The Indigenous Editors Association is a membership organization that was formed by Indigenous editors and publishing professionals in lands claimed by Canada as a mutual support network. We are here to carry out the vision of our early organizers and to create professional development and networking opportunities. Our purpose is to:
- Strengthen relationships among Indigenous editors, storytellers, and publishing professionals;
- Create opportunities for training and professional development for Indigenous editors;
- Promote Indigenous editors in the publishing industry; and
- Create educational opportunities for the mainstream publishing industry to learn about working with Indigenous editors.
Indigenous stories and traditional knowledge must be approached with Indigenous community-focused editing practices, employed with care by Indigenous editors. The IEA connects Indigenous people who work with stories with each other. In our diverse roles—as editors, proofreaders, knowledge keepers, Indigenous language and culture experts, designers, publishing professionals, and more—we will strategize, share, and learn together. 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.
First Nations, Inuit, and Métis 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 at that most recent Indigenous Editors Circle 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 since then have dedicated time to building relationships and thinking through future plans.
Today, the Indigenous Editors Association’s active volunteers and partners are reaching out to earlier organizers and prospective members, including emerging First Nations, Inuit, and Métis publishing professionals. We are moving carefully to create a sound infrastructure, consolidate our membership, and put plans in motion for our next Circle (and for programs to bridge the gap while COVID-19 makes in-person gatherings impossible). We are seeking sustainable funding and committed partnerships. Through our Circles, a planned database of Indigenous editors, and other programming, 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.
At the 2015 Indigenous Editors Circle, participants developed the following draft guiding principles for working with Indigenous authors and editors in Canada.
- Respectful representation of Indigenous Peoples in published books is a right protected by Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982, and by Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- Literatures by Indigenous authors and about Indigenous Peoples ought to be edited by Indigenous editors.
- Ethical principles about Indigenous cultural heritage ownership ought to supersede copyright laws.
- Indigenous communities have collective ownership over their Traditional Knowledge.
- The publication of a book is all about clearly defined, transparent, respectful relationships.
- Indigenous authors are not necessarily bound by the conventions of established literary genres.
- It is the responsibility of the editor and therefore the publisher to mentor emerging Indigenous writers where possible.
- Ceremony is a potential resource for building collaborative relationships built on sacred trust.
- Vetting, reviewing, and consultation regarding Indigenous content needs to be by an Indigenous person.
- Publishing houses need to take an interest in, and safeguard and support, the cultural integrity of Indigenous editors.
- [As of Spring 2020, we plan to revise the following principle to reflect our capacity:] Any textbook containing Indigenous content currently used in a Canadian school must be approved by the Indigenous Editors Association.
- Teams of reviewers and vetters must include culturally competent members.
The Indigenous Editors Circle recommends setting aside a specific portion of public funding for writers to support Indigenous writers.
The Indigenous Editors Circle envisions Canadian publishers that will:
- respond responsibly to feedback about publications that are offensive to Indigenous readers;
- undergo Indigenous cultural sensitivity training;
- recruit and retain Indigenous editors to publish and develop Indigenous authors;
- provide career guidance to new Indigenous authors, mindful of the potential responsibilities of authors to provide public readings in home communities that might be far away; and
- respect the localities and diversities of place, language, sexual orientation, and multiple genders.