21.07.22 12:15 – 13:45 Lecture

Lecture “Narratives of Displacement and Placemaking: Notions of Diaspora in Indigenous Literatures” with Prof. Dr. Katja Sarkowsky (American Studies, Uni Augsburg)

We will be joined on the 21st of July 2022 for a lunchtime guest lecture by Prof. Dr. Katja Sarkowsky. Visiting us from the American Studies department at the University of Augsburg.

Narratives of Displacement and Place-Making: Notions of Diaspora in Indigenous literatures

‘Place’ is a central issue in Indigenous literatures and, as numerous Indigenous writers and scholars have highlighted, in Indigenous epistemologies, with communal and political practices, as Anishinaabe writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson puts it, “reflective of the relationality of the local landscape” (2017, 3). The settler colonial politics of displacement and dispossession over the past centuries thus present a violent disruption of fundamental relations; land rights, accordingly, are crucial to contemporary struggles for Indigenous sovereignty in Canada and the United States, with ‘place’ inextricably interwoven with notions community, its history, its land relations, and its language.
But geographical displacements have also at times led to new land relations and community formations that did not erase memories of the community history and place connections so violently disrupted, but incorporated them into processes of renewed place-making. Some writers, for instance the Chamoru poet Craig Santos Perez (2021), use the term ‘diaspora’ to account for community building away from but tied to ancestral lands. For many scholars, ‘diaspora’ is a term antithetical to Indigenous experiences and constellations (e.g., Clifford 1994; Coleman 2017); for others, it offers a potentially productive avenue to capture complexly interlinked processes of place-loss, place-experience, and place-making (e.g., McCall 2010).
In light of these debates, this talk will explore the potential and the limits of ‘diaspora’ in the work of Muscogee poet, musician, playwright, and memoirist Joy Harjo, the incumbent United States Poet Laureate. In her more recent work, Harjo pays increasing attention not only to Muscogee territory of her youth in Oklahoma – a constant in her poetic engagement with place for decades – but also to the lands in Alabama from which the Muscogee were expelled in the 1830s to be forcibly resettled in the ‘Indian Territory’ that was to become Oklahoma. This talk does not seek to make claims regarding the general valence of ‘diaspora’ in Indigenous contexts; rather, I am interested in how this specific poet’s work might help complicate notions of place-making and diaspora.

Clifford, James. “Diasporas.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 9, no. 3 (1994), pp. 302-338.
Coleman, Daniel. “Indigenous Place and Diaspora Space: Of Literalism and Abstraction.” Settler Colonial Studies, vol. 6, no. 1 (2016), pp. 61-76.
McCall, Sophie. „Diasporas, Indigenous Sovereignties, and Metis Writing in Canada.” Canadian Literature, vol. 204 (2010), p. 121.
Perez, Craig Santos. Navigating Chamoru Poetry. University of Arizona Press, 2021.
Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. As We Have Always Done. Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.