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Black Lives Out West: November 24-25, 2017

November 23, 2017 - November 25, 2017

Black Lives Out West: A Symposium

In light of recent discussions about the relationship between Black and Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island particularly with regards to the expropriation of land on the one hand, and the making-property of human beings on the other, this event recognizes the Western territories of Turtle Island as a zone of exclusion, a site of social death, and as a contact zone. Scholars, critics and writers deeply consider what relationships can and should be, and how to imagine ethical practice in light of that condition that Lisa Lowe has called “the intimacy of four continents”, but with a particular focus of Black and Indigenous concerns and subject positions. Speakers may take up Kamau Brathwaite’s term “arrivant” recently elaborated by Jodi Byrd in The Transit of Empire to nuance the modes and intentions (or lack of intentions) in movement. From the history of the black Albertan cowboy, John Ware, to that of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, to that of the recent asylum seekers crossing the US border at Emerson, Manitoba, this symposium begins to re-imagine, re-member, and re-make the contact zone in the hope of better relationships and ethical practices.

Confirmed Speakers:
Nadine Chambers, David Chariandy, Wayde Compton, Cheryl Foggo, Suzette Mayr, Christian Olbey, Rain Prud’homme-Cranford, Marlon Simmons, Karina Vernon, and Joshua Whitehead

Schedule at a Glance:   

Friday, November 24, 2017

6:00pm: Catered dinner at TIA House: Open to Faculty, Students and the General Public at no cost to attend

7:30pm: Evening Reading at TIA House: David Chariandy,Cheryl Foggo, Rain Prud’homme-Cranford. Host and MC: Suzette Mayr

Saturday, November 25, 2017
8:30am: Breakfast at TIA House

9:00am: Opening Prayer: Anita Eagle Bear

9:30am: Opening Remarks: Suzette Mayr and Larissa Lai

10:00 – 11:45am: Black Lives, Black Relations: David Chariandy, Christian Olbey, Karina Vernon, Nadine Chambers. Moderator: Suzette Mayr

Noon – 1:00pm: Catered lunch

1:15 – 3:00pm: Bodies and Land: Wayde Compton, Cheryl Foggo, Rain Prud’homme Cranford. Moderator: Aruna Srivastava

3:00 – 4:45pm: Thinking at the Crossroads: Joshua Whitehead, Suzette Mayr, Marlon Simmons. Moderator: Larissa Lai

7:30pm: Evening Reading at Contemporary Calgary (117 8th Ave SW): Nadine Chambers, Wayde Compton, Suzette Mayr, Joshua Whitehead. Host and MC: Larissa Lai

Organizers: Suzette Mayr and Larissa Lai, with Ben Groh and Mikka Jacobsen

Volunteers: Rebecca Geleyn, Jade Mah-Vierling, and Neil Surkan

Detailed Program:

Friday, November 24, 2017

6:00pm                      Catered dinner at TIA House: Open to Faculty, Students and the  General Public at no cost to attend, please RSVP to tiahouse@ucalgary.ca by Nov. 20

7:30pm                      Evening Reading at TIA House: David Chariandy, Cheryl Foggo,                                                Rain Prud’homme-Cranford                                                                                                        Host and MC: Suzette Mayr

Saturday, November 25, 2017

8:30am                      Breakfast at TIA House

9:00am                      Opening Prayer: Anita Eagle Bear

9:30am                      Opening Remarks: Suzette Mayr and Larissa Lai

10:00 – 11:45am      Black Lives, Black Relations: David Chariandy, Christian Olbey, Karina Vernon, Nadine Chambers Moderator: Suzette Mayr

David Chariandy

‘Membering Austin Clarke

For me, one opportunity for intimacy and constructive debate among Black and Indigenous writers is provided through a respectful reflection upon the protocols, styles, and political urgencies whereby we have together, in different terms, acknowledged the work and struggles of our elders. In this paper, I offer a personal recollection of the life and influence my mentor Austin Clarke, arguably the first professional Black writer of literature in Canada, who passed away last year, and to whom I have dedicated my recent novel Brother. In “‘membering” Austin Clarke, I hope that a critical memorializing of Black writing, kinship, memory, and masculinity may here contribute to a broader solidarity.

Christian Olbey

By Any Other Name: Transcending Blackness in the Context of 21st Century Globalization

This talk seeks to explore the possibilities and problematics of color identification in Canada within the context of contemporary globalization. The proposition to be explored is the possibility of moving beyond color designations to refer to groups of human beings in order to facilitate a discourse of intersectionality between different cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. The talk invites panelists and audience members to consider and re-consider the terms through which we conceptualize difference in the interest of inclusion and intersectionality, and to interrogate both potentialities and limitations generated out of the use of color signifiers. While acknowledging the historical ground that has been hard won under the banner of blackness, I would like to entertain the possibility of other ways to frame the identification to better include manifestations of blackness that may have little, if any, visible connection to the color itself.

