by Will Johnson - Nelson Star
Richard Wagamese and Joseph Boyden aren’t enough.
To have a balanced, representative literature in our country we need more than two aboriginal literary superstars according to Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm.
“This has been happening since the ’70s,” said Akiwenzie-Damm. “There’s always a few writers who really make it. Maria Campbell in the ’70s. Thomas King was really hot for a while. There have always been a few that have broken through into the mainstream. What I’d like to see is something a lot broader than that,” she said.
Akiwenzie-Damm, who is an international known writer, spoken word performer, editor and publisher at Kegedonce Press, is also a proud member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation. She lives and works in Neyaashiniinigmiing, Ontario. And she’s passionate about telling the stories and publishing the work of other First Nations’ artists.
According to her, Canada is way behind.
“I know from my travels that Penguin, in New Zealand, they’ve committed to publishing Maori writers for a few decades now. When those kinds of breakthroughs happen here, that’s when it will make a big difference,” she said.
“Instead of having one or two in the limelight, there should be a broader range of voices being published and promoted at that level,” she said.
“Oh, and more women would be nice too,” she said.
Akiwenzie-Damm will be participating in a panel on indigenous publishing in Canada on Saturday, July 12 as part of the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival.
She will be joined by Gary Gottfriedson. The event will happen at Hart Hall at 510 Carbonate from 11 a.m to 12:30 p.m.
“I’m looking forward to sharing with people what we do,” said Akiwenzie-Damm, who said most people have no idea the breadth of aboriginal creative work that’s available.
For instance, they recently published a fantasy trilogy by Daniel Heath Justice, a children’s book by Gottfriedson called Jimmy Tames Horses, and what Akiwenzie-Damm calls “a bunch of firsts”, including the first aboriginal erotica and the first aboriginal science fiction book. Apparently graphic novels are really taking off too.
Which, of course, begs the question: what exactly qualifies as aboriginal? Is it the work itself, or just the artist?
“That’s something we’re grappling with right now. We get submissions from indigenous writers where the content is obviously from an indigenous perspective and set in our communities or has main characters that are obviously indigenous, but we’re also getting submissions not obviously about indigenous types of things. I guess all I can say right now is we’re grappling with it.”
Akiwenzie-Damm recently attended a circle of aboriginal editors’ meeting in Saskatoon, and said she came away feeling thrilled.
“As indigenous editors and publishers we often work alone. There’s been no association or central group that can discuss the issues we face. At the circle we talked about publishing and editing as cultural practice. We were having those first conversations,” she said.
“I think what’s starting to happen, at least with my company, is a big part of our mandate is opening people up to indigenous literature that’s outside of what they normal think it would be,” she said.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit emlfestival.com.