New Orleans is famous for jazz, Mardi Gras culture, and for its food and nightlife. But beyond these aspects, there is a longer and more interconnected story of the people who have been on these lands since time immemorial. Bulbancha, one of the original place names of what we now call New Orleans, means “land of many tongues” in Choctaw, which says a lot about what New Orleans has always been, a place of coming together in its prominent location on the Mississippi River. New Orleans has been home to the Chitimacha and Houma as well as many more indigenous peoples who made New Orleans their home over the years including the Chawasha and Acolapissa.
This year New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University (NOCGS), located on these un-ceded and ancestral homelands, will host the Third Annual Indigenous Symposium with the theme “Being Native Today: Indigenous identities in the Gulf South”. The conference presents research by Gulf South Indigenous scholars and non-native academics in partnerships with indigenous communities. There will be presentations on projects from tribal member nations outside of the Gulf South, in an effort to understand and engage in dialogue about environment, history, and culture across and between nations. There are few spaces for regional indigenous peoples to take up space, especially in academic settings. The symposium foregrounds the Native experience with regards to environmental activism and cultural heritage in the Gulf South as significant and vital.
This year’s theme addresses the complexities of indigenous identity in the Gulf South, and how that relates to land sovereignty, notions of kinship, racism amongst and within Tribes, as well as identity and federal recognition. Due to such varying experiences with colonial powers, Native American people have complex and particular histories in the Gulf South region. Under initial French and then later Spanish colonization, native people were still considered part of their sovereign nations, something that was increasingly ignored, and with its own set of consequences during the American period.
As an urban center, New Orleans is home to many native people from tribes from all over the world. The annual NOCGS Indigenous Symposium seeks to center Gulf South Indigenous people and to create space to share research and to foster partnerships. Native Americans in and around Bulbancha are redefining their cultural heritage today through their own stories, songs, foodways, environmental activism, artisans, and language. The symposium will be an opportunity to further shift the narrative in favor of a wholistic and complicated view of their contributions and challenges in the Gulf South region.
More about the Symposium
This year's symposium will feature keynote speaker Malinda M. Lowery, member of the Lumbee nation. Her work includes Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation (UNC Press, 2010) and her keynote is titled “Indians, Southerners and Americans: Race, Tribe and Nation during Jim Crow.” Tribal nations in the Southeast have a particular history which holds the intertwined legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. These implications affect how tribal members experience different types of racism, especially if they have family members or ancestors of African descent.
Archaeologist Kenneth Carleton from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will present on “Nanih Waiya, Mother Mound of the Choctaw”. Other presentations will include a panel with the Tunica and the Coushatta language programs where the importance of language revitalization and preservation will be discussed in addition to short language demonstrations. Choctaw scholar Brian Klopotek will examine relational indigeneity and race in the U.S. and in Mexico. His research derives in part from his work with the Choctaw-Apache Tribe in Sabine Parish and research done among the indigenous people of Cholula Mexico.
This symposium is free and open to the public. The full list of the presenters and the schedule can be found online at https://indigenoussymposium.tulane.edu.