Foundations, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice
After the Civil War the United States had a decision to make about who they would be. This happens regularly in nations, they form and reform their collective identity and the afternath of the Civil War was one such time. Would they reckon with a history that relied on racial hierachies and inequity to achieve their state, or would they reconcile with their southern brothers. Reconstruction could have been a time of reckoning and rebuilding in a way that brought everyone into that collective identity but it was not, and the promise of a racial solidarity rooted in white Christian supremacy remained the basis of American identity.
We’re at that place again, the US and Canada. The events at the Capitol, which were the inevitable outcome of what Black and Indigenous people have tried to raise awareness on for years, have brought us here again. To another crossroads. Many prophecies talk about times like this, choices that will need to be made and the consequences of those choices. The Christian book of Revelations isn’t the only place of such imaginings. So on the day of the inauguration of the next US president, as we stand at another place of possibility, we will see how Indigenous literatures invite us to consider these questions.
What does it mean to be human?
How do we behave as good relatives?
How do we become good ancestors?
How do we learn to live together?
There is a focus on kindness throughout the book that I think is very important, and if you have time there is a podcast by Kelly Hayes that I would encourage you to listen to, the link has a transcript as well but there’s something about listening to Kelly. We need a riot of empathy, and right now, in this moment while we are about to launch on a year of Indigenous reading and thinking about what it means to be humans being as my friend Maya explains the word Anishnaabe, centering the idea of kindness will make all the difference in how we proceed out of this moment.
This month’s panel:
Daniel Heath Justice is a Colorado-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation/ ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ. 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.
Daniel’s current projects include Raccoon (also in Reaktion’s Animal Series), a collection of essays titled This Hummingbird Heart: Indigenous Writing, Wonder, and Desire, an edited collection on Indigenous land privatization and allotment co-edited with White Earth Ojibwe historian Jean M. O’Brien, and a long-gestating Indigenous steampunk novel.
Janet Rogers is a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. She was born in Vancouver British Columbia in 1963 and raised in southern Ontario. Janet traveled throughout 2017-2019 working within numerous residencies in Vancouver BC, Santa Fe NM and Edmonton AB. Janet is based on the Six Nations territory of the Grand River where she operates the Ojistoh Publishing label. Janet works in page poetry, spoken word performance poetry, video poetry and recorded poetry with music. She is a radio broadcaster, documentary producer and media and sound artist.
Her literary titles include; Splitting the Heart, Ekstasis Editions 2007, Red Erotic, Ojistah Publishing 2010, Unearthed, Leaf Press 2011 “Peace in Duress” Talonbooks 2014 and Totem Poles and Railroads ARP Books 2016, “As Long As the Sun Shines” (English edition), Bookland Press 2018 with a Mohawk language edition released in 2019. “Ego of a Nation” is Janet’s 7th poetry title which she independently produced on the Ojistoh Publishing label 2020.
Jackson Twobears and Janet collaborate as 2Ro Media. They combined their individual talents and skills along with National Screen Institute training to produce two short documentaries; NDNs on the Airwaves about Six Nations radio (APTN 2016), Moving Voice, a Telus STORYHIVE sponsored digital broadcast 2019 featuring the travels of literary trailblazer and Mohawk poetess E. Pauline Johnson, and The Spirit of Rage a short experimental video poem about anti-racism. Janet won the 45th Annual American Indian Film Festival 2020, BEST MUSIC VIDEO award for her video Ego of a Nation produced with Wes Day of Fresh Shift Productions.
Ishenikeyaa Waawaashkesh is Deer clan, and a member of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. As a mother, sister, auntie and community member, Ishkenikeyaa believes in liberatory practice as community care. An educator for 20 years, she is currently an Indigenous Education consultant, as well as Equity and Inclusive Education consultant, for Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. Ishkenikeyaa is passionate about culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy, Anishinaabemowin, and beading. She has 2 sons, Bnajaanh and Ziigwan, and is a lifelong voracious reader.
Joy Henderson is a Black-Lakota writer, mother, and Child and Youth Care practitioner. She lives in Scarborough, is a constant commentator on Canadian politics, children’s rights, and Back and Indigenous identity. Joy has written op eds for the Toronto Star and spoken at various events. She is also a huge fan of ketchup chips.
Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer living in Houston, Texas. His novella, Cary & John, is available for order wherever you order books. He is currently putting together a short story collection. Themes that emerge from Neil’s body of work include identity and religious faith, and of course grief. There is almost always someone dead or dying in his stories, having absorbed the Pauline line about death being the final enemy. His performance work often invites his audience into self reflection.
Robin McBurney is a high school teacher in Niagara Falls. She advises the Student Council and encourages them to see activities through a diversity lens, such as cultures are not costumes and eliminating “crazy hair day.” Robin is on the Literacy Committee where they work to bring in diverse stories and authors and has found several staff members with whom she can actively disrupt white supremacy in the classroom and the administration. Seeing herself as an intern alongside the work of Black and Indigenous activists has changed how she sees her role in the fight.
More information at daanis.ca/ambe