Karina Vernon

Against the Old Essentialisms: Thinking Blackness-in-Relation

It is increasingly apparent that a crisis is threatening to cleave black Canadian cultural studies once more. The crisis, as I understand it, has been catalyzed by the intellectual, emotional and linguistic difficulty of thinking through black-and-Indigenous relations on Turtle Island—our entangled histories and intimacies, and especially the question of the historical debts that underwrite black citizenship. In this paper I offer a provisional thinking through (rather than a neatly-structured analysis) of some of the signs of this crisis, including what I see as a troubling return to the old essentialisms for thinking about race and blackness. I offer some brief analyses of my pedagogical and interpretive practices, as well as readings from the black prairie archive, as I search to find a language complex enough to hold together the political and ethical tensions, contradictory affects and ironies involved in thinking about blackness-in-relation.

Nadine Chambers

Never Be Late Again

This piece is the first of a series of articles to rubble the thick ingrained material habit of dematerializing Black women and lives in Vancouver. Before Christina Sharpe’s brilliant In the Wake was published, I compared 26 years in Vancity as living through a human-made weather system of white out conditions. In 2015, I spent nine nights plowing through my mind to rearrange the massive sea to sky snow job to reveal how the archive of activism in Vancouver is in fact a social movement crime scene. This excerpt is part of an attempt to jackhammer through the asphalt hiding the cobblestone trail of Black women’s activist labour in that town.

Noon – 1:00pm: Catered lunch

1:15 – 3:00pm: Bodies and Land: Wayde Compton, Cheryl Foggo, Rain Prud’homme-Cranford Moderator: Aruna Srivastava

Wayde Compton

Blackness and Affect in Vancouver and Beyond

Affect theory can be useful for analyzing the experience of anti-blackness in these times. Using three factors — police repression, the peculiarities of Vancouver’s racial history, and future media forms — I will pose some questions about how anti-blackness (and other forms of racism) are situated somatically.

Cheryl Foggo

Our Narrative Clashes with the Canadian Bedtime Story

Why is Alberta’s Black history suppressed? Despite 150 years of active citizenship, struggle and achievement, Black History is not embraced as Alberta History. Beginning with the social dynamics that drew Black people to western Canada from the 1870s forward, I will share a timeline of events, touch on intersections between Africa-descended people and First Nations, and offer commentary on the lives of influencers and innovators of African descent on the prairies who should be better known. My presentation will illuminate the long and puzzlingly invisible history of Black Lives in Alberta.

Rain Prud’homme Cranford

Anumpa nan anoli humma-lusa: Red/Black Stories from Oklahoma/Louisiana to Alberta

Between 1897 and 1911, Clifford Sifton, Canadian minister of the interior, recruited immigrants from Europe and the United States to the Canadian prairies. In response to restrictive and racist Jim Crow laws of the U.S. South, African Americans from Oklahoma responded. In 1908 Canada instituted a preventive immigration policy to restrain Black immigration. However, African Americans continued to migrate, and from 1908 to 1911 more than one thousand African Americans migrated to Alberta or Saskatchewan from Oklahoma (OK History). What is unique about the migration of so-called “African Americans” to the western prairies is that once in Canada the population was coded “Black.” However, many of the immigrants from Oklahoma were part of tribally disenfranchised Black-Indian communities known as Freedmen. In recent years, the Cherokee Freeman case has divided Indian Country over issues of identity, slavery, and histories of racial segregation. The case itself draws upon complex narratives of colonization surely, but also shared oppressions and rhetorics of dominance that have at various times been used by both the colonizer and colonized to place Red and Black bodies into subjugation. Cherokee Freedman, other Freeman from the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw, and other “Blindian” populations and their Native Nations, remind those of us in Indian country of the contested and related relationships of Red/Black bodies. Moreover, the complex history and place of Louisiana Creoles, post-contact Indigenous peoples, who occupy space as Afro-Indigenous peoples, further speak to the histories of slavery, Indigeneity, settler-colonial oppression, and Indigenous survivance, in Southern spaces that have sought to eradicate Red, Black and Red/Black bodies and socio-political-cultural identities.

“Anumpa nan anoli humma-lusa: Red/Black Stories from Oklahoma/Louisiana to Alberta,” seeks to review the historical and cultural relationships of Freedmen among the 5 Civilized Tribes and post-contact Indigenous peoplehood of Louisiana Creoles within current conversations around Indigeneity and sovereignty within Oklahoma and Louisiana. Further, when the history of Freedmen is understood, I offer that we problematize the history of Oklahoma “African American” migration in relation to Canada as it related to Freedmen history and culture.

