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Panel 8. Reframing urban Indigenous realities: Challenges and agencies in cities


  • Professor Andrew Canessa, University of Essex, UK.
  • Dr Dana Brablec, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.


The stereotypical image of Indigenous individuals residing in harmony with nature, far removed from the trappings of modernity, has long persisted in our collective consciousness. However, the contemporary reality reveals a different fact: a growing proportion of Indigenous peoples now call urban areas home (UN Habitat 2010). They are builders, cleaners, teachers, lawyers, market vendors, and masons, living in cities alongside the bustling populations and environmental challenges characteristic of the twenty-first century. Despite this fundamental aspect of contemporary Indigenous life, the bulk of academic studies on Indigenous peoples continue to concentrate on their rural counterparts. Throughout history, Europeans and their descendants, influenced by philosophers such as Rousseau, Hobbes, and Locke, perceived Indigenous peoples as living in a perpetual “state of nature”. Consequently, Indigenous histories in urban environments were often overlooked, and when Indigenous individuals did appear in cities, they were often deemed to have shed their Indigenous identity by definition. This enduring association between indigeneity and rurality persists into the twenty-first century, where the “authentic” Indigenous subject is envisioned as dwelling in harmony with nature. To persistently place Indigenous communities beyond the urban realm not only disregards historical realities but also diminishes their socio-political and cultural agency and their capacity to craft identities in any location they choose.

We invite contributions that engage with, while are not restricted to, the following areas:

  • Urban experiences: We welcome proposals that challenge prevailing stereotypes and narratives by redirecting attention to urban Indigenous experiences. Rather than regarding them as exceptions, we encourage contributors to explore the diverse ways in which urban Indigenous identities are expressed, performed, and lived within city environments. This includes a broad spectrum of expressions, encompassing artistic and political dimensions of Indigenous identities within urban settings.
  • Urban challenges: We invite proposals that delve into the multifaceted challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in cities. Contributors are encouraged to examine the obstacles that urban Indigenous communities encounter, ranging from cultural preservation, lack of space, identity, and discrimination to access to resources and services.
  • Resilience, resistance, and innovation: We invite proposals that explore how urban Indigenous communities actively engage in the construction of new and meaningful ways of living within cities. We aim to highlight the resistance to different courses of oppression as well as the resilience of Indigenous experiences in the face of urbanisation. We hope to showcase how urban Indigenous populations draw upon their heritage and traditions to shape and sustain cultural expressions within the urban milieu.
  • Reconceptualising indigeneity: We invite proposals that prompt a critical examination of the concept of indigeneity in the context of urbanisation. We encourage contributions that engage with a re-evaluation of prevailing definitions and perceptions of indigeneity. By doing so, we aim to provoke discussions that challenge and enrich our understanding of what it means to be Indigenous in contemporary, predominantly urban societies.

Centro de Estudios de Conflicto y Cohesión Social.

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