As I mentioned in my previous post, I am carefully researching and consulting the Indigenous community throughout my journey with my WIP. I am white. I am still not sure if I’m the right person for this story. Indigenous writers and voices need to be heard above my own. As a writer, I am called to write the stories that come to me. I believe there is a reason this story needs to be written. Maybe that reason is to educate myself on my own racism and the story won’t see the light of day. Maybe it’s something else. I’m not sure yet. What I am sure of, I am learning.

My research revealed just how deeply colonist racism runs in me. How easy it is to speak or act racist without intention, and how those things can cause harm.

I wanted to share what I have learned so far:

Writing about Indigenous Peoples

  • It is important to ask how a person or community would like to be addressed. Indigenous peoples is a politically acceptable term, but some may prefer a different term like Aboriginal, First Nations, the specific nation names, Métis, or Inuit. Many Indigenous Peoples do not identify as Canadian. [1] I have chosen to use the term Indigenous to refer to their diverse population in general for these writings.
  • When writing about Indigenous Peoples it’s important to avoid oppression binaries. [1]
  • Mainstream ideas and conventions are settler norms rooted in commodification. [1]
  • Avoid clichés and stereotypes that returning to Indigenous ways means rejecting modern technology. [1]
  • Don’t use the tired idea of pre-settler/pre-contact conditions. [1]
  • It may be more respectful not to immerse yourself in an Indigenous peoples’ culture. [1]
  • Stories are sacred to specific nations. [1]
  • There are sacred stories and story keepers that should not be used or published. [1]
  • Trademarks and copyright doesn’t always apply to Indigenous stories as they are held by the community and their right to the story doesn’t expire as trademarks and copyright does. [1]
  • Many nations had/have words for multiple genders and accept fluid identity. [1]
  • Don’t use stereotypes like the myths of Indigenous peoples being lazy, violent, savage, monster, uneducated, and that they choose to be oppressed and have destructive coping mechanisms. [1]
  • Equal does not mean erasing difference. [1]
  • Give authority to all peoples’ voices, voices of animals, spirit messages, and natural phenomena. [4]
  • Indigenous stories often transcend time. [4] To me, this means correcting tenses in my quoting or editing may not be appropriate.
  • Listen to indigenous voices. [4]
  • Repetition in stories may not actually be repetition as colonial perceives repetition different than Indigenous peoples. [4]
  • Include and consult Indigenous peoples in the process. [4]
  • Specific protocols and laws of Indigenous peoples and nations may need to be followed and clarified with those peoples. [4]
  • You may need to consult with/get approval from Elders. [4]
  • Public domain copyrights do not apply in the same way when it comes to traditional knowledge. [4]
  • Be sure to list and acknowledge all contributors [4]. This is a good practice to have as a writer whether or not you’re consulting Indigenous contributors.
  • Inappropriate terms to use or refer to in your writing include terms used by explorers and missionaries, diminutives, anthropological and archeological terms, and kitsch terms. [4]
  • Royalties/compensation may need to be shared with Indigenous Peoples. [4]
  • Cultural property should not be published. [4]
  • Italicise words or phrases in original Indigenous language when quoting unless the word is widely understood. [4]
  • Avoid possessives claiming ownership over Indigenous peoples or that show sovereignty of colonist ideology. [4]
  • Avoid referring to Indigenous people in past-tense unless referring to a specific past event, activity, when the activity is no longer practiced, or when quoted material is in past tense. [4]
  • Trauma touches Indigenous people deeply and should be sensitive of that in writing. [4]
  • Specific terms should be avoided. [4] There are lists in several of the resources I consulted. Many of these may pop up in our everyday usage without awareness of our racist language. My degree in Women and Gender Studies helps me to be aware of the discriminatory ideology underlying language, and some of these terms surprised me.
  • Specific terms should be capitalized when writing about them. [4] There are lists in several of the resources I consulted.

Indigenous and Métis Experiences

  • Indian Status (a legal term under colonist Canadian law) is convoluted and rooted in a history of racist policies and laws. [1]
  • Métis have faced difficulty in asserting their identity. [1]
  • The burden of proof falls on an individual to prove their Indigenous or Métis identity. [1] That seems absurd considering how little historic evidence (in colonist perspectives of evidence) exists regarding Indigenous and Métis ancestry.
  • There is no such thing as Inuit status. [1]
  • History of racist and violent police and RCMP actions including killing of sled dogs [1] and abandoning people in need out in the wilderness in the winter to freeze to death termed ‘starlight tours.’ [2]
  • Indigenous people who were set up to be farmers by the government were set up to fail. [1]
  • Indigenous peoples face abhorrent conditions on many reserves across Canada. [3]
  • There are many resources on residential schools and experiences. The last school closed in the late 1990s and a formal apology was made by the Canadian government in 2008. The affects are lasting and not in the past. [5]

Resources and References

  1. Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel. Paperback, 290 pages. September 1st 2016. HighWater Press
  2. https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/new-light-on-saskatoons-starlight-tours/ and https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-police-starlight-tours-wikipedia-delete-1.3512586
  3. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/un-report-highlights-abhorrent-housing-conditions-for-indigenous-people-1.4647433
  4. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples by Gregory Younging PhD. Paperback, 168 pages. February 15 2018. Brush Education.
  5. https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/