Panel at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) Conference Las Vegas: “City of God, City of Destruction”
Presiding Officer: Steven Sexton (University of Nevada - Las Vegas)
This panel, sponsored by MELUS, is focused on the evolving figure of the Urban Indian. The Urban Indian has had negative connotations within Native communities as a mark of assimilation and dilution of Indigenous culture since the figure is removed from traditional homelands. Since most Indigenous people live away from their tribal homelands today, however, the Urban Indian is very much an Indigenous reality and recent Native stories offer empowering images that evolve the figure that resist previous connotations. Recent novels like There There by Tommy Orange (Cheyanne/Arapaho) and Sacred Smokes from Theodor Van Alst, Jr., for example, feature Indigenous characters who either moved to or grew up in urban settings. The stories this panel is interested are not only of those that take place in urban settings but anywhere Indigenous people find themselves that is not their tribal homelands.
The publication of There There by Cheyanne/Arapaho writer Tommy Orange in 2018 marks a shift in Indigenous stories. Unlike so many Native texts before, Oranges places his story not in Indian Country but in the urban setting of Oakland. The figure of the Urban Indian has had negative connotations within Native communities as a mark of assimilation and dilution of Indigenous culture since the figure is removed from traditional homelands and communities. Orange and other Indigenous authors, however, are publishing stories that challenge this connotation and reimagine the Urban Indian. For example, Lakota author Theodore Van Alst, Jr.’s 2019 novel, Sacred Smokes is set in Chicago and features characters who were born and raised in the metropolitan. “Urban Indian” has also been used to describe any Native living in places away from their tribal homelands or where the nation currently resides and such setting may not necessarily be urban. Such removals and relocations of Indigenous people was designed to assimilate Native Americans but as Orange and Van Alst’s narratives demonstrate, Native people find Indigenous communities regardless of where they find themselves or how they found themselves there.
This panel is focused on the figure of the Urban Indian historically but also how it is in a constant of evolution. The stories this panel is interested are not only of those that take place in urban settings but anywhere Indigenous people find themselves that is not their tribal homelands. The panel is seeking presentations focused on the Urban Indian but is open to a variety of approaches that include but not exclusive to: Indigenous and Native American studies, multi-ethnic literature, transnationalism, settler colonialism, diaspora, critical race theory, Federal-Indian law and policy, etc.