01 Feb Letter of Withdrawal from the 2018 SPACLALS ‘Two Canaries’ Conference

To the Chair, South Pacific Association of Commonwealth Literature & Language Studies (SPACLALS),

I regret to inform SPACLALS that I must withdraw from attending the ‘Two Canaries’ conference in Sydney.  I apologise for any inconvenience that my late withdrawal may cause to the conference planning. Time and effort went into making the necessary bookings and accommodation arrangements and I appreciate the work of those who carried it out.

This is not a decision that I make lightly as I had been looking forward to participating. However, it would not be ethically and morally right for me to take up limited budgetary funds to attend the conference – when those funds could be used to sponsor the attendance of any number of First Nations/indigenous Australian artists/writers/poets.

I note the explanation regarding the absence of any indigenous Australian presenters, and propose that it is not due to simply “an unfortunate fact that no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writer or scholar” responded to the call for papers.

When no indigenous artist submits a paper to a conference being held in their own country, it is disingenuous to then say – ‘oh well, we put it out there and none of them wanted to do a paper‘…ie it’s not our fault…. Rather, the onus should be on organisers to ask themselves, WHY? What is it about the process that discourages First Nations artists/academics from applying? What is it about where and how this conference was promoted, that it did not reach or appeal to them? That it did not feel welcoming to them?

I remind SPACLALS that I did not submit a paper proposal. Rather I was invited and offered a fully funded trip from Samoa to Sydney, as well as accommodation, a per diem and a writer’s fee. I assume certain other invited writers/poets were also invited under similar circumstances.  If there had been a genuine commitment to the inclusion of First Nations voices, then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, writers and researchers would have been first on the guest list.

I do not presume to know or understand the dynamics of how academia and the arts/literature world operates in Australia. Neither do I have much understanding of how my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cousins choose to engage with the questions posed by the Two Canaries Conference – but a quick internet search reveals a multitude of indigenous Australian poets, activists, authors and researchers who are writing, creating and theorising on exactly the topics outlined in the conference summary. These conference topics include: the storying of displaced cultures, indigenous agencies, ecological conflict, nomadism, and more.

It is deeply troubling then that a SPACLALS conference in Australia – particularly one grounded on the issue of climate change and our literary imaginings of it – has no indigenous Australian voices at the table.

I submit to SPACLALS that a conference of this nature should have centered the perspectives of the indigenous people of the land, rather than having them as an afterthought, when ‘time is tight’ and budgets are limited.

SPACLALS is supposed to be the primary network for “postcolonial and literary studies in the South Pacific”. It’s my hope that by raising these concerns, there can be a dedicated effort to ensure future SPACLALS events are truly representative of all our indigenous voices.

Lani Wendt Young.

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