People of SFU

SFU professors champion emerging Indigenous writers

July 07, 2022
Sophie McCall (left) and Deanna Reder (right), co-chairs of the Indigenous Voices Awards. Photo: Justine Crawford

Since the founding of the Indigenous Voices Awards in 2017, Deanna Reder and Sophie McCall have steered the program as its co-chairs. Though they are now in their fifth year in these roles, the awards continue to be full of excitement and surprises.

“Our goal every year is to continue to provide opportunity,” says Reder, who is Cree-Métis and an associate professor of English and chair of Indigenous Studies at SFU.

The Indigenous Voices Awards (IVAs, pronounced eye-vahs), honour emerging Indigenous writers in Canada–writers who have not yet been published or who have published three books or fewer.

Not only do the IVAs provide monetary prizes to the winning writers, but the awards also provide professional development, mentorship and networking opportunities for applicants and finalists.

“At our roundtable discussions, the questions from the emerging writers who have not yet published their work are pretty consistent,” says McCall. “I want to become an author. How do I do that? How do I get my foot in the door?”

In their workshops, the IVAs team, publishing industry professionals and established authors in the community take writers through the submitting and publishing process, sourcing a professional headshot, finding a literary agent and more. Finalists have the additional opportunity to work one-on-one with senior writing mentors.

“There are a lot of resources and knowledge found within community, so making your own writing community is so important,” says Reder. “And I realize, that's what we're doing with these awards, we're trying to connect people with one other, and help people feel as though they're not alone writing by themselves.”

Each year, the IVAs see a cohort of finalists consisting of between 20 and 30 emerging Indigenous writers. Over the years, Reder and McCall have watched many past finalists continue to grow and find further success.

“In terms of the impact of the IVAs, a striking feature is that many writers who have been nominated or won in the unpublished categories have gone on to publish their work,” says McCall.

Smokii Sumac, at the 2019 IVAs celebration. Photo: Justine Crawford

Smokii Sumac, a Ktunaxa writer and SFU alumnus, won a 2018 IVA for Unpublished Poetic Piece with a draft manuscript titled #haikuaday. The completed work was later published as you are enough: love poems for the end of the world by Kegedonce Press, won the following year’s IVA for Published Poetry in English and made the short list for the 2020 Dayne Ogilvie Prize.

“There’s a whole groundswell that happens. With this cohort of IVA finalists that’s created, they like and share among themselves on social media, and create visibility and buzz around each other’s work,” says McCall. “It’s very much a zeitgeist – there’s a hunger for a change up in how Indigenous writing has been received and promoted. It’s truly exciting, and an honour to play a small part in that.”

Next year, Penguin Random House Canada will publish an anthology of works by past IVA winners. This type of tangible support is incredibly meaningful, according to Reder and McCall.

For the pair, involvement in the IVAs has been nothing short of rewarding.

“I feel grateful and honoured to connect with so many contemporary Indigenous writers through the IVAs,” says McCall. “As a settler scholar, I am always looking for ways to bring the work of Indigenous writers into my classroom and to arrange for writers to read or talk to the students about writing. Most recently Tahltan comic book maker Cole Pauls, the winner in the Indigenous languages category in 2020, came to talk to my students about his graphic novel,  Dakwäkãda Warriors. He shared such illuminating personal and cultural contexts for the work that the students wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. It’s been wonderful.”

“Both of us are academics, and so we understand the power of Indigenous stories and sharing that with our students, but this is a chance to really encourage a new generation of writers.” says Reder. “I never expected how powerful this would be.”

Watch this year’s IVAs on YouTube. The IVAs are largely supported by crowdfunding. To donate, please visit All proceeds go directly to the Indigenous writers.