Niagara Falls, NY
Organization: Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
Etymologically, the term “resilience”--from the Latin re- and salire, “to leap in return”--refers to the capability of a thing, in response to some stimulus, to return to its original form or state. The term connotes a dual activity, simultaneously an undoing and a rebuilding. But in Indigenous contexts, under the realities of settler-colonialism, the aspiration to “return to original form” is a fraught enterprise, as it inevitably encounters the romanticized conceptual dichotomies of traditional / modern, sedentary / nomadic, cultural / political, and historical / mythical. Moreover, as we consider the example of the Haudenosaunee, what has enabled Indigenous communities to both survive and thrive through centuries of dispossession has been the reapplication of originary formations in new contexts through a commitment to adaptive principles and practices. Indigenous resilience must account for adaptation and change.
Niagara Falls is therefore an exemplary setting within which we might reframe our considerations of resilience in Indigenous contexts. Haudenosaunee scholar Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca) notes in the recently published collection, Indian Cities, that Niagara Falls “is a place of stories—not just Indigenous stories, of the Thunder Beings, but settler stories too, of movies, plays, novels, and political propaganda” (“Electric Lights, Tourist Sights” 98). In this essay she addresses the confluence of “multiple histories” at Niagara Falls and their geopolitical, social, cultural, and epistemological implications for Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens and scholars alike (“Electric Lights, Tourist Sights” 95). For Goeman, Indigenous resilience has taken shape through an intermingling of cultural forms. In making this point, she presents us with a model of Haudenosaunee continuity in spite of centuries of settler political misrecognition, territorial expropriation, and treaty violations.
This session insists that our exploration of resilience in Niagara Falls must consider the continued Haudenosaunee presence in western New York, as well as the resilience of Indigenous communities whose traditional territories transverse the northern settler colonial borderlands of what is currently known as the United States and Canada, and beyond. This panel seeks essays that take up the concept of resilience in Indigenous contexts, that seek to chart the multiple histories and stories–and their implied correlatives: multiple futurities, multiple paths forward–of the places we, as scholars, live and work within.
In reorienting our conceptions to imagine possibilities of experience beyond resilience, this panel seeks essays that address how thinking beyond resilience considers, challenges, reflects upon, and (re)constitutes one or more of the following topics, or relevant questions:
- Borders/boundaries: How positioning Niagara Falls as a “living” border reframes our understanding of political boundaries, exposing them as fluid, shifting and changing over time and presenting challenges to settler nation-state mapped boundaries, ethnic and demographic boundaries, etc.
- Origins and Tradition: How resilience defined as “returning to original form” opens up a conversation about the role of “tradition,” “adaptation,” and “modernity” in Indigenous contexts.
- Theorizing Resilience: How theoretical concepts such as Gerald Vizenor’s “survivance,” Audra Simpson’s “ethnographic refusal,” and Leanne Simpson’s “radical resurgence” augment conceptions of Indigenous resilience in the Americas to dismantle and rebuild; how resilience and decolonization require both resistance to settler-colonial impositions and the fostering of Indigenous national epistemologies.
- Methodological questions: How both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars position themselves and their work in relation to, and for the benefit of, the resilience of the communities they engage with.