terms of ancestors and what I called a retentive philosophy and some of these Ivy League institutions, and, you know, while we’re naming names, let’s put Harvard out there who if we look at a way of thinking about atonement for the holding of our Black and Indigenous ancestors, they are a prime example of what not to do, you know, and how not to address this or how to kind of skirt around this.
So I was thinking of that as you were talking, and it’s just really a very complex issue. And I have a feeling that we’re not going to get to that topic later. So I just want to acknowledge that and say that, you know, I’m thinking about that every day. All of the work that I’m doing, I’m always thinking about the ancestors, right? So when we were working on this book, I was thinking about the ancestors. I was excavating at our small three and a half acre reservation in Grafton, Massachusetts, and questioning really, and I put this right in my dissertation, do I have the right to really do this? You know, do I have the right to kind of explore the material culture of our ancestors? But thinking about this broader question of collaboration, right, that you’re asking. I’m really glad that you asked that because this is really what’s at the heart of this book. I’m going to pull up the title because I honestly don’t know the whole thing because I was always focused on histories that have futures which, you know, is kind of the main point here, so historical archaeology and Indigenous collaboration, discovering histories that have futures, which is what we were really, really doing.
So first I want to note that this was very, very much a co‑authored book, right? So I had the privilege of working with three close friends and colleagues, including Stephen Mrozowski UMASS Boston supporter of the series and Holly Herbster who worked or actually got her MBA under Steve and she’s currently at public archaeology lab in Rhode Island and Heather at Syracuse University and Heather was trained under Steve, so we were working together for around 20 years, and this relationship started with me serving as the tipover tribal it historic tribal officer for my tribe and first meeting Holly really in this kind of section 106 context, you know, there were sites, there’s a regulatory process, they have to, we have to get tribal input, and I can tell you over 20 years it has flourished into a relationship that I am so grateful for every day.
So it really is a model of how to do, how to genuinely do collaborative work so what we found over the years as I join the academy, Steve was actually on my committee, he’s become an amazing mentor as well, that our work overlapped so much.
And I had mentioned fryer the webinar ‑‑ prior to the webinar starting when we had Steve on here that there was like this light bulb moment and he talked about having many of those, right? So coming in as a nonindigenous archaeologist and realizing he was excavating Nipmuc sites and that the tribe’s office was like two towns over, right? So here this kind of light bulb or I call it the aha moment happened for him, and he reached out, you know. So he was always learning and I so have appreciated and respected him over the years for that.
So our work overlapped, he was excavating and I was working on my dissertation research down the street at our reservation, and then, you know, we were presenting at conferences, and this book was really just a very natural result of the progression of our work over several decades. We hope that people read it, that they use it for their classes because it’s really a tool. So in archaeology we’re constantly talking about these different levels of tools. It’s a tool for teaching the next generation of really how to do this work. And, you know, how to work with tribal people, with Indigenous people broadly, we like to think that it’s a model on a global scale, not just in archaeology but in other fields as well. What I’m really proud of is that not only were tribal people involved in the discussion about the field work and the analysis and interpretation but also in the end result, right, so what should get published, and that in the end, our tribe really had the final say. One other point I would like to make related to that is that the key element here is asking first, right? So I’m feeling like a broken record lately but I’m talking to all of my colleagues at various Ivy League settings and really beyond that, that this has to be a key thing. So you have this idea, you’re a researcher, you’re a psychiatrist, you’re an anthropologist, you’re sociologist, social scientist, artist, whatever your background is, and you have this idea of engaging with Indigenous people. First and foremost asking, do they want this work done? Right? Is there a benefit to them? Is it capacity building, does it lift up and support their youth? So these were all of the questions that we were thinking about and working through.
An example of this is Steve would think about a field school, he would say, you know, we want to be over here at the Hasamisa Woods site, I think I have the Deb Newman homestead and first he would go to our leadership and our tribe and say here is what I’m thinking and here is what I think we might find and here is how it might be of interest to you, but if you say you don’t want this work done, I will stop now. And I have to say, you know, outside of, I mean, UMASS Boston is a great example, we have Steven Silman, I trained under Kevin McBride who worked for many decades under National Tucker, this has to be the approach and I sit here in these conversations like we’re having this afternoon and think everybody thinks this way, right, we’re preaching to the choir and I realize not that doesn’t always happen so if any point the tribe said this shouldn’t happen he was willing to step away. I hope for the people on here this afternoon if they get one opponent from what’s important to me and that came out of this book, that that is one of the key points.
