Legit Indigenous Lit is a web resource that provides basic information about 50 Indigenous authors and literary texts of various genres, to be used primarily by instructors of post-secondary English literature classes for syllabus construction and text ordering purposes.
Offering one response to the ongoing appropriation of Indigenous stories, identities, and traditions by non-Indigenous authors and editors in Canada (see “Context”), the editors of this site join with others across the country who celebrate and support the prolific literary production of Indigenous storytellers and writers. We urge our fellow readers, scholars, and teachers to do the same by including Indigenous texts by established and emerging writers in their classes and required readings.
We challenge post-secondary instructors, particularly in the field of Canadian Literature, as well as those teaching undergraduate survey classes of applicable genres or themes, to include texts by Indigenous authors who are claimed as such by specific Indigenous communities/nations. Our list includes Indigenous authors who meet this criteria, as well as being recognized within the Indigenous literary community and published, in many cases, by Indigenous publishers (Kegedonce Press or Theytus Books). We hope that this list will help direct intellectual and material resources towards Indigenous peoples who have developed their art over untold generations, rather than towards settler authors who interpose themselves between Indigenous voices and the audiences who wish to know more about Indigenous experiences, traditions, and innovations.
Organization of the Site
Legit Indigenous Lit is organized so that instructors can easily find out what each text is about and then link to the publisher’s website (to order a desk copy or retrieve an ISBN). Just click on the cover image of the book to be taken to the publisher’s website. Publication information for each book (publisher and date of publication) has been included in each entry, as well as the genre of the text. All of the texts are currently in print and available for ordering.
We have also included what we hope is a handy set of key words/tags, by which texts have been categorized into topics/themes. If, for example, an instructor is teaching a women’s literature class and is looking for Indigenous texts to include, she could click on the related tags (“women’s relationships,” “violence against women,” “gender”) and be taken to a list of texts categorized according to these tags. We have included 26 such tags, recognizing that there are many, many more topics and themes under which these and other Indigenous texts could be organized. Certainly, the indexing of texts is not a politically neutral activity. While careful consideration went into selecting tags that will (we hope) be useful for the purposes of course/syllabus construction, we invite any and all feedback about our selections.
Another limitation of the site is that, at the moment, it focuses only on Indigenous authors from Canada. Given more time and resources, we would like to be able to expand the resource to include authors and texts from throughout Turtle Island.
Our hope is that this site expands and changes over time, keeping pace with the ever-growing field of Indigenous literatures. Please send us your comments about how the resource could be more useful to you as an instructor and/or more responsive to the shape and concerns of the field. And if you would be interested in helping us build and maintain the site, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Aloys N.M. Fleischmann is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan. He identifies as a Canadian with strong Irish roots. His areas of specialty are the literatures of the Japanese Canadian Redress and Indigenous Reconciliation movements in Canada.
Nancy Van Styvendale is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan. She is a white settler scholar of Indigenous North American Literatures who works primarily in the areas of Indigenous carceral writing and community-engaged approaches to literary study.
We recognize that much of the labour involved in responding to the most recent iteration of appropriation and white supremacy in the Canadian literary world has come from Indigenous authors and scholars—notably, Kateri Akiwenzie Damm, Jesse Wente, Daniel Heath Justice, and many others who have devoted time and resources to responding to and educating settler Canadians about realities that we really should be educating ourselves about. We extend our gratitude to these authors and scholars for their time and energy, which we recognize is in short supply and could otherwise be spent (much more enjoyably, we assume) on their own literary and intellectual pursuits. As white settler scholars of Indigenous literatures, we recognize the inequitable distribution of labour inherent in this situation (as in many others where Indigenous people are expected to shoulder the weight of settler colonial ignorance and institutional racism). Our creation of this list is one very small way we are attempting to give back to a community that has given us so much—knowledge, insight, and collegial relations.
