‘Home on the Rez’: Conference spurns tradition by bringing scholars to the Fort Hall Reservation

FORT HALL — Most academic conferences are expensive and exclusive events attended by a niche of experts, and held in big cities or well-known vacation destinations. 

But this year, two Idaho professors are bucking tradition by hosting the Western Literature Association’s annual conference on the Fort Hall reservation and in partnership with the Shoshone-Bannock tribes — the first event of its kind, even though many scholars study Indigenous literature and culture.

“For me, this was an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is,” Amanda Zink, an English professor at Idaho State University and a co-host of the conference, said. 

The conference will support the tribes’ economy and spotlight Native American voices — more than 10% of the conference’s presenters are members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, including keynote speakers.

“We appreciate (Zink’s) and others’ efforts in ensuring there is a tribal voice and perspective throughout the entirety of the conference,” Lee Juan Tyler, Chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council wrote in a welcome letter to conference attendees. 

Zink and co-host Jennifer Ladino, an English professor at the University of Idaho, are upending the status quo in another way, too: many of the sessions will be free and open to the public. 

The Western Literature Association conference is being held during Indigenous Peoples’ Week. Read more about the holiday here.

That’s highly unusual, as sessions usually require a registration fee that costs hundreds of dollars. 

Zink said she and Ladino wanted to offer free sessions as a way of making the humanities “more visible, more transparent, and more welcoming,” especially because they are often criticized as not being important or worthwhile. Zink hopes opening the doors to the public will help people better understand their value. 

“We look forward, over these next few days … to working together toward a future that amplifies Indigenous knowledge, centers tribal sovereignty, and creates a more just, sustainable future in this region and beyond,” Zink and Ladino wrote in an introduction to the conference. 

Amanda Zink and Jennifer Ladino are co-hosts of the Western Literature Association’s 2023 conference. About 250 people are registered for this year’s conference, which is called “Home on the Rez: Sovereignty & Sustainability.” Photo: westernlit.org
The Western Literature Association conference will be held in Fort Hall in partnership with the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. The conference is free for Idaho State students and tribal members, and a number of sessions are open to the general public.

Plus, the free sessions are a way to build bridges between Idaho State and the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, as well as between academia and the general public. 

It’s taken years of planning to pull off, and organizers had to overcome some initial pushback from the academic community — some thought Fort Hall was “too remote” or not “pretty enough.” And, they worried they’d be “trapped” there, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. 

“I just found that supremely ironic, because white settlers forced Native people onto these reservations in the first place,” Zink said. 

But there’s also been overwhelming support. Sponsors — including academic departments from Idaho State and the U of I, and the Idaho Humanities Council — came together to donate tens of thousands of dollars to provide the free sessions and open them to the public. 

“People have been amazingly generous at supporting this endeavor,” Zink said. 

The conference is free for Idaho State students with their Bengal card, and for all tribal members with a tribal identification card. A number of events are also open to the general public. 

“Home on the Rez: Sovereignty & Sustainability” Public Event List

The following events are free and open to the public, and free shuttles will be provided:

Wednesday, October 11:

Noon – ISU Rendezvous Suites – Mark Trahant – Indigenous Peoples’ Week presentation

7 p.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Opening Ceremonies/Mark Trahant Keynote (reception immediately preceding)

  • Trahant, editor-at-large for Indian Country Today, will be presenting “Ms. Chief: the missing history of Indigenous women as leaders.”

Thursday, October 12:

Noon – ISU Rendezvous Suites – Grace Dillon – Indigenous Peoples’ Week presentation

  • Dillion is a professor of Indigenous Nations studies in the school for gender, race, and nations at Portland State University, as well as affiliate faculty in women, gender, and sexualities and the department of English.

1:30 p.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Sho-Ban News 

  • Editors and content creators from Sho-Ban News will discuss their experiences as storytellers for the Shoshone-Bannock community.

4:30 p.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Randy’L Teton

  • Teton, a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member and the official model for the U.S. Native American Dollar coin featuring Sacajawea, will present “Her Story: Sacajawea.”

7 p.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Utama film screening and panel discussion led by Grace Dillon (reception immediately preceding)

Read through the conference program for more details and a full list of events.

Friday, October 13:

9:30 a.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Fort Hall Business Council

  • Representatvies from the Fort Hall Business Council and the Shoshone-Bannock community will discuss tribal sovereignty in everyday life.

Noon – ISU Rendezvous Suites – Michael Sheyahshe – Indigenous Peoples’ Week presentation

  • Sheyahshe is an enrolled member of the Caddo Nation and author of “Native Americans in Comic Books: A Critical Study”

1:30 p.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Living History of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes (Language and Cultural Preservation Department) 

  • A presentation by members of the Shoshone-Bannock Language and Cultural Preservation Department

4:30 p.m. – Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Casino – Michael Sheyahshe (reception immediately following)

  • Sheyahshe’s presentation is title: “This is the Way: A Journey into Indigenous Representation in Comics and Media”

Visit www.westernlit.org/wla-conference-2023/ for the conference schedule and detailed event information, and email [email protected] with any questions.


Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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