I also want to add that I asked, I actually as a tribal member asked permission from our leadership to excavate on our reservation for my dissertation research. Our chief wasn’t very happy about archaeology, she asked me a load of questions, she had very much a furrowed brow, but in the end, she does support my desire to really do this exploration because she understood that it was my skill and it was what I could bring to our people, and I wanted to explore the history of this place and, you know, I was training as an anthropologist/archaeologist, and I think in the end, she realm understood that my goal was to assert our authority as knowledge keepers and experts about this place, and we really needed to have that authority. So in the process of getting my Ph.D., I was becoming an or hopefully the authority about Nipmuc history and culture.
So I just want to share that about that, and I really hope that people explore the book and that they ask questions and use it to train future generations. Thanks for asking.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: I just wanted to chime in quickly that yeah, I’m just glad that names are being named because it’s due time. We’ve seen, you know, 22,000 human remains in Harvard’s collection, them owning up to that. Of course they knew this, right? They knew this, and I think we just have to sit with this question of improper burial. So I love what you both just said about the kind of vivid imagery of what it means for our ancestors’ bones to be in these places, right? Because I find that what’s actually necessary is to have a conversation with DEI, as they call themselves, diversity, equity and inclusion, and the ways in which I feel like they kind of want to know like what do you need to get over this? This being the conquest, right, the genocide, all of these catastrophes that Black and Indigenous people have faced. And constantly, I just find that there is a lack of them reckoning with the fact that there are literal skeletons in the closet and if they would talk about that instead of these land acknowledgments which are also necessary, but like talk about the fact that there are actual remains, bones that are here, and this has to be an ethical question and has to be an archival question.
And I often talk about the ways in which diversity should divert its budget if they care towards talking about this, towards repatriation, and I have to say as well, you know, I learned the most about this from the Netherlands, to name another name, the Dutch are masters at this, the EU funding, the grants that they have, it’s astounding. I did a fellowship at Lidden University last year or I guess two years ago now prepandemic and I was astounded by how many people were studying the Caribbean and it was all within the field of archaeology and I could not believe it because, you know, I just couldn’t even find collapses on the Caribbean in the United States, and yet the Dutch are there on these dig sites with arrowheads they’re collecting and there’s not a conversation with Caribbean studies there at all.
So I just feel like I want to ‑‑ I would love for us to talk about the speculative and what I’ve been thinking about as like speculative geography. So again, towards this question of sci fi, in that it is about these grounds of improper burial. So for Cornell, it is about reckoning with the underground railroad, with burial of enslaved people and where these kind of clandestine itineraries might intersect if we can imagine them for people on the underground railroad and for the Gayacahono, I feel like there’s much to do and in the laboratory I founded we are thinking speculatively in order to imagine these itineraries and I guess I’ll just close by saying that to me, it’s a matter of kind of like pushing against this phrase that I think tends to be used of like, oh, I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams, you know, people say this or you’ll see it on a T‑shirt because they just got into med school or something like that, like people of color.
But I don’t know, I think something about that statement I want to invert and think about how my ancestors are my wildest dreams and all of the work that I’m doing is trying to speculatively imagine what multiple kind of lives they were living, who they were in community with, and part of that can only happen if they give the bodies back, if they return the bones, if they acknowledge that they have them in the basement catalogued and uncatalogued, in the Netherlands, at Harvard, at the University of Pennsylvania, that they need to own up to what they actually currently hold, and they haven’t.
>> KEOLU FOX: Could I add onto that? That was so well said. Also we could be our ancestors’ nightmare. But I wanted to say that there was a comment, and I tried to address it, and it was about how we educate, how we educate people around this because it’s so important that we’re having this conversation right now, we’re lighting this fire, embers have to keep going but we have and Hawaii started an exhibit called regenerations, challenging scientific racism at the Bishop Museum and we speculate and we have a whole bunch of kind of futurist ideas in there, I think people in here would love.
