Tag Archives: Indigenous

Before the Country: The Native Renaissance and Our Search for a National Mythology

With the recent reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, we asked author Stephanie McKenzie to share how her book is still resonating with scholars interested in the study of the Native Renaissance in Canada.


I’m not sure how others might understand what I hope is the continued significance of Before the Country, a study of the literary, political, and social context of the Native Renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s and non-Indigenous mythologizing that followed on the heels of this movement. I hope my monograph has increased interest in this body of literature.

The study is still very relevant to me and has spurred on further scholarship. Building on theories surrounding the study of oral literatures, I have now immersed myself in a consideration of the aesthetic markers in written literatures that grow out of oral traditions. This focus was at the heart of Before the Country when I turned to the theories of Milman Parry and Albert Lord to help make sense of writing produced by mature Indigenous voices during this Native Renaissance.

There was little-to-no criticism during the time I was writing to help understand why the poetry of Chief Dan George, to offer one noteworthy example, carried such distinct markings of an aesthetic that was fresh in Canadian poetry when post-modernism was beginning to take hold. Recently, I have turned to Parry and Lord’s fieldwork in former Yugoslavia where they studied the gusle and guslar traditions and tried to define the formulaic characteristics of oral literatures. Living in Serbia for three months in 2017, I took gusle lessons and also produced my fourth book of poetry, Bow’s Haunt: The Gusle’s Lessons. I thought that, perhaps, pragmatic study of this instrument and immersion in a culture might grow my theoretical insights.

I am belabouring an explanation of my own scholarly growth to highlight how Before the Country is still relevant to me and how I hope its assertions might still be examined by others. When I was writing Before the Country I was largely digging through boxes in the library of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Many Indigenous texts of the late 1960s and 1970s lay buried in boxes with the exception of seminal works like Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel.

I believe that when Indigenous literature could no longer be ignored in the late 1980s and early 1990s and when academic units in Canada were scrambling to create courses and programmes for the study of Indigenous literatures, they immediately embraced what was before them – the writings of Tomson Highway, Jeannette Armstong, and Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, for example. They did not turn back to what I think is the most important body of Indigenous literature in Canada: the building blocks of what has become the most exciting creative writing in this country today.

Perhaps the academy’s omissions were due to a lack of time. Most certainly, the omissions had to have a lot to do with the fact that a significant amount of Indigenous writing of the 1960s/1970s was out of print. This is still true today.

I hope that a belief in the continued relevance of Before the Country leads to the following: the re-issuing of Indigenous texts from this time period; a serious revisioning of the Canadian literary canon, which needs to include these voices; a continued challenging of greatness in the study of poetry that still does not really account for notable aesthetics of Indigenous literatures during a foundational stage.

I also hope that the greatest fault of Before the Country – the lack of fieldwork – will prompt scholars to reconsider the essential role of ethnography and anthropology in literary analysis. When I was writing this study, I simply spread books in front of me, read and critically responded to texts in isolation. On the one hand, I think this was healthy as it solidified the fact that Indigenous literatures do not have to be handled with kid gloves. They grow from ancient traditions (albeit arrested during the residential school period) which can hold their own. They deserve intricate criticism.

On the other hand, though an understandable, if not virulent, avoidance of ethnographical research during the 1980s and 1990s, commensurate with the desire to efface a longstanding objectification of “the Indigenous,” is explicable, I don’t think this is healthy. It is important to understand what shapes voices and from where voices emerge. This is what the gusle has taught me and what Before the Country inevitably pointed to.

With the reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, I would hope that people would still consider this scholarship relevant, even if that means to challenge, refute, or reveal weaknesses in the book. There are many. However, I would hope that the book’s existence underscores the relevance of Indigenous literature of the late 1960s and 1970s and the reason behind my commitments.

 

Stephanie McKenzie teaches in the English Programme at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook. Listen in on Dr. McKenzie’s recent podcast, Poetry and the Gusle, in which she discusses her recent book and shares her research on the gusle, a musical instrument that accompanies epic poetry in Southeastern Europe. For more information see www.stephaniemaymckenzie.com.


Looking for more on the subject? You might also be interested in Cheryl Suzack’s Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law.

The Colonial Problem

To mark the publication of The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada, the author, Lisa Monchalin, provides a few thoughts on the impetus behind the book as well as its pedagogical features.

Colonial ProblemMy main motivation for writing this book was to make a difference. I want to reduce the criminalization and victimization that Indigenous peoples experience in this country. This motivation stems from personal and family experiences. I went through some traumatic experiences as a child, and endured things that no child should ever have to endure. My father has been targeted and treated unjustly at the hands of police officials. And my Grandma Monchalin—to whom I dedicate this book—is a survivor of violence.

