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Tyla Betke (Carleton University)
Not Without a Country: nêhiyawak (Cree) Nationhood and Refugee Status in North America

On November 27, 1885, the Canadian government hanged eight First Nations men in the country’s largest mass execution for their perceived roles in the North-West Resistance against an encroaching Canadian state. Nêhiyawak families who escaped prosecution by crossing the Canada-US border became known as ‘Canadian Cree refugees.’ In this paper, I argue that calling the Cree ‘refugees’ denies nêhiyawaknationhood while legitimizing the nation-states that sought to confine them. Using settler newspapers and government correspondence, I examine the changing definitions of refugeehood applied to the Cree as their political situation changed (Canada granted amnesty and then the American military deported 500 Crees in 1896, despite previous assertions of their status as political refugees). I also expand on Aimee Villarreal’s concept of sanctuaryscapes by showing how Indigenous diplomacies of asylum were interrupted by the carceral reservation system in Montana, resulting in some Indigenous groups adopting Cree families while others refused Cree presence due to the finite nature of land allotments. Finally, I rely on Indigenous oral histories to insist that nêhiyawak families south of the 49th parallel were not “without a country” as settlers insisted. Instead, they had migrated to other parts of their homeland in the face of colonial violence.

Benjamin N. Lawrance (University of Arizona)
Vusumuzi R. Kumalo (Nelson Mandela University)

‘A genius without direction’: the abortive exile of Dugmore Boetie and the fate of southern African refugees in a decolonizing Africa

The Sharpeville Massacre and the subsequent banning of the liberation movements signaled the turning point in the history of liberation struggle in South Africa. At this point, anti-apartheid activists became vulnerable to constant surveillance, harassment, imprisonment and death in detention. This resulted into mass exodus of political activists into exile. Drawing on from archival material and oral evidence collected from Dugmore Boetie’s family and friends, this paper traces the undocumented journey of Dugmore Boetie, who seemed desperate after fleeing northeast from South Africa after the Special Branch police “visited” his home after sharing poems and stories critical of the apartheid regime. Boetie’s journey to Dar es Salaam and his return to Johannesburg offers invaluable insights on how non-members of national liberation organizations, refugees with no organized networks, sponsors, and patrons, were often rebuffed by the suspicious residents of east and central African exile encampments. It thus considers the exilic mobilities of Africa’s decolonial refugees, such as Dugmore Boetie, with a view to revealing strategies of escape and survival during a transitional moment in global humanitarian protections. 


All welcome, this seminar is free to attend but booking is required.

Please note that bookings will close 24 hours in advance, so that seminar convenors can distribute the meeting link directly to all registered attendees.

This event is based on discussion of short pre-circulated papers. Please contact the seminar convenors to request copies: doingrefugeehistory@gmail.com