And some of them speak directly to in there we created a, because we didn’t want to get sued, we created a fake company called the Biocolonialist Trust and we take it in a lot of different directions. I could show you guys some slides but went do it justice, you should go and see the museum in Hawaii, it’s there in Honolulu until October. But the idea is educating our community members on what’s going on with 23 and me, what’s going on with ancestry.com, how are they commoditizing our data, how are they feeding it directly to big pharma and what does that mean. And how ubiquitous is this technology now that you could have a mobile genome sequencer, right? What does that mean in that context? What does it mean when we use it but what does it mean when a, you know, commercial entity is really interested in this. So we’ve created this fake company.
But the coolest part about our whole exhibit is we co‑designed it with five families whose imagery and photos were used by a eugenecist and that is the foundation for the whole thing. So we found this unique way to talk about eugenics, its history in Hawaii, it’s history in the schools and bring it full circle into comments and commentary around paleogenetics, the future of genetics, CRSPR babies and these various ideas and we’re very proud and I want everyone to understand how sensitive it is to create an exhibit with can education for youth around these can ideas and the only way it’s possible is iterate with your community back and forth, that’s that co‑design and I hope you guys go check it out. It was also in the New York Times for our little museum, not bad.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thanks so much. Grace, I noticed you had your hand up earlier. Did you want to add? Oh, you’re on mute.
>> GRACE DILLON: It’s just a very small feature what you guys are just doing is just absolutely amazing.
My daughter Elizabeth Lopensay who is an assistant professor at Michigan State University creates Indigenous video games. Oh, okay. And also boardgames and other kinds of things.
So I was thinking that sometimes, even when you were going through a project like she had with the Sokomish nations she created a food board that put their food knowledge into their language and it was just this amazing, amazing boardgame that they worked on together in illustrations and everything else.
Well, at the beginning, they were all for sharing this boardgame with everyone else, right? And actually having it be created for mass production. But once it was made, they realized, wait a minute, this is Atazukinan that’s our language for sacred, this is sacred knowledge that we don’t know that we really want to have just anyone picking up and playing a boardgame with. So she shelled the boardgame. She has one version, it’s all done, and there’s boardgames set up for their nation, right, within their nation, and they’re very busy using it with their youth and their young ones, and it’s for great to light. But she pulled that out of her doctoral dissertation and didn’t discuss it, didn’t talk about it, and just viewed it as that was important in honoring protocol at that point.
So I just wanted to throw that in that even for arts, where sometimes you think there’s some discussion or debate about well, if it’s art, can’t you just release whatever it is? And even for artists, such as those creating, they have to be thinking through those kind of protocols and be willing to drop a film of the I’ve been a couple film productions where we decided to do draw back because, again, permission had first been given and then later on there was some thinking about it by elders and some concern, so we immediately just dropped the project and said hey, no worries, you know. So I just want to throw that in, that’s all.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Absolutely, Grace. And I think your point really brings up like who the knowledge is for, like when we do this work of exploration, we do this unearthing and recovery work, who is that for, and I think it often comes up around the sort of mediums in which we’re using for storytelling efforts. Are we in service of the institutions that employ us, are we in service of the communities that we ultimately should be serving going back to Keolu’s point around who is in charge of the actual working done, which is more of the sort of collaborative approach that I sort of envision in archaeology for myself.
But I would love for us to also think about the space of storytelling and we’ll be wanting to called Tao your point around thinking through the speculative and also just thinking about the sort of epistemological foundation. So what are the foundations of how we’re coming to thinking of the now and thinking of the future for Black and Indigenous peoples and then also what are the medium that is folks are playing with, are expanding upon. And I want to weave into this question, which I already know is very long, pint that came up in one of the Q & A questions thinking through what other efforts are available beyond storytelling that might rely specifically on material culture. So I’m going to leave that one for like the specific archaeologists that are in the room, but I would love us to all dive into this question.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: Well, I guess I have a medium here. So tomorrow I’m going into VR with my students for the first time as part of this course, and we’re going on see what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe they’ll hate it. But that’s part of what we’re doing at the Dark Laboratory. Definitely inspired by Beth Lapensa’s work, I think she’s actually going to be visiting a different group that I work with later in the semester. So deeply inspired by the theory, the practice, gaming, other realities. And yeah, just to the point of storytelling, in term of our pillars at the Dark Laboratory, we’re always thinking about the trickster and the way that the trickster shows up, you know, in Indigenous African storytelling and Native American storytelling, and we actually look to same day, so in terms of Kayawa cosmology and my own personal connections to the Caribbean and there’s so much we can see that are similar, I know there’s Anishinaabe trickster figures and when we talk about them we kind of think is an auntie a he? It kind of doesn’t make sense in terms of gender. We want to listen to the story of Ithica and listen to the land of Black and Indigenous farmers and we want to kind of stray from the written word, as strange as that can sound for professors and I do that through DJing as a sonic form of storytelling and co‑founder Jeffrey Palmer does that through poem with documentary words from a bear looking at M Scott Mamaday and I feel like it’s really a matter of yeah thinking about storytelling, maybe as are opposed to but not necessarily needing to be opposed to theory and the ways in which there’s a verb nature, a doing, a practice that’s really important in terms of how we listen.