In addition, being Native in our family was always a great source of shame. It was something that older generations tried desperately to hide in their attempt to “protect” the future generations. Thus, this book is also an act of resurgence against this shame. My Grandma Monchalin told me that on the day I was born, and upon her first sight of me, two things came to her. First, she felt that I would be someone in our family who would stand up to the shame, and play a role in making it okay to be who we are as Native peoples, and second, she felt that I would make a difference for our peoples. This book tries to fulfil my Grandma’s vision.

The Colonial Problem came out of the material gathered, researched, and used in courses I teach on Indigenous victimization and justice. I bring together many voices in this book, and present the perspectives of many different Indigenous scholars, teachers, and knowledge keepers from across Turtle Island. I include perspectives of some non-Indigenous ally scholars and others as well, but purposely draw primarily on Indigenous voices. This is because Indigenous voices are not heard enough. Sometimes the excuse is made that there is not enough Indigenous scholarship or writing, but that is a colonial falsehood. Large amounts of Indigenous people’s writings, work, and research exist.

I also wrote this book knowing that I needed to present material in a way that would captivate students who are used to the dominant Western methods of arriving at knowledge and “truths.” I therefore tried to balance the way in which I present material. Throughout the book I draw on a large array of sources, including statistical data, academic literature from across disciplines, scientific reason and at the same time traditional knowledges, voices from the Indigenous community, elder knowledge, and other non-Western resources. At the end of every chapter there are discussion questions, proposed activities, and recommended readings. The discussion questions get students thinking critically about the material presented in the chapters. The activities provide suggestions for related documentaries, YouTube videos and music videos, ideas for class trips, guest speaker recommendations, and in-class activities. Finding the right balance to present material was not easy. It took a lot of writing, and rewriting. But I had to remain optimistic. Whenever I was faced with a struggle, I thought of my Grandma, and the reason I was writing this book—which kept me motivated.

With this book, I am addressing the need for a text written for Indigenous courses offered in criminology, sociology, and victimology programs (and others) across Canada. The broad goal is to provide an expansive consideration of the injustices affecting Indigenous peoples. The purpose is to reach students who might pursue careers within the government, and in the criminal justice system, victim services, or other service provider fields. People need to know true histories and realities. There must be a consciousness raising in this country. Indigenous perspectives and histories can no longer be pushed to the periphery of educational systems. Rather, they must be included within all departments and subjects.

It is my belief that education is a crucial starting point for rectifying the injustices of criminalization and victimization that Indigenous peoples experience daily. The need to educate is one of the reasons I chose to write a textbook because, as Dakota Sioux scholar, visionary, and activist Vine Deloria Jr. says, the “problems” affecting Indigenous peoples “have always been ideological,” so it is vitally important that Indigenous peoples choose the ideological arena as the one in which we make a difference. Textbooks help form ideology, so consider this book a form of “ideological leverage” (Deloria, 1969: 251-252).

Overall, I enjoyed writing this book. At times it evoked emotion, notably when considering the cycle of violence and colonial legacies that have impacted my great Grandma, Grandma, and Father. My passion might stem from a dark place, but it is the driver for change, a drive that seeks to bring light to future generations of university students in Canada.

Lisa Monchalin teaches in the Department of Criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. She is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to hold a PhD in Criminology. Follow her on Twitter @lmonchalin.

References:

Deloria, Jr., Vine (1969) Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, New York: Macmillan.

You Say “Indian,” I Say “Native”

In the third of a short series of blog postings, we would like to share an excerpt from Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview by Robert J. Muckle.

Indigenous Peoples of North America is a concise, affordable overview of the key issues facing Indigenous peoples in North America, from prehistory to the present. The following excerpt is taken from the very beginning of the book, and seeks to provide some clarity in the often confusing terminology that surrounds Indigenous identity, lands, and populations. It includes an excellent introduction to the various labels that are commonly used to describe those who trace their ancestry to the inhabitants of North America before the arrival of the Europeans in the early 1500s. If you have ever wondered why some use the label “Indian” while others use the label “Native” then this excerpt is worth a read.

Download the excerpt here.

Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

Writing and Teaching About Indigenous Peoples

In the second of a short series of blog postings, author Robert J. Muckle discusses his experiences as an educator, and how those experiences motivated and shaped his writing of Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview.

Over the past several years I have come to enjoy writing. The most personally rewarding kind of writing is when I wear the hat of an educator informed by anthropological research. It is in this role that I wrote Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview.

As an educator in both university and public settings I recognized a niche for such a book. I have always been less than satisfied with existing textbooks when teaching courses on Indigenous peoples of the continent. These books are generally too comprehensive for my liking, and I’m not particularly keen on the way they are structured. They also tend to be costly, which puts a strain on the idea of requiring students to purchase supplemental texts.

