French, Indigenous Studies

Introducing Dr. Sarah Henzi!

December 01, 2020

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.

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.