Native Writers and Canadian Writing
306 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Jan 1990
Release Date:01 Jan 1990

Native Writers and Canadian Writing

Edited by W. H. New
UBC Press

Sometimes people are willing to listen only to those voices that confirm the conventions they already know. The unfamiliar makes them fear. Or makes them condescend. Neither fear nor condescension encourages listening. And no one who does not listen learns to hear.

– W.H. New, “Learning to Listen.”

Native Writers and Canadian Writing is a co-publication with Canadian Literature – Canada's foremost literary journal – of a special double issue which focuses on literature by and about Canada’s Native peoples and contains original articles and poems by both Native and non-Native writers. These not only reflect the growing prominence of contemporary Native writing but also direct the reader to the traditional literature from which it springs and which has been largely misunderstood by the non-Native community – myths, rituals, and songs having been interpreted more often as artistic “curiosities” rather than the masterworks of a different culture.

Essays examining the conventional portrayals of Native people in literature touch on works which range from the eighteenth-century journals of explorer Alexander Mackenzie, to the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, and to early writers in Canada such as historian-humourist Thomas Chandler Haliburton. Studies of Native literature focus on the oral literary traditions of the Haida and Inuit and their transcribers and on modern works by playwright Tomson Highway and authors Lee Maracle and Thomas King, among others. These commentaries illuminate the way in which Native writers view themselves and their disparate worlds, their gifts for pathos, humour, and self-parody, and their search for their own voices and distinct forms of communication.

Viewing Canada’s Native peoples in historical, anthropological, and political contexts, the book exposes prejudices and misconceptions entrenched since colonial days regarding Native societies and their moral, spiritual, and political values – values embodied in their hereditary literature. Just as Native visual art has flourished in recent years, the book records the initiatives now being taken by Native societies to preserve and promote their own cultural identity through the spoken and written word. These include control of their own education, creative writing programs, projects to preserve still extant languages, folklore, songs, and rituals, and the founding of Native publishing houses. Not only are these endeavours valuable contributions to tribal cultures, but they also contribute to the past and ongoing literary heritage of Canada as a nation. Recognition of the place of Native literature as an integral part of the Canadian cultural scene is one of the main goals of Native Writers and Canadian Writing. As W.H. New points out, this collection is “a speaking place ... a series of opportunities to begin listening.”

Native Writers and Canadian Writing has been produced as one of the projects celebrating the 75th anniversary of the University of British Columbia.

Its commentary and essays are well selected and organized to give context and meaning to the native writing presented. Suzanne Fournier, The Province
English professor W.H. New has compiled an impressive collection of current perspectives on native writers who have assumed some measure of prominence ... as well as some fresh looks at voices from the past. Daniel Ray, The Edmonton Journal
Native Writers and Canadian Writing is so sweeping in its scope and ambition that it creates a kind of spiritual universe of its own, an enchanting place that a reader does not want to leave. Each piece in this breathtaking anthology leads to another ... With the rising at Oka last summer, and what seems the continuing deafness of both Ottawa and Quebec to native concerns, this exhortation to listen is timely. But Native Writers and Canadian Writing is not about immediate political concerns. It provides a context that goes beyond the nightmare of history to timeless human values ... The question of non-natives writing about native subjects is dealt with but on the level of the deep sub-conscious, where many qualities of humanity are the same. The native spirit informs the Americas, and these essays and poems allow us to touch all who once walked the land we all walk ... The spirit of both the men and women in this anthology, the living and the dead, has a transformational magic that can touch us all. M.T. Kelly, The Globe and Mail
W.H. New is a professor in the English Department at the University of British Columbia and formerly the editor of Canadian Literature.

Editorial: Learning to Listen


One Generation from Extinction / Basil H. Johnston

Reassessing Traditional Inuit Poetry / Robin McGrath

That Also Is You: Some Classics of Native Canadian Literature / Robert Bringhurst

“A Parcel of Whelps”: Alexander Mackenzie among the Indians / Parker Duchemin

Savage, Degenerate, and Dispossessed: Some Sociological, Anthropological, and Legal Backgrounds to the Depiction of Native Peoples in Early Long Poems on Canada / D.M.R. Bentley

Red & White Men; Black, White & Grey Hats: Literary Attitudes to the Interaction between European and Native Canadians in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century / Mary Lu Macdonald

Mourning Dove’s Canadian Recovery Years, 1917-1919 / Alanna Kathleen Brown

Contemporary Native Women’s Voices in Literature / Agnes Grant

Equality among Women / Mingwon Mingwon (Shirley Bear)

Jeannette Armstrong & the Colonial Legacy / Noel Elizabeth Currie

Yin Chin / Lee Maracle

Upsetting Fake Ideas: Jeannette Armstrong’s “Slash” and Beatrice Culleton’s “April Raintree” / Margery Fee

The Politics of Representation: Some Native Canadian Women Writers / Barbara Godard

Border Work / Celia Haig-Brown

A Double-Bladed Knife: Subversive Laughter in Two Stories by Thomas King / Margaret Atwood

Lines and Circles: The “Rez” Plays of Tomson Highway / Denis W. Johnston

The Baffin Writers’ Project / Victoria Freeman

Cultures in Conflict: The Problem of Discourse / Robin Ridington

The Prophecy / Basil H. Johnston


Artifacts / Frank Conibear

Negative of You; Shawnandithit (Last of the Beothuks); The Blizzard Moans My Name / Joan Crate

A Prairie Museum; Belugas; Four Dancers / Jim Tallosi

Chewing the Pieces / David P. Reiter

Pakashgoogan / Denis Stokes

Shoreline, Old Lake Iroquois / M.T. Kelly

Nightmare Comfort / Ben Abel Klu'skap-o'kom / Rita Joe

Nostalgia; The Red in Winter; “Progress” / Emma Larocque

Earth Nites; I'm Not in Charge of This Ritual; Big Steve; Down on the Yucatan; Shaman and the Raven / Wayne Keon

Yin Chin / Lee Maracle

The Wet; Working on Titles; Eagle Caught Salmon / Bruce Chester

Song on Starling Street; Breakdown Moon; Blue Moon; Inukshuk / Daniel David Moses

Coyote Learns to Whistle; Coyote Sees the Prime Minister; Coyote Goes to Toronto; The City on the Hill / Thomas King

The Dancing Sun; The Water Moved an Instant / Alootook Ipellie

April 23, 1985: Aboriginal Rights Conference / Mingwon Mingwon (Shirley Bear)

Review Articles

No Writing at All Here: Review Notes on Writing Native / L.R. Ricou

Sucking Kumaras / Gary Boire

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