INTERVIEW

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences welcomes to its team Dr. Sarah Henzi, a bilingual specialist in Indigenous studies.

01/12/20
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Dr. Sarah Henzi’s course INDG 101 F100 'Introduction to Indigenous Studies' will be offered, for the very first time at SFU, in French.

This course introduces students to the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The course content includes an examination of both historical and contemporary concerns, and pays special attention to concepts of Indigenous identity, oral histories, gender roles, aesthetic expressions, and social justice. Geared towards those who just want to know more, as well as educators who wish to integrate content into their own curriculum, this course seeks to promote awareness and understanding around a variety of issues, by way of an interdisciplinary approach.

If you are a non-SFU student and would like to enroll in this course. Please contact us at indgmgr@sfu.ca.

Dr. Sarah Henzi’s introduction to Indigenous literature might surprise you. Across the ocean from Turtle Island (or what many call North America), the home of many Indigenous cultures, Henzi actually first encountered Indigenous literature while pursuing her undergrad at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Henzi says taking courses in Native American and American Indian literature with visiting professor Dr. Paul B. Taylor and Indigenous literary theory courses with professor Dr.Elvira Pulitano ignited her interest in the field. One of the highlights from her time abroad was hosting a colloquium that featured Gerald Vizenor, a prominent Anishinabe writer and scholar, and member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation. She says her path forward in her studies was clear and she made the decision to return to Canada to pursue further research in Indigenous literature. Henzi completed her Ph.D in English in 2012 at the Université de Montréal, under the supervision of settler scholar Lianne Moyes. Hers was the first dissertation in Québec to look at both Anglophone and Francophone Indigenous literatures. From there, she went on to do a postdoctorate at UBC under the mentorship of Cherokee scholar Daniel Heath Justice.

As a sessional for several years, Henzi taught Indigenous literatures in both English and in French, at different institutions. “There aren’t many of us doing this work in French, and we need more people to do it” Henzi says, noting that when she first began teaching Indigenous literatures in French, it was “daunting” and she often felt “lonely.” In 2017, she was hired as an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Literatures at the Université de Montréal. She was head of their Graduate Diploma program in Indigenous Literatures and Media, the first such graduate program in French in the province, from 2017 to 2020.

“One of the challenges of doing this work in French,” says Henzi, “is the lack of critical material available in French. Also, there is still insufficient dialogue between scholars across the language divide; thankfully, though, there are more and more translations that are coming out, and this is going to greatly help fix this.” Henzi’s translations of An Antane Kapesh's two books I am a Damn Savage (1976) and What Have You Done to my Country (1979), were recently published by Wilfred Laurier University. Kapesh’s texts were published around the same time as other notable texts by Indigenous writers like Maria Campbell or Lee Maracle. However, this is the first time the texts have ever been published in English, and the first time a bilingual English-Innu version has been made available. She hopes that in making them available to an anglophone audience, these important texts will finally get the recognition they deserve.

As a settler-scholar and instructor of Indigenous literatures, Henzi says “being accountable,” doing the research, and teaching in a “respectful and ethical way” are of the utmost importance. She sees her role not as an authority on the subject but as a facilitator – a term she borrows from settler scholar Renate Eigenbrod – to students’ reading and discussion of Indigenous texts.

Next term, Henzi is teaching both introductory and upper-level courses: Indigenous Studies 101 for the Department of Indigenous Studies, and French 444: Indigenous Literatures for the French Department. Henzi’s Indigenous Studies 101 will be offered, for the very first time at SFU, in French. There is a growing demand from teachers across the province, as well as those who teach in French in different programs, to learn about the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and how to integrate content into their own curriculum. Plus, given the current situation of online teaching, Henzi hopes that this means that more teachers, from across the country, will be able to attend her course, since there are very few options available – even more so from an interdisciplinary approach.

For more on Henzi’s research, teaching and Indigenous literature book recommendations, read our Q & A with her below.

1. The wider Canadian public seems to have a growing interest in Indigenous writing; based on your research and expertise, what books by Indigenous authors should be essential reading for all Canadians?

There are so many texts, by both emerging and established authors. Of course, there is Métis writer Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, which was a must-read before – but since the discovery of the omitted pages from her original manuscript, which have now been re-inserted, I’d say that is a definitive one to read.

For Francophone readers, Innu writer An Antane Kapesh’s Je suis une Maudite sauvagesse, published only a few years after Halfbreed, is another one. One of my all-time favorites, however, is Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson – it was so unique, when it came out (in 2000), and I still think it holds something very special, and very timely.

2. Wilfred Laurier University recently published I am a Damn Savage; What Have You Done to my Country, translations of An Antane Kapesh's two books  Je suis une maudite sauvagesse (1976) and Qu'as-tu fait de mon pays? (1979). These original texts were published over 40 years ago, and this is the first time they are available in both English and bilingual format of English-Innu to a broader readership. In your opinion, why has a translation of this important text taken as long as it has?

As I mentioned before, when Kapesh published her text, other amazing Indigenous women were publishing as well, but in English: Maria Campbell, Lee Maracle, Jane Willis (now Pachano), Mini Aodla Freeman. Kapesh’s text was not known to Anglophone readers and scholars, in part because of the language barrier, but also because it had been out of print, and very difficult to find second-hand. It took until 2015 for the French-Innu version to finally get republished, by the Centre d’amitié autochtone du Saguenay (Native Friendship Center of Sagueney). Once it came out again, it gained momentum very quickly (and this is what lead to the subsequent republication in 2019 by Mémoire d’encrier). There is a lot to say as well about why it took so long for the original version to be republished; but once that was underway, a translation seemed like the next logical step.

Also, it has taken time as well for Francophone Indigenous writing to be recognized by Anglophone readers and scholars overall; but the translation of Joséphine Bacon, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, for instance, is changing that. And vice-versa: most of the critical scholarship has been written in English, and is now being translated into French; Leanne Simpson’s and Glen Coulthard’s works, for instance. So now, the conversation is starting to happen – though I should say that it was happening before, between artists and writers. But it has taken a long time for it to be reflected within our institutions.

3. What do you consider the most critical or challenging aspect of your role a settler scholar teaching Indigenous literature (and at times, teaching in French) ?

I would have to say that being accountable, and my responsibility in doing this work in a mindful and ethical and respectful way, are the most important things, and I try continuously to abide by those ways. I also always have to remember the words of Renate Eigenbrod, who saw herself not as a teacher, but rather as “a facilitator for the discussion of [Indigenous] literatures” (8), albeit from “a positionality of non-authority” (143). That’s what I hope to do as well.

When I was teaching in Montreal, and as head of the first graduate program devoted to Indigenous literatures and media in French in the province, it often felt – and still feels – daunting, because it felt very lonely. There aren’t many of us doing this work in French, and we need more people to do it. But not just in universities, in CEGEPS and colleges as well. I’m pleased to see these teachers – some of whom are my students – bringing in Indigenous texts into their curriculum, and doing the necessary work to learn how to bring them in in a mindful and attentive way, and inviting the writers to speak in their schools and classrooms. That’s when I feel like these discussions are truly on their way, and there are more and more facilitators out there.

4. What courses are you currently teaching and/or teaching in the Spring 2021 semester?

Next term, I will be teaching two courses: in the French Department, an upper-level undergraduate course on Indigenous literatures (FREN 444). And in the Department of Indigenous Studies, I will be teaching 101 Introduction to Indigenous Studies… in French!

I’m also working on putting together a bilingual graduate-level course for the Intersession, tentatively entitled “Reparation and Social Justice through Indigenous Women’s Writing and Film.”