And if this, like VR can be a tool, and would he need to step away are from the colonizers tongue in particular and the ways they limit our imagination.
>> RAE GOULD: Even though we consider archaeology to be a Western science, it is very much storytelling, right? I mean, we have this material culture, we look at it, it’s very real, but the interpretations and the way that we understand can it and tell the stories of the people of the past and present ask future is, I mean, it can vary from one person to the next, right? So one person could look at an artifact ask say oh, you know, here is the story that it’s telling, and then another person, whether they’re tribal or not can look at that very same artifact and have a completely different interpretation. So I just kind of want to throw that in there that there’s different layers, there’s all of the storytelling that’s going on, right, so we’re retelling the story of our people, of our ancestors as we did through our book in documents and archeological interpretation in my case, from all the oral interviews I did and conversations I constantly have with our tribal people so just to I guess underscore the fact that science is storytelling as well so I just want to add that and make sure that that’s clear. Especially as a member of, you know, the academy that I am indoctrinated into.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Absolutely. And I would love to invite Grace to speak more on the space of storytelling as well, and I’m thinking more about the work that you’re doing around alternative futurisms and really thinking about the multiple, like the expansiveness of being and how we can project the expansiveness of ourselves in the future as well. So I would love it if you could share more about that particular project.
>> GRACE DILLON: Sure. Sure. In fact, it’s interesting because I was invited by Rutledge to do an alternative futurism’s handbook, but already as editors were a little concerned about the limitation of that term, why are we alternative, for instance, as opposed to ‑‑ so we’re thinking in terms now more of Body’s use of co‑futures, so we’re kind of playing around with the expression. But what is it does remain is that we’re looking at Afro‑futurisms and since I am a full professor and can get wild at my campus with whatever I want to do, I said what I want is I want young, I want young writers, not, you know, we don’t have to have the acclaimed person of the field writing the articles for us because I think that this is what is becoming really transformative, and I think a lot of you guys have already referred to that, you know. I think of Beth’s generation and in the ’30s and ’20s as that is, you know, this is the rich generation that is really coming up with stuff.
In alternative futures then we’re looking at Afro‑futurisms, African futurisms as maybe ‑‑ as Nadia Core calls it, global futurisms referring to anyplace globally that includes Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians and, yes, and the Mari from New Zealand and so many others in various countries in Africa, any group of people that do not want to simply live with an ethnic label, who want to have self‑determination and autonomy as a community who maybe have their own languages or dialects, their own songs and ceremonies.
And Rae, I want to go back to, I’m so glad that you brought up that science is storytelling, because the way I was raised with that, with science I was always interested in science, but it always came in the form of stories, around usually fires or ceremony, dancing, song, so the DJing, you know, early invented forms of DJing were going on, and what I would really love to see is there have been instances of like with Blackfeet physics where they take new discoveries and revelations of physics going on and then bring it back into their not just their own language, but then have songs that are created to go along with that, dances created to go along with that, and all of those things and art and architecture. In my language we don’t have a distinction in our wording between writing and creating art or building a place or creating play. We’re very verbal language, and we usually have all kind of varieties of language. But in that instance, it just runs across the board, so that when you’re thinking of doing science, to us, that means, oh, and then you’re going to have art and ceremony and stories, you know. And sharing of foods. With Black and Indigenous, those are important. So that’s what I think of right away.
Oh, I should mention, we also have for that Gulf futurisms, Asian futurisms, and then queer futurisms and disability futurisms are woven throughout, and sure enough, we ran into the, okay if you’re Afro‑Caribbean, you know, then as editors we’re going back and forth with each other on those kind of pieces. So yeah, I think of Beth Scayne where rivers were trails where she usually does futurism stuff and the Indian trust fund asked her to basically rip apart the ‑‑ there’s an Oregon Trail game and I don’t know if you guys were ever stuck with it, but most certainly in Oregon K‑12. So they asked her to create something else. Instead of going through and decolonizing and oh what should we change about this and that, no, she took an entire summer with her little ones and visited each place and got all the stories.
