Juliana Hu Pegues to speak on Indigenous Feminist Activism

In 1913, women were granted the right to vote in the first act of the Territoral Legislature of Alaska. In historical and popular press accounts, this act is often referred to as a feminist achievement. But given that the 1913 act effectively excluded Alaska Native peoples, “it appeared instead to be a maneuver to boost the white population in a territory with a majority of Native inhabitants and a sizable Asian immigrant laboring class,” said Juliana Hu Pegues, associate professor in the department of Literatures in English in the College of Arts & Sciences.

In this year’s Invitational Lecture hosted by the Society for the Humanities, Hu Pegues will use the story of Tillie Paul, a Tlingit woman in Alaska who was arrested in 1922 for helping a clan leader attempt to vote in a local election, as a case study for Indigenous feminist reponses to settler colonialism. The talk, “Beyond Settler Feminism: Tillie Paul’s Arrest and Indigenous Feminist Activism,” will take place on Wednesday, February  21, from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. in the Guerlac Room at the A.D. White House. A reception will follow. This event is free and open to the public and no registration is required.

Paul is an important figure in Alaska Natives’ efforts to organize for voting rights and desegregation, and her legacy played into one of the most important land claim cases in U.S. history. In her talk, Hu Pegues will use evidence from court documents and literary depictions to trace Paul’s choices within Alaska Native worldviews.

“Tillie Paul’s choices provide us with an alternative understanding of feminist activism, radically reconfiguring not only what we know of women’s suffrage but also of Indigenous sovereignty,” Hu Pegues said.

“Cornell humanities faculty members frequently speak at other universities, yet our own on campus community seldom has the privilege of hearing from them,” said Paul Fleming, Taylor Family Director of the Society for the Humanities and L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities (A&S). “The Annual Invitational Lecture series presents a rare opportunity for local and campus audiences to learn about our own faculty’s research.”

In addition to the Department of Literatures in English, Hu Pegues is also affiliated with the Asian American Studies and American Indian and Indigenous Studies Programs at Cornell. She is the author of “Space-Time Colonialism: Alaska’s Indigenous and Asian Entanglements” (University of North Carolina Press, 2021), winner of the 2022 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize from the American Studies Association and the 2022 Sally and Ken Owens Award from the Western History Association. Her current project explores the ways settler colonialism has interacted with American feminism. Other areas of academic interest are Asian American studies, Native and Indigenous studies, women of color feminism, and queer of color critique.

Karen Kudej is Operations Coordinator in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Chloe Wray is Admin and Events Coordinator in the Society for the Humanities.

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