3:00 – 4:45pm: Thinking at the Crossroads: Joshua Whitehead, Suzette Mayr, Marlon Simmons Moderator: Larissa Lai

Joshua Whitehead

Two-Spirit (Re)animations and Settler Queer Red Face

Within nehiyawewin we divide language into categorizations of animate and inanimate rather than masculine and feminine and it is through this that we hold ourselves accountable to all of our relations (of which we include things deemed “inanimate” by western ways of being and knowing). If we read the cyberworld in nehiyawewin, I argue it too becomes an animate thing and thereby part of our epistemology: we are beholden and accountable to it. The cyberspace, those digital worlds, are where Two-Spirited Indigenous peoples are connecting, thriving, surviving, and resisting—where we are “coming in” to ourselves. Though, those same spaces are as precarious as our nation-state, if not more, as they’re riddled with appropriation, white guilt/fragility, and white nationalism (of which I include queerness). With the advent of scholarship and activism in regards to digital black face, I too wonder how that type of appropriation and psychic damage effects/affects Indigenous peoples, and more specifically, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer peoplehoods? It is the face of We’wha, a Zuni Two-Spirit, that is readily interpolated by the term Two-Spirit and seemingly used as a point of transit that inducts and transforms settler queerness, gifts it a genealogy via what I am calling settler queer red face. I ask: what are the politics and ethics of readily recalling and re-animating We’wha as the nexus of Two-Spiritedness and whom does it serve? How and why is Two-Spiritedness/Indigiqueerness, to take a term from Jodi Byrd, in a state of “zombie imperialism,” by being extracted, curated, and re-animated as the living-dead? If we must navigate our bodies, genders, and sexualities as “zombified” peoples within an already apocalyptic nation-state, how to do we navigate ourselves within a cyber necropolis?

Suzette Mayr

Writing the Unremarkable as a Creative Writing Fiction Strategy

For many years I have become increasingly perplexed by the idea that writing black identity means writing racism, means at some point writing about slavery and contemporary racist violence. It is important to explore this violence, but in works of fiction involving people of colour, the topic of overwhelming racism sometimes appears to be the only thing that is rewarded and read by a larger audience that seems very hungry for texts such as The Book of Negroes or Twelve Years a Slave, and recurring images of black subjugation and victimization. As a fiction writer of black heritage I want to pursue other fictional possibilities. My goal recently has been to write whole, black, fictional characters who have lives outside of racist violence and history. These contemporary characters are affected by racism, but reacting to racism is not their 24/7 concern.

I have also included characters of First Nations and Inuit heritage in my fiction in spite of my nervousness about doing so – I am nervous that I will inadvertently appropriate, that I will stereotype, and as a settler of colour perpetuate colonial violence. But I refuse to write segregated fiction, and I borrow from Paul Chaat Smith who in a 1994 article titled “Home of the Brave,” calls to the fore stereotypes that perpetuate “the continued trivialization and appropriation of Indian culture, the absolute refusal to deal with us as just plain folks living in the present and not the past” (C magazine 34). So I have endeavoured to write First Nations and Inuit characters who are “plain folks,” even unremarkable folks: in my novel Venous Hum they are the fellow student named Lloyd Weaselhead at the 20 year high school reunion who happily dances to bad 80s music; in my novel Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, they are the university colleague Dr. Olivia Tootoo who wears fashionable shoes and makes bad romantic choices.

I will argue that writing a racially minoritized character can also mean writing about “plain folk,” perhaps even unremarkable folk.

Marlon Simmons

Notes from the Diaspora: Black Life and the Search for the Human

With this discussion, I am concerned with how Black Lives involve ways of thinking of the world, which are relationally contoured through place, peoples and incommensurabilities of becoming. I am interested in the myriad ways Black Lives encompass historical engagements with Euro-Enlightenment knowledge constructs, as these forms of knowledge variably situate the terms and conditions of Diasporized Black peoples within the continuous production of capitalist modernity.


7:30pm: Evening Reading at Contemporary Calgary (117 8th Ave SW): Nadine Chambers, Wayde Compton, Suzette Mayr, Joshua Whitehead. Host and MC: Suzette Mayr

Short Biographies:

Nadine King Chambers is an Afro-Caribbean raised by working class grandparents and a librarian mother in Jamaica with the last 25 yrs in the semi rural and urban Pacific West Coast of Canada. Her formalized studies have been primarily hunting colonization in the areas of Gender/Law/Resource Management, Literature and Indigenous Studies. She left formal school in 2012 to remain ungovernable and free to travel between subjects, languages and transatlantic thought paths.