And actually, there were some really interesting stories that her grad students were working on this with her. They were like, oh, no, no, no, Professor Lupensay, you could not do that. That would be too shocking, you know! And she was getting all kinds of everywhere she would go, she would get permission, and she would get the stories of what was really going on during that time from an Indigenous perspective. So I don’t know if that’s called decolonizing or restoration or restorative justice. But it just feels more real a absolutely. And I think listening to all of you really makes me think about once again the medium that is people are using to do this work of sharing, and I have a question here that is looking at the use of digital technologies and a lot of the work that you all are doing, and I wonder if you can share the sort of avenues of opportunity as well as challenge that are ingrained in the use of digital technologies to illuminate knowledge about the past as well as what this means foreign visioning futurity. Yes, please.
>> KEOLU FOX: Could I say, okay, so we work in a unique discipline, which is genomics, relate, and the genome sequencing I had a mentor tell me this once, he said the funny thing about genome sequencing is you’re taking something that’s analog and you’re making it digital, which is pretty profound if you think about what that means.
And you’re literally decoding our evolutionary history and the way that the In you a has shaped our genomes, right, this is our genealogy, our (Speaking Hawaiian language) so it’s interesting because when we say something like Monikea is our ancestor, that’s what we mean by sacred are genealogy, they could say okay we still to want put up ‑‑ and I could say there’s Tibetan ancestors at high elevation and that high elevation and that altitude has shaped their genomes. If a woman who is not having this mutation tries to have a child at that elevation, they’ll have a miscarriage, right? It has literally shaped their genome and their pathway. So these are two distinct conversations where in Hawaii we know Monikea is our ancestor and know our journey and our diaspora has shaped our genome so why can’t our colleagues understand this when they can understand these other kinds of narratives that they’ve built. So the challenges are using these tools, this medium, which is genome sequence and go now genome editing to reverse‑engineer these mutations and build our own narratives as true as we can, as true as we can, that speaks to honoring our ancestors, that’s our responsibility, our (Speaking Hawaiian language) so that’s been an interesting idea for me, connect and go shaping that idea of sacred geography and how we get there with these tools. So just put that out there.
>> RAE GOULD: I just to want say that I’m so glad, I’m just feeling really fortunate to be part of this conversation because it’s really demonstrating, I think, how so much of our work is not mutually exclusive, which, you know, is a core point that we haven’t raised yet, right? So we’re not either/or, and we’re constantly thinking about all of these interconnections between ourselves as Indigenous peoples or, you know, having other ancestries, and like it’s foundational. So I’m really ‑‑ I was just thinking that, as you were talking. In terms of the digital stuff, I mean, I’m not a big fan really of really using digital technologies, but I would say that for us we’re always getting back to the idea of telling our stories, you know, and storytelling that, we’re always trying to find ways to interconnect contemporary digital technologies with the need to share what we feel comfortable sharing in a more public‑facing way, and it very much ties into the points I was making earlier about being the authors, you know, of our story and being seen as the experts.
So the other part that I’ve thought about when I kind of pondered, you know, digital technologies, we’re actually working in conversation with an institution, a good guy institution, because they approached us and they said, you know, we have all these skills, we’re really adept at this, you know, in this area of digital, you know, media, technologies and how can we help you. They just put that out there. So I went back to, you know, my chief and I said hey, you know, this institution is asking how can they help us and that very much underscore the point that I was making earlier. So we’re probably going to be working with them for at least a semester, possibly an entire academic year where their students are going to help us build capacity by, you know, helping us build an exhibit, or we have several ideas on the table. But I just again, that’s a really good model of how to think about this melding and this nonmutually exclusive mode of thinking of the academy and Indigenous needs, so I just wanted to quickly share that.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Yes, Grace?
>> GRACE DILLON: I’m just getting so inspired by what everyone is bringing up.
