New lecture, writing series aims to highlight Indigenous communities


Zoe Malin/The Daily Northwestern

The Indigenous Lecture and Writing Series will present public lectures by Indigenous scholars and storytellers starting in May 2019. Updated information about the lectures can be found on the series’ website.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago have established a new Indigenous Lecture & Writing Series in an effort to increase the visibility of Native American and Indigenous communities.

This 10-month program pairs public lectures by indigenous scholars with writing produced by a cohort of 20 Native-identifying individuals. Overall, it aims to “cultivate more first-voice stories,” said Jasmine Gurneau, manager of Native American and Indigenous Initiatives at NU.

“Chicago is home to one of the largest Native American populations,” Gurneau said. “Even so, Natives are largely invisible.”

The Indigenous Lecture & Writing Series was funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, an organization focused on supporting education research. It is supported by NU’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion as well as UIC’s Native American Support Program and Learning Sciences Research Institute. The group will first meet later this April.

Applications to the series’ writing cohort was open to anyone who self-identifies as Native American or Indigenous. The selected participants range from college students to those in their 60s, and Gurneau said members of the group are interested in a variety of storytelling genres such as photojournalism and autobiographical writing.

Gurneau and her co-facilitators, Joshua Radinsky and Cynthia Soto, both faculty members at UIC, were inspired to create the series after the publication of the 2018 study, “Reclaiming Native Truth.” Gurneau said it showed when people are exposed to narratives about Native peoples, it leads to greater support for the community.

Radinsky, an associate professor of learning sciences and curriculum studies at UIC, said “Reclaiming Native Truth” was proof that country-wide, people do not have enough exposure to Indigenous perspectives.

“We want to get these peoples’ voices more involved in storytelling,” Radinsky said. “Every single part of our society would benefit from better knowledge about the experiences of Indigenous people.”

The Indigenous Lecture & Writing Series is composed of eight public lectures hosted on either UIC or NU’s campus. The first event will be held on May 30. The lecturer has yet to be announced.

After each lecture, the writing cohort will meet to reflect on the information shared. The participants will also will work with Joyce Miller-Bean, formerly an instructor in DePaul University’s English department, to develop academic and creative writing skills.

The series will culminate with the cohort participating in a three-day writing retreat during spring 2020, and each participant will produce a piece of work that the co-facilitators hope will be published.

Identifying as Afro-Indigenous, Miller-Bean has a personal connection to the Indigenous Lecture & Writing Series. She hopes it will “help in the ongoing efforts to quell misconceptions” about Native communities.

“I believe that one of the most effective ways to dispel false ideas and images is through more people from misrepresented groups speaking and writing in their own clear voices,” she said in an email to The Daily.

Aaron Golding, NU’s assistant director of multicultural student affairs, is one of the members of the writing cohort. In an email to The Daily, he said he has been in various situations where he was the only Native person. He looks forward to “being in community with fellow writers where Native history is understood and affirmed.”

Golding also said he believes the series will “inform” his role at NU.

“I hope the knowledge shared and relationships formed from the visiting Indigenous scholars enhance the ways I am able to meet the needs of Native and Indigenous students at Northwestern,” Golding said. “And, I hope this experience will aid in my ability to support non-Native students on their journey to relearn the history of this country.”

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