In 1989, Métis author Maria Campbell and white settler actress Linda Griffiths published The Book of Jessica, a book that includes the play “Jessica,” based on Campbell’s life, as well as contextual material about the development of the play. Throughout the book, Griffiths struggles—honestly, but naively and often ignorantly—with her role as a white woman acting the part of an Indigenous woman, commenting repeatedly on her “ravenous” desire to inhabit—what she calls “sibyling”—Campbell and her story (14). Campbell makes clear the process is tantamount to theft: “I’d stand there feeling like she’s stolen my thoughts. She’d just take it all” (15). Crucially, Campbell connects Griffiths’ appropriation of Indigenous story with the settler colonial seizure of Indigenous land, using the rapacious figure of the Wolverine to metaphorize Griffiths’ greed:
Now Wolverine is saying, ‘I took it. I gave it birth. I gave it life. It was mine and it would have died without me. I salvaged it…. I built high rises all over the place. I put wheat fields out there…. I came along and I took what you were wasting and I made something productive out of it, because you weren’t doing it, but I need you to tell me that I didn’t steal anything, that I didn’t take anything from you.’ (81)
As a result of Campbell’s tireless teaching (involving countless hours of material and emotional labour), Griffiths does eventually come to realize that she’s a “gold digger” (85), although at the end of the book, she again resists this truth. “When you admit you’re a thief, then you can be honourable,” Campbell says. But Griffiths counters: “Is that all you can think of still? Is this whole thing a lie?” “It’s not a lie, it’s just a wound we want to be healed sooner than is possible,” Campbell responds. “Maybe it’ll take a hundred years” (112).
One hundred years, indeed.
We begin with this discussion of The Book of Jessica because it speaks to the very real stakes—emotional, relational, and territorial—involved in appropriation, a central concern of the Indigenous literary scene in Canada in the 1990s and again, as we see from recent events, in the second decade of the new millennium. The appropriation of Indigenous stories by non-Indigenous people (anthropologists and others) has a long history that traces back to at least the 18th century in Canada. There is a robust body of scholarship that examines this topic, with due attention to the distinction between appropriation and collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (see especially Sophie McCall’s First Person Plural), as well as the ways in which these actions can overlap, as can be seen in the relationship between Campbell and Griffiths. In addition to an article in the Globe and Mail by Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, called “Stop Stealing Native Stories” (1990), The Book of Jessica is a useful touch point in the early public discussion of appropriation in the Canadian literary world, and Campbell’s words are especially important to include because they highlight the connection between cultural appropriation and the ongoing theft of Indigenous lands.
Clearly, the issue of appropriation is not just about settler encroachment on imaginative terrain.
Legit Indigenous Lit was developed in response to the current iteration of appropriation in Canada, evidenced this past year (2016-2017) in two representative moments: first, the call for an “Appropriation Prize” by Hal Niedzviecki, then-Editor of Write: The Magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada. While Indigenous writers and non-Indigenous allies were quick to point out the colonial underpinnings and implications of Niedzviecki’s comments, a long line of media figures from across the country leapt to the editor’s defense, proposing the actual establishment of such a prize.
The second moment occurred in late December 2016, when an APTN story by Jorge Barrera revealed the unsubstantiated, unethical claiming of Indigenous identity by Joseph Boyden, the variously self-described Ojibwe/Métis/Mi’kmaq/Nipmuc author celebrated for his novels about Indigenous peoples.
In these two moments, as many commentators have made clear, the long-standing settler colonial desire to inhabit, consume, and profit from Indigenous voices and stories has again been made visible. Little has changed, it would seem, since 1989.
Or has it? Indigenous storytellers and writers have, of course, always been weaving words and telling stories; but today, in 2017, many more people in the mainstream have heard and read these stories. There is a thriving Indigenous literary scene across the country; a national association for the study of Indigenous literatures (ILSA: Indigenous Literary Studies Association) with an annual conference; and countless other organizations, festivals, and venues in which Indigenous literature continues to flourish. To counter the idea of an “Appropriation Prize,” Toronto lawyer Robin Parker began the Emerging Indigenous Voices crowdfunding campaign, which has garnered close to $100,000 to date in support of awards for Indigenous writers. Support this campaign here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/emerging-indigenous-voices#/.
Another response has been the proliferation of lists of Indigenous authors and texts, the most prominent of these being CBC’s 108 Indigenous Authors to Read, as Recommended by You. Our “Resources” tab contains links to other lists, as well as anthologies of Indigenous literature and resources for teaching. As the project matures, we expect to include additional texts, resources, and links. Please join us in developing this resource by sending your contributions to LegitIndigenousLit@gmail.com or using the Contact Us page on the site.