March 11, 2021

Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated

Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated is a collection of one of the most neglected literary archives in English Canada. Part of the reason why this archive has been ignored is because settlers used literature to consolidate a narrative of Canada that prioritized British-descended writers, resulting in university curricula that featured British and American canonical works. In spite of significant barriers, Indigenous people continued writing and circulating their literary works throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Particularly since the 1990s, as a result of Indigenous people’s loud and persistent collective action against the prejudices in the publishing world, their work has become increasingly visible, recognized and valued in the university and beyond. It is only recently that scholars and writers, such as The People and The Text Project, are systematically gathering the extraordinary archive of Indigenous writing of the past 150 years.

These materials were gathered during a 2017 course taught by Sophie McCall and Deanna Reder and funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at Simon Fraser University. 

Videography and editing by Justine Crawford ( and by SFU IT Services, especially James and Mohammed. 

1. Indigenous Peoples in Canada and print culture: the pen is mightier than the sword

Brendan Edwards is a settler-Canadian of mixed northwestern European ancestry. He is the author of Paper Talk: a History of Libraries, Print Culture, and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada before 1960 (2005), and a number of essays including contributions to volumes 2 and 3 of the History of the Book in Canada (2005, 2007) and Comparative Print Culture (2020).

Brendan Edwards, Curator, Queen's University Library

2. An interview with Syilx scholar, knowledge keeper, and writer Jeannette Armstrong 

Jeannette Armstrong is one of the most influential and renowned Indigenous writers in Canada. Poet, novelist, teacher, and artist, she was born and raised on the Penticton Indian Reserve, one of eight Syilx (Okanagan) reserves located in both Canada and the United States. She is a fluent speaker of the Syilx language, Nsyilxcn, and is a knowledge keeper of plant medicines, Syilx traditions, and cultural protocols. She is also a strong voice in Indigenous environmental ethics. In 1985, Armstrong published her first novel, Slash – a story about a young Okanagan man finding his culture after a life of racism and violence. In the same year, she became the executive director of the En’owkin Centre, and in 1989 she helped found the En’owkin School of International Writing, the first credit-giving creative writing program in Canada managed solely by and for Indigenous people. In 1990, Armstrong published a book of poetry titled Breath Tracks. She published her second novel, Whispering in Shadows, in 2000 – a story about an Okanagan woman navigating her cultural knowledges through colonial surroundings while also engaging in environmental activism across the continent. In 2013 she was appointed a Canada Research Chair in Okanagan Indigenous Philosophy to research, document, categorize and analyze Okanagan Syilx oral literature in Nsyilxcn.

3. An interview with Cree editor and scholar Greg Younging

Younging, né Young-Ing, was a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. In addition to his role with Theytus, Younging was an assistant director for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the author of Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples, and an instructor in the Indigenous Studies Program at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. In 1996, he published the poetry collection The Random Flow of Blood and Flowers with Ekstasis Editions, but in recent years was a prominent editor, serving as the lead instructor of the Indigenous Editors Circle.

(Greg Younging: from

4. Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle published her first book in 1975. It was an autobiographical novel called Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel and it was one of the first Indigenous works published in Canada. Since then, Maracle has written award-winning and critically acclaimed books in almost every genre. She's also a teacher, a lifelong political activist and an expert on First Nations culture and history. Her books include I Am WomanMy Conversations with Canadians and Ravensong. Maracle was named to the Order of Canada in 2018.

(Lee Maracle: from

5. Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway was born in a snow bank on the Manitoba/Nunavut border to a family of nomadic caribou hunters. He had the great privilege of growing up in two languages, neither of which was French or English; they were Cree, his mother tongue, and Dene, the language of the neighbouring "nation," a people with whom they roamed and hunted.

6. Daniel Heath Justice: Indigenizing the Wizard of Oz

Daniel Heath Justice is a Colorado-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation/ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ. He received his B.A. from the University of Northern Colorado and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Before coming to UBC, he spent ten years as a faculty member in the Department of English at the University of Toronto in Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory, where he was also an affiliate of the Aboriginal Studies Program.

Daniel currently holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture at UBC on unceded Musqueam territory. His most recent book is Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, a literary manifesto about the way Indigenous writing works in the world. He is the author of Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History and numerous essays and reviews in the field of Indigenous literary studies, and he is co-editor of a number of critical and creative anthologies and journals, including the award-winning The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature (with James H. Cox) and Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (with Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti). Other writings include the animal cultural history Badger in the celebrated Animal series from Reaktion Books (UK) and the Indigenous epic fantasy novel, The Way of Thorn and Thunder: The Kynship Chronicles.


7. Deanna Reder: The Obligations of Stories: Missing Jim Brady and Abbie Halkett

Deanna Reder's SFU President's Faculty Lecture on Jim Brady and Abbie Halkett"As a literary scholar I’ve learned techniques to read and analyze stories. But I’ve always been taught to use different ways to listen to the stories shared with me by my family—that Cree and Métis stories are not so easy to hammer down, that they ask you to take responsibility for your interpretations, that stories can incur obligations.

"In this lecture I will remember the 1967 unexplained disappearance of Métis leader Jim Brady and Cree councilor Abbie Halkett. I think about the stories I’ve heard and learned about them and think about the responsibilities I hold because I listened."

On 6 Feb. 2020, Deanna Reder presented (as part of the SFU President's Faculty Lecture series) a talk titled "The Obligation of Stories: Missing Jim Brady and Abbie Halkett." 

8. Jo-Ann Episkenew: Acting out in a Good Way (Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre project)

Long version:

Métis scholar Jo-Ann Episkenew (1952-2016) is remembered for the award winning Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing (2009). Her argument that reading Indigenous literatures had a therapeutic effect lead to further work that linked storytelling and health.  These videos describe the last project she worked on. 

(see also:

9. A Squamish Nation/ Coast Salish Sense of Time

Dr. Rudy Reimer/Yumks, an Indigenous Archaeologist from Skwxwu7mesh Uxwumixw (Squamish Nation) considers the typical categories used in the archeological record and  compares them to Skwxwu7mesh categories of time, from Sxwexwiyam (time immemorial) to Xaay Xays (transformers bringing stabilization) to Syets (recent time). He shares cultural stories that have been passed down to him from Elders and family members about Sinulhkay (a two-headed serpent and Xwechtaal (a warrior from the village of St'á7mes) to demonstrate that Indigenous teachings, worldviews, knowledge systems, and pedagogies are embedded within and continue to inform a Coast Salish sense of time.

10. Guest Lecture: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Introduction to Fiction: Canadian Aboriginal Literature is an English 101 course taught at SFU by Dr. Deanna Reder. The course examines Canadian Aboriginal authors’ adoption of short story and novel forms, and how they have adapted them to Indigenous storytelling conventions. On October 21, 2015, Award winning visual and contemporary artist and author Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas addressed the class as a guest speaker. He discussed Red: A Haida Manga and Sei, a public installation at YVR airport, and shared much more regarding his own personal journey as an artist/activist.