If you ever have a chance to see Lisa Jackson, also Anishinaabe, there’s a installation she does, one of the features I was able to go through it with her personal and will what’s beautiful about it to me is that it may fuse what you are talking about, Rae, in not having the digital aspect superimpose our own values and our own interests and our own ways of thinking. So one way in which she does that is that instead of having, you know, this exhibit where it’s chattering away and filling you in on everything to know about this particular piece, it’s not that way at all. It’s a journey that you take. It’s a journey that you make sense of, they’re enigmatic beautiful, beautiful moments.
And there’s a pathway in which you are literally walking through in this immersion in which you can just take your time, and you can do it very, very slowly and listen and stop at certain points. And what was interesting to me is that those of us that were Native for this particular art gathering, we were the ones where we had to be reminded, oh, wait a minute, you know, you’ve got a talk coming up at so and so time. Because we were just enjoying the silence and feeling very moved in body, mind and spirit. Oh, Ayana, that’s the thing I left out, about the handbook, that is so startling and shocking for the science fiction world. For the science fiction world, it’s usually about body and mind and more about body, right? Especially in the old 1980s cyber punk days, you know, get rid of the meat, right? And digitally download and that’s where you want your consciousness to be, right? So we’re actually quite radical within that field by having these experiences embedded in body, mind and spirit and then depending on each of our own community, tribal community and bands for the Anishinaabe, we have two hearts, not one, and of course we know anatomically and we do x‑ray art and we are very careful with anatomy, but the other heart is actually in the forefront of our brain and that’s the place where you have dreams, that’s the place where you have visions. That’s the place where if you’re going to go hunting, like for my dad, and he used only a bow and arrow that he made, and he would only take what was needful and would be very thankful and would pray and tobacco, we never smoked it, but we lift it as gifts, it enriches the soil, right? So the gift has meaning, has a scientific sense too. But I’ll stop right there.
>> TAO LEIGH GOFFE: I would love to pick up on the note of dreaming because this is so important to me as a kind of method, and I would imagine if we were to talk about it, it probably has a function for each of us. So yeah, I think that’s just so beautiful to think about this dream space, Grace, as you mention, because I’m writing a book where I’m looking at a chapter on cosmology, African and Chinese cosmologies and what do dreams represent in terms of ancestor worship. How does it influence gambling, how we play the lottery. So I think there’s a lot that we could decode there and that we might even consider definitions in terms of like data, right? Science as you were saying, Rae, why do these have to be mutually exclusive? They’re actually not when we look at our own traditions and what we’ve inherited in spite of all that European colonialism tried to take away from us so I want to thank the organizers in the sense of like Society of Black Archaeologists, Indigenous archaeologists, like it’s so important this idea of infrastructure designed by and for us. So a mentor of mine Brian Terry who is a chef was talking about FUBU, so the ’90s clothing brand which stands for For Us By Us, it’s critical to think about who this is for.
So when I think about the digital, I’m led to the Caribbean digital, this project and space that’s been built out of Barnard with conferences where I’ve just been able to learn, I’ve had my students make maps of the Caribbean looking at Topinomy and trying to understand spaces of maroon ecologies and why it is that these have been forgotten so I think it’s also a question of music and I say that as a DJ but also towards a kind of digital ceremony because it’s clear that like Zoom is really awkward and even though this is an amazing talk, it’s not enough, right, for how we’re trying to connect with each other during this like really, you know, horrible moment of the pandemic.
And yeah, I just feel like there’s more that we can build together in terms of the kind of digital ceremony because we already know that Black and Indigenous technology has existed for all of these years, for centuries, and it is out of conditions of scarcity that we find the conditions of possibility, and I see that totally in terms of the sound system being a Jamaican home‑grown technology. So there’s so many different technologies that we could look at that are home‑grown Black and Indigenous that I guess Western culture extracts or kind of tries to ignore but that have influenced the world. So it’s exciting to be able to tap in and think about the analog and the digital on that note.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Tao, especially for doing the work of pulling this all together well toward the end. With our final few minutes, I’m actually going to hand it on over to Dr. Steven Mrozowski and after that we’ll have an introduction of the organizers who have made this year long webinar series possible and we’ll think through and talk through and think through movements going forward. Thank you all.
