"The First and the Forced":
Indigenous and African American Intersections

November 9-11, 2006
University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS

In November 2006, the Hall Center for the Humanities, together with Haskell Indian Nations University, hosted the final event of the Shifting Borders of Race and Identity Project. This three-year grant, funded by the Ford Foundation, was one of many innovative programs housed at the Hall Center. This particular project, which fostered further collaboration between the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, was among the nation’s cutting-edge initiatives to examine the intersections of African Americans and First Nations people. “The First and the Forced”: Indigenous and African American Intersections Conference was a three-day event which began on Thursday, November 9, 2006 and ended on Saturday, November 11, 2006.  

An international community of over one-hundred students, activists and scholars, including members of the Warriors Project, Haskell Indian Nations student body and Descendants of the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, convened in Lawrence to share their experiences and the research they have done that reflects the multilayered intersections between African-descended and First Nations people. Conference participants enjoyed an interdisciplinary and intergenerational assortment of panels, roundtables, curriculum development sessions, documentary films and performances.  

Speakers for the event included Tiya Miles, University of Michigan professor and author of Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and co-editor of Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country; James Riding In (Pawnee Nation), Arizona State University professor and editor of Wicazo Sa Review: A Journal of Native American Studies; Tall Oak, community activist and historian (Absentee Mashantucket Pequot and Wampanoag) from Charlestown, Rhode Island; William  Katz, curriculum consultant and author of  Black Indians: A Hidden Legacy; Elizabeth Rhodes, Xavier University of Louisiana professor and author of “Lagniappe for the Future: An Ethnographic Case Study on the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans”; and  José Bravo de Rueda, North Carolina A&T professor of Spanish whose work includes research on the intersections of African- descended people and the Indigenous peoples of Peru.  University of Kansas professors on the program included Maryemma Graham, Joyce McCray Pearson, Stacy Leeds, Kevin Willmott, Chico Herbison and Tanya Golash-Boza.

Pamyua, NAMMY award-winning world music artists based in Alaska who combines Inuit harmonies with the African djembe, performed traditional dances on Friday evening at Woodruff Auditorium. On Saturday, University of Massachusetts English professor, poet and jazz aficionado Ron Welburn led a seminar titled “Afro-Indigenous Musicians in Jazz” as a part of the Hall Center’s Indigenous and African Experiences in the Americas Seminar series. Also featured at the conference was the Power and Place exhibit that transformed oral history interviews, conducted by Shifting Borders oral historians Carmaletta Williams and Mike Tosee, into a provocative walk into history. This exhibit is currently traveling across the country to various Tribal Colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The final event for the conference, co-sponsored by the Lied Center, included a performance by Ulali, an internationally renowned First Nations women a cappella trio.  

The Shifting Borders Project has provided a much-needed space for academics, community scholars and individuals to study and reflect upon both the contentious and collaborative experiences between African American and First Nations people. Though the project has ended, its significant impact will continue to be felt in upcoming projects, research and contemporary discussions. The Hall Center is pleased to have contributed to the growth of this meaningful discourse and continues to maintain the Shifting Borders website which includes an extensive bibliography, workshop and seminar papers, visual clips from previous events and two e-book compilations of essays and oral interviews.

--Zanice Bond de Pérez, Co-director, Shifting Borders of Race and Identity  

Conference Photo Archive

Conference Agenda and Presentations