Designs of Tomorrow: Indigenous Futurities in Literature and Culture, May 16-17, 2022

Künstlerische Grafik zweier Figuren auf ihrem Pfad durch verschiedene Welten im Universum; sie tragen einen Korb und die Flagge der Métis-Nation mit sich.
"Our Grandmothers Carry Water from the Other World" by Elizabeth LaPensée. Image courtesy of the artist.

Our Grandmothers Carry Water from the Other World (Elizabeth LaPensée, 2016)

"Our Grandmothers Carry Water from the Other World brings into form imaginings of a future of the world with clean water following the fallout from toxicity which our grandmothers currently walk and sing to respond to with healing."

Elizabeth LaPensée (Dec. 1, 2021)

An International Conference at Europa-Universität Flensburg

When we are in the throes of major crises, from the global pandemic to a pending climate apocalypse, thinking about a different tomorrow may feel impossible. Designing alternative futures has become one of the central cultural tasks of the twenty-first century, and Indigenous North American writers, visual artists, curators, comedians, film makers, video game designers, and web developers are at the forefront of this movement. From pre-contact stories to contemporary science fiction, Indigenous cultures abound with visions of the future as sites of "survivance" (Gerald Vizenor). While settler colonialist imaginaries of progress have, for the longest time, strategically displaced Native cultures into a fixed, containable past, Indigenous literatures and cultures not only successfully defy these mechanisms of Othering but offer sustainable variants of futurity in powerful networks of transnational exchange.

This conference will bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars from Canada, Europe, and the United States in order to explore representations of a coming world in Indigenous fiction, drama, film, visual arts and digital media, social networks, museums, and performance spaces. We hope to initiate long-standing transnational dialogues on futurity which spite the well-trodden paths of trivializing the coming world through images of hostile machines and alien organisms. Instead, we will explore the subversive potential of ‘other futures,’ alternative versions of tomorrow that may serve as exemplary sites of empowering cultural diversity and non-Western systems of knowledge in the interest of economic, ecological, and social sustainability. We may also engage ‘other futures’ as an ironic intervention in commonplace discourses of exoticizing Indigenous cultures as either bygone or otherworldly.

Rather than suggesting coherent conclusions, we encourage our speakers to raise questions and to disperse, metaphorically speaking, into as many directions as possible, toward envisioning all kinds of different futures—from fact-based to fictional, from catastrophic to reproductive, and from darkly dystopian to vibrant and colorful.

Alleys of inquiry will include, for instance:

  • the semantics of Indigenous futurity as manifested in the representational archives of museums and digital platforms;
  • the roles of ethnicity, race, gender, class, and heritage for future identities;
  • the ways in which futurity and "temporal sovereignty" (Mark Rifkin) resonate with larger North American, European, or global representations of history;
  • the intersections and overlaps between ‘other’ futures and alternative systems of knowledge;
  • engagements of utopia or dystopia, apocalypse, and the speculative, as well as revisions of genre conventions (in poetry, fiction, drama, painting, and film) in light of futurity;
  • the seismographic, diagnostic, and interventional effects of Indigenous futurities on social and political contexts;
  • the strategies by which these modes of knowledge connect transnationally, and by which they can be communicated across cultural and national boundaries.

Confirmed Speakers (in alphabetical order):

  • Ahtone, Heather (First Americans Museum, Oklahoma City)
  • Castor, Laura (Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø)
  • Glancy, Diane (em., Macalester College)
  • Jensen, Ellen-Marie (Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Norway)
  • Jones, Stephen Graham (University of Colorado)
  • Lewis, Jason (Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace & Indigenous Futures Research Center, Concordia University, Montréal)
  • Lutz, Hartmut (em., University of Greifswald; Royal Society of Canada)
  • Mackenthun, Gesa (University of Rostock)
  • Madsen, Deborah (University of Geneva)
  • Marxreiter, Ute (Ethnologisches Museum Berlin)
  • Meyer, Sabine N. (University of Bonn)
  • Reinholz, Randy (San Diego State University; Native Voices at the Autry)
  • Scheiding, Oliver (Obama-Institute for Transnational American Studies, JGU Mainz)
  • Singer, Ryan (Albuquerque)
  • Vizenor, Gerald (em., University of California, Berkeley)

Organizers: Kristina Baudemann (, Birgit Däwes ( Participation is free; everyone interested is welcome. For registration, please send an e-mail including your name and academic affiliation to the organizers.

We gratefully acknowledge the generous support by the German Research Foundation / Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and Europa-Universität Flensburg.