>> Steve: Thank you, Ayana, and thanks to you all, it’s a wonderful thing to listen to and to hear. So on behalf of the Fiske center for archeological research, the department of anthropology and the University of Massachusetts Boston, I want to thank all of our participants today who brought their voices to this discussion of Black and Indigenous futures. I also want to acknowledge that our campus is located on land long part of the Massachusetts homeland, which is shared by other Indigenous peoples including the Nipmuc and Wapinap peoples, I want to thank the many listeners in our audience today. While the need for new voices is more evidence than perhaps it’s ever been it is equally important there are listeners, allies in some cases, those willing to have their minds open to change. Years ago, when I brought my two young children to UMASS for the first time, during which time they spent climbing my file cabinets like ladders and breaking a glass floor drain resulting in an overflow from our flotation tank, destroying the ceiling of the lab below, after all of that, we went home and their mother asked them, so what does dad do all day at work? To which my sons answered, oh, he talked. And that, from their perspective, all that I did do, I talked, and that is what academics do do. They talk. And they talk with authority. If that authority is based on a lie and that lie revolves around the work that pursues histories without ever engaging the very people whose histories we purport to respect but not enough to speak, the descendants of those people it, I avoided this history for a long time and did the historical archaeology of the colonists.
Once I found myself engaged in an archaeology of Indigenous past and in particular a Nipmuc past I was fortunate enough to work with Rae Gould and the Nipmuc tribal council who helped me navigate a new reality and a major part of that new reality was the need and willingness to leave behind an authority that is deeply embedded in a colonial mindset that needs to be decolonized so that other forms of knowledge can be tapped for inspiration. Academics also employ technologies and methods that aid us in our empirical research, but in order for those methods to be decolonized, you must acknowledge that these methods have been instruments of colonialism and imperialism. Only by listening to the voices of those who have been the focus of our methods have the links between this empirical imperialism and colonialism been exposed, yet these methods do have pragmatic value and that they can aid us in reawakening pasts that are an essential if are the Black and Indigenous futures we hope for are to be realized. Decolonized methods can help in reawakening pasts that have a critical role to play in countering histories that have become myths that fuel hate and oppression. I will quickly discuss and I mean quickly three such meths. Each of these myths is pervasive in North America which is where most of my work is centered.
The first is the myth of White America. There’s never been a White America. Not now or at any point in its past. It isn’t possible to separate the history of White America with that of African‑American, Indigenous and Asian American past that have until recently been denied and purposefully erased. Another myth is the myth of prehistory. There’s never been a prehistory outside the attempts by archaeologists to relegate both African and Indigenous past, to something quite different and separate from a euro history that is viewed as a part of a future moving forward.
Notions such as prehistory need to be decolonized in the same way that the intersection of African American and Indigenous past needs to be acknowledged as sharing a deeply interwoven history with others who now see themselves as north Americans. Another myth, the myth of the disappearing Indian remains, an essential part in erasing an Indigenous past that complicated a new narrative of a Euro American future connected to a deeper past. this part of colonialism has not ended. It is not a part of a past, it is part of our present ask will remain so until more equitable pasts are success ‑‑ paths are successful in a more equitable future. Archaeology may not be the best place to look for hope in shaping a more better equitable future but for most of us it is the path we’ve chose by not to do this archaeology must change and that means archaeologists must change. More than anything else they must listen to the voices we heard today and others like our participants whose work opponents towards a more just world. A major part of making that happen is the collaboration that is so essential to my work now. It has been through that collaboration that the centrality of those myths and their destructive nature has been brought more clearly into focus and never, I might add, because any Indigenous or African American descendant has told me this, it has been something that’s grown organically from collaboration and the simple step of listening. So I look forward to more listening and more learning through collaboration such as I’ve experienced with Rae Gould, for example, and those I hope to have with many of you who are trying to shape a better future, so I want to thank you all today for coming and speaking with us and shearing your experiences and shearing your histories. We vitally need those histories and those voices if we’re to move forward in a productive and collaborative manner. Thank you.
>> AYANA FLEWELLEN: Thank you so much, Steven. And I would like to quickly give a nod to all of the organizers that made this possible, Sara Gonzalez, Adam Smith, Danilyn Rutherford, Chip Colwell, Justin Dunnavant and Kathryn Derfler, thank you all. I know we don’t have much time but just to give face to all the labor that’s been happening behind the scenes.
>> DANILYN RUTHERFORD: Hello. I’ll just say thank you all for coming. I’m Danilyn from the Wenner‑Gren Foundation, and it’s been just a privilege. Thank you.
(6:01 p.m. EST)
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