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Local conference to feature indigenous voices

  • Sherman Alexie
  • Ned Blackhawk
  • Dennis Banks

Posted on October 20, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Three of today's most prominent American Indian voices will be heard at Grand Valley State University's Great Lakes History Conference, "Indigenous Peoples of the Globe: Colonization and Adaptation."

Sponsored by Grand Valley's Department of History, the conference keynote speakers will be Sherman Alexie, at 7 p.m., on Friday, November 13, and Ned Blackhawk, at 12:45 p.m. on November 14. Both will speak in the L.V. Eberhard Center, 301 W. Fulton, on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

Special guest Dennis Banks will speak first on Tuesday, November 10, in Loosemore Auditorium, DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton, following the 6 p.m. screening of a film about Wounded Knee. All events are open to the public. All evening events are free of charge.

"No place in the United States has had this number of prominent American Indians on one campus, in one week, in a generation," said Scott Stabler, assistant professor of history who helped to organize the conference. "It is a wonderful opportunity."

Banks, an Ojibwe, is one of the co-founders of the American Indian Movement, begun in Minneapolis in 1968 to prevent police brutality against urban Indians. In 2004, he authored the book, Ojibwe Warriors: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement. His firsthand discussion will follow the showing of the acclaimed 2009 PBS documentary series, We Shall Remain: Episode V-Wounded Knee. Books will be available for purchase and a book signing will follow his discussion. Banks' appearance, organized by Dee Ann Sherwood Bosworth, director of Grand Valley's intercultural training, is in conjunction with Grand Valley's celebration of American Indian Heritage Month.

Alexie, who is an author, poet and screenwriter, will present, "Without Reservations: An Urban Indian's Comic, Poetic & Highly Irreverent Look at the World." He was named one of the New Yorker's 20 Top Writers for the 21st Century. New York Times Book Review described him as "one of the major lyric voices of our time." Men's Journal called him "the world's first fast-talking and wisecracking mediagenic American-Indian superstar."

Alexie has written several books including Reservation Blues, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. He wrote and co-produced the film, Smoke Signals, made his directorial debut with the film, The Business of Fancydancing, which he also wrote, and he is currently working on a screenplay entitled The Toughest Indian in the World. Books will be available for purchase and a book signing will follow the lecture. While this event is free and open to the public, seating is limited. Additional seating will be available in the Loosemore Auditorium, and Classrooms 136C and 138C at the Richard M. DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton.

Ned Blackhawk is a professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. He holds graduate degrees in history from the University of Washington and the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of the award-winning study Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the early American West. Professor Blackhawk has written and lectured widely on issues regarding American Indian history. An enrolled member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada, he taught for 10 years at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before joining the faculty at Yale. 

The Great Lakes History conference at Grand Valley has evolved since its founding in 1975, now attracting faculty, graduate students, public historians, and independent scholars from across the country and the world. Even as the conference changes, it remains a general-interest history conference drawing participants from all fields and all periods. The conference places special emphasis on fostering collaboration among scholars in Grand Rapids and West Michigan history, academic and non-academic alike.

A registration form and full conference schedule is available at, or by calling (616) 331-3298. Conference organizers are Scott Stabler and Matthew Daley, faculty members in Grand Valley's Department of History.

Grand Valley is a comprehensive university serving students from all 83 Michigan counties and dozens of other states and foreign countries. Grand Valley offers 77 undergraduate and 28 graduate degree programs from campuses in Allendale, Grand Rapids and Holland, and from regional centers in Muskegon and Traverse City.

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