What I envisioned, primarily, was a core book that would provide some fundamental information, as well as a basic framework for a course, but still allow instructors room to focus on areas that interest them and their students. I have found that students appreciate it when instructors include personal interests in their teaching. I have considerable experience working with Indigenous peoples, but the structure of existing texts didn’t make it easy to personalize my instruction as much as I would have liked. I have also found that  in order to make course material relevant to the lives of students, it makes sense to use experience and examples from local Indigenous groups, those with which students are most familiar, while still contextualizing those studies within a larger continent-wide framework. The low cost of a concise book such as this allows one to be relatively guilt-free in also assigning other print or web sources, including ethnographies, scholarly articles, and more.

Rather than using the common culture area framework, Indigenous Peoples of North America takes a different approach, including separate chapters on archaeology, traditional lifeways, colonialism, and contemporary times. The book also situates Indigenous peoples by providing basic data on such things as population and definitions; explores the relationships between anthropologists and Indigenous peoples in the past and present; outlines anthropological methods; and provides global contexts. Although the culture area approach does not dominate the book, it is used in some subsections.

I also believe there is a niche for a concise book such as this in the supplementary textbook market. I envision that it may be used as a supplement in introductory-level anthropology courses, especially given the hugely important relationship between North American anthropology and Indigenous peoples. The book will also be appropriate for those courses or programs that focus on Indigenous peoples from different disciplinary perspectives such as Indigenous Studies, Indian Studies, American Studies, history, sociology, human geography, and other courses in the humanities and social sciences where instructors and students often desire a broader background than their own core texts usually provide.

As a public educator, I have come to appreciate that there are many people outside of the academic and Indigenous worlds genuinely interested in the Indigenous peoples of the continent but there was no basic, easily accessible, and affordable resource they could use to educate themselves. I think this book can fill that void. I foresee that it will find a home on the bookshelves of many professionals, including other academics, K-12 teachers, bureaucrats, and others who have at least occasional contact or deal with issues relevant to Indigenous peoples. I also believe there are large numbers of the general public that want to understand more about Indigenous peoples and issues today than mainstream media usually provides. This book should work for them.

—Robert J. Muckle, Capilano University

Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

Indigenous Peoples of North America: An Index

The following data is taken from the just-published Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview by Robert J. Muckle.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ INDEX

Number of federally recognized North American Indigenous people: 2.6 million

Number of people in North America that claim Indigenous North American ancestry: 6 million

Number of Indigenous people worldwide: 370 million

Number of federally recognized Indigenous groups (tribes and nations) in North America: > 1,000

Countries that initially opposed the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People: Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand

Number of North American Indigenous people’s skeletons collected prior to 1990: > 150,000

Number of funerary artifacts collected prior to 1990: > 2 million

Minimum number of years people have been in North America: 14,000

Estimated population of Indigenous people at AD 1500: 4-5 million

Earliest evidence of contact between North Americans and Europeans: 1,000 years ago, Norse (Vikings)

Region with the highest population density at AD 1500: California

Regions with the lowest population densities at AD 1500: Arctic and Subarctic

Number of distinct North American Indigenous languages at AD 1500: c. 400

Number of distinct North American Indigenous languages today: c. 200

Number of plant species used as food by North American Indigenous people: 1,500

Animals domesticated by North American Indigenous people prior to the arrival of Europeans: dogs, turkeys

Major crops farmed by North American Indigenous people prior to arrival of Europeans: corn, beans

Average loss of population to Indigenous groups resulting from contact with Europeans: 80 percent

Principal cause of population loss to Indigenous people following contact with Europeans: disease

Number of organizations advocating the abolition of Indigenous-themed mascots, logos, and nicknames: > 100

Major areas of contemporary research involving North American Indigenous peoples and anthropologists: identity, language, revitalization, politics, traditional ecological knowledge, and economic development

Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview was designed for those who want a fundamental knowledge of the Indigenous peoples of North America, variously known as Indians, Native Americans, First Nations, Aboriginal, and by other labels. The book was conceived primarily as a core textbook for undergraduate anthropology courses, as well as a basic reference for those with an interest in the Indigenous peoples of North America, be they academic, professional, or lay audiences.

There are several core things that all readers will hopefully understand and retain, including (i) “Indigenous” is an umbrella term being increasingly used, especially in a global context, but terms such as Indian, Native American, and Aboriginal retain specific meaning; (ii) the archaeological record of North America is vast, spanning at least 14,000 years, containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and millions of artifacts; (iii) prior to the arrival of Europeans, North America was populated by extremely diverse peoples, with millions of people speaking hundreds of different languages and expressing considerable diversity in economic, social, and ideological systems; (iv) the colonialization of North America by Europeans was devastating to Indigenous peoples and cultures; (v) Indigenous peoples have been remarkably resilient; and (vi) the development of North American anthropology has been intricately intertwined with Indigenous peoples.

—Robert J. Muckle, Capilano University

Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!