David Chariandy lives Vancouver, the traditional and unceded territories of the Musqueam, the Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. He teaches at Simon Fraser University, specializing in Canadian, Caribbean, and Global Black literatures, and is the recent co-editor, with Phanuel Antwi, of a special issue of Transition Magazine (124) entitled ‘Writing Black Canadas.’ He is the author of two novels: Soucouyant, nominated for several literary prizes and awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Fiction; and Brother, winner of the 2017 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Three of Wayde Compton’s books have been finalists for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and The Outer Harbour won it in 2015. In 2002, Compton co-founded the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, an organization devoted to the public memory of Vancouver’s historical black community, and he is a member of the Northeast False Creek Stewardship Group and director-at-large of the Hogan’s Alley Society. Compton is the program director of Creative Writing in Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser University, where he administrates the Writer’s Studio.

Cheryl Foggo a descendant of the Black pioneers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, is an award-winning writer who has been published and produced extensively in multiple genres. John Ware Reimagined won the 2015 Writers Guild of Alberta Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama.  In 2014 Cheryl co-produced Alberta’s first Black Canadian Theatre Series with Ellipsis Tree Collective Theatre Company. She is currently in production with the National Film Board of Canada on the documentary film John Ware Reclaimed, due fall 2018.

Suzette Mayr is the author of five novels, including her most recent book Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall. Her novel Monoceros won the ReLit and the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Awards, and was nominated for the 2011 Giller Prize, the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, and Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction. Her novel The Widows was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book in the Canada-Caribbean region. She is a former president of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and she has been teaching creative writing at the University of Calgary since 2003.

Christian Olbey has been a warehouse worker, mover, construction worker, grocery clerk, waiter, bartender, baseball instructor, teaching assistant, hockey coach, umpire, and has spent the 21st century, so far, teaching in the English department at the University of Calgary. He has published on the 19th century, African-American descended, Canadian abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd, the literature of slavery and abolition, and on the works of Dionne Brand. These days, his greatest pleasures beyond the humans in his life, are critically engaging literature with large groups of people, cross-country skiing, and using a ball and stick in the never-ending search for the pure line around a golf course.

Rain Prud’homme-Cranford (Rain C. Goméz) PhD is a “FAT-tastic IndigeNerd” and an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Literatures in the Department of English and Affiliated Faculty in the International Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Calgary. Dr. Prud’homme-Cranford’s research focuses on Trans-Indigeniety in the U.S., Canada, Gulf Caribbean, and Latin America.  Her research seeks to make First Peoples and post-Contact Indigenous communities unavoidably visible showcasing Indigenous acts of reinscription and decolonization in gender/sexuality, material, graphic, and literary culture. Her current projects include: Gumbo Banaha Stories: The Physics of Indigeneity and Decolonizing the Transnational South and “Remember the Red River Valley:” Transcontinental Red River Narratives of Métissage/Mestizaje & Indigenous Persistence. Rain’s first book, Smoked Mullet Cornbread Crawdad Memory (MEP 2012), won the First Book Award in Poetry from Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, her second poetry book, Miscegenation Round Dance: Poemes Historiques, is under review and revision. She is Co-Editor and Chief, (along with Carolyn Dunn), of This Painted Horse Press, a Borderless Indigenous Press of the Americas. Critical and creative work can be found in various publications including: The Southern Literary Journal, Louisiana Folklife, Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond (LSU P), Mississippi Quarterly, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Swamp Souths (LSU P), Tidal Basin Review, Natural Bridge, Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas, Mas Tequila Review, As Us, and many others.

Marlon Simmons is an Assistant Professor at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. His research interests include Diaspora and culture, governance of the self and communicative network practices of youth.

Karina Vernon is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, specializing in Canadian literature, black Canadian cultural studies, collective memory, archives, and Canadian Urban Studies. Two book-length projects underway include The Black Prairies: History, Subjectivity, Writing, which constructs an archive of black prairie writing, from the nineteenth-century pioneers to contemporary writers, and The Black Atlantis: Black Prairie Literature and Orature, a selected anthology of black prairie writing. She is the co-founder and editor of Commodore Books, the first black literary press in western Canada, and she is active with the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, a grassroots cultural organization engaged in local archival work toward the publication of an oral history of black Vancouver.

Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1) in Manitowapow. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Calgary where he focuses on Indigenous Literatures and Cultures. Josh is the author of full-metal indigiqueer and the forthcoming Jonny Appleseed.

TIA House would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their support of Black Lives Out West: Contemporary Calgary, University of Calgary’s Department of English and Faculty of Arts, Canada Research Chairs Program, and SSHRC.




November 23, 2017
November 25, 2017


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