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Indigenous Peoples and our stories, knowledges, and experiences are diverse, but we have always been storytellers. Stories are integral to our systems of knowledge and our ways of life; to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world and on the land. But most books about us have been produced by outsiders with little understanding. The results, as Daniel Heath Justice says in Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, are a mix of “stories that wound, stories that heal.” Indigenous writers and community members have long pointed out examples of poor publishing practices. In some cases, our stories have been suppressed or distorted to fit the dominant historical account of settler/Indigenous interactions. In others, settler stories perpetuate racist stereotypes, collapse our diversity into a pan-Indian world, paint us as a vanishing race, or erase our part in the telling and steal our stories outright. Acts of “destructive editing” persist. In a context of ongoing colonial violence and dehumanization, the resulting wounds echo through our lives and generations. The Indigenous Editors Association formed to ensure projects involving Indigenous stories and storytellers are led by, and benefit, the Indigenous communities from which they originate.
The first Circle (then known as the Aboriginal Editors Circle) was held in 2014 under the leadership of Saskatchewan Arts Board program consultant Joanne Gerber, an Aboriginal editors’ working group, and writers, publishers, and arts administrators, with support from the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. The workshop ran in what is now known as Saskatchewan, which lies in the territories of the Niitsítpiis-stahkoii (Blackfoot / Niitsítapi), Michif Piyii (Métis), Nêhiyaw-Askiy (Plains Cree), and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) Peoples. In 2015, the group met again in Saskatchewan and established our Guiding Principles. Métis writer Rita Bouvier drafted the “philosophical concept paper” that informed the group’s discussions. Indigenous participants and faculty emphasized the need to move from appropriation to collaboration. Gerber says, “We always had a rule, from the beginning, that there always had to be more [I]ndigenous people in the room than non-[I]ndigenous […] We were never trying to proscribe. We were trying to learn.”
In 2017, the Circle was organized at Humber College in Adoobiigok as a pair of week-long workshops: the Indigenous Editors Circle for Indigenous participants, and Editing Indigenous Manuscripts for publishing representatives. Faculty were Warren Cariou, Cherie Dimaline, Gregory Scofield, and Gregory Younging. Attendees all gathered together in the mornings, then divided into two groups in the afternoons. Gerber explains, “Sometimes the topic would be the same but the conversation would be different.” While trusted non-Indigenous publishing industry representatives were invited to share insight on panels, the focus remained on Indigenous storytellers and Elders and their knowledge.
Overwhelming attendance demonstrated growing interest from the publishing and education fields in the diverse knowledge-keeping and storytelling practices of Indigenous people. The Indigenous Editors Association (IEA) formed when faculty recognized the need for a dedicated place for Indigenous editors to gather and respond. But by the time a Fall 2017 funding opportunity fell through, many organizers had become very busy with other opportunities and challenges accompanying this explosion of interest. The IEA relies on the work of volunteers, who have dedicated time since then building relationships and thinking through future plans.
Today, our active volunteers and partners are reaching out to previous organizers and prospective members. We are moving carefully to create a sound infrastructure, consolidate our membership, and put plans in motion for our next Circle. We are seeking sustainable funding and committed partnerships. Through our Circles and a planned database of Indigenous editors, the IEA will provide a place to gather and build the relationships at the heart of good storytelling practices. We will take our mandate from, and advocate on behalf of, Indigenous editors and storytellers.
Indigenous stories and traditional knowledge must be approached with Indigenous community-focused editing practices, as employed with care by Indigenous editors. The IEA connects Indigenous editors with each other to strategize and share and learn. We will take part in publishing and storytelling on our terms and with the needs of our communities in the centre of the circle. We hope to share our stories in a good way with each other and the world—the stories that created us and the ones that heal us.