Black Lives Out West: November 24-25, 2017

Black Lives Out West: A Symposium

Preliminary Program (Please watch this page for updates):

In light of recent discussions about the relationship between Black and Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island particularly with regards to the expropriation of land on the one hand, and the making-property of human beings on the other, this event recognizes the Western territories of Turtle Island as a zone of exclusion, a site of social death, and as a contact zone. Scholars, critics and writers deeply consider what relationships can and should be, and how to imagine ethical practice in light of that condition that Lisa Lowe has called “the intimacy of four continents”, but with a particular focus of Black and Indigenous concerns and subject positions. Speakers may take up Kamau Brathwaite’s term “arrivant” recently elaborated by Jodi Byrd in The Transit of Empire to nuance the modes and intentions (or lack of intentions) in movement. From the history of the black Albertan cowboy, John Ware, to that of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, to that of the recent asylum seekers crossing the US border at Emerson, Manitoba, this symposium begins to re-imagine, re-member, and re-make the contact zone in the hope of better relationships and ethical practices.

Confirmed Speakers:

Nadine Chambers, David Chariandy, Wayde Compton, Cheryl Foggo, Suzette Mayr, Christian Olbey, Rain Prud’homme-Cranford, Marlon Simmons, Karina Vernon, and Joshua Whitehead

Location (except for where otherwise specified):

The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing (aka TIA House)                        University of Calgary Social Sciences Tower SS 1059
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, Alberta T2M 4E9 CANADA

Schedule at a Glance:                                                                                                  Friday, November 24, 2017

6:00pm                      Catered dinner at TIA House: Open to Faculty, Students and the General Public at no cost to attend, please RSVP to by Nov. 20

7:30pm                       Evening Reading at TIA House: David Chariandy,                                                           Cheryl Foggo, Rain Prud’homme-Cranford                                                                         Host and MC: Larissa Lai

Saturday, November 25, 2017                                                                                         

8:30am                     Breakfast at TIA House

9:00am                     Opening Prayer: Anita Eagle Bear

       9:30am                     Opening Remarks: Suzette Mayr and Larissa Lai

10:00 – 11:45am      Black Lives, Black Relations: David Chariandy,                                                             Christian Olbey, Karina Vernon, Nadine Chambers                                                       Moderator: Larissa Lai

Noon – 1:00pm         Catered lunch 

1:15 – 3:00pm           Bodies and Land: Wayde Compton, Cheryl Foggo,                                                      Rain Prud’homme Cranford                                                                                            Moderator: Aruna Srivastava

3:00 – 4:45pm           Thinking at the Crossroads: Joshua Whitehead,                                                         Suzette Mayr, Marlon Simmons                                                                                       Moderator: Smaro Kamboureli

7:30pm               Evening Reading at Contemporary Calgary (117 8th Ave SW): Nadine Chambers, Wayde Compton, Suzette Mayr, Joshua Whitehead                              Host and MC: Suzette Mayr

Organizers: Suzette Mayr and Larissa Lai, with Ben Groh and Mikka Jacobsen  Volunteers: Jade Mah-Vierling and Neil Surkan

Detailed Program:

Friday, November 24, 2017

6:00pm                      Catered dinner at TIA House: Open to Faculty, Students and the  General Public at no cost to attend, please RSVP to by Nov. 20

7:30pm                      Evening Reading at TIA House: David Chariandy, Cheryl Foggo,                                                Rain Prud’homme-Cranford                                                                                                        Host and MC: Larissa Lai

Saturday, November 25, 2017

8:30am                      Breakfast at TIA House

9:00am                      Opening Prayer: Anita Eagle Bear

9:30am                      Opening Remarks: Suzette Mayr and Larissa Lai

10:00 – 11:45am      Black Lives, Black Relations: David Chariandy,                                                                     Christian Olbey, Karina Vernon, Nadine Chambers

Moderator: Larissa Lai

David Chariandy

Title and Abstract: TBA

Christian Olbey

By Any Other Name: Transcending Blackness in the Context of 21st Century Globalization

This talk seeks to explore the possibilities and problematics of color identification in Canada within the context of contemporary globalization. The proposition to be explored is the possibility of moving beyond color designations to refer to groups of human beings in order to facilitate a discourse of intersectionality between different cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. The talk invites panelists and audience members to consider and re-consider the terms through which we conceptualize difference in the interest of inclusion and intersectionality, and to interrogate both potentialities and limitations generated out of the use of color signifiers. While acknowledging the historical ground that has been hard won under the banner of blackness, I would like to entertain the possibility of other ways to frame the identification to better include manifestations of blackness that may have little, if any, visible connection to the color itself.

Karina Vernon

Against the Old Essentialisms: Thinking Blackness-in-Relation

It is increasingly apparent that a crisis is threatening to cleave black Canadian cultural studies once more. The crisis, as I understand it, has been catalyzed by the intellectual, emotional and linguistic difficulty of thinking through black-and-Indigenous relations on Turtle Island—our entangled histories and intimacies, and especially the question of the historical debts that underwrite black citizenship. In this paper I offer a provisional thinking through (rather than a neatly-structured analysis) of some of the signs of this crisis, including what I see as a troubling return to the old essentialisms for thinking about race and blackness. I offer some brief analyses of my pedagogical and interpretive practices, as well as readings from the black prairie archive, as I search to find a language complex enough to hold together the political and ethical tensions, contradictory affects and ironies involved in thinking about blackness-in-relation.

Nadine Chambers

Never Be Late Again

This piece is the first of a series of articles to rubble the thick ingrained material habit of dematerializing Black women and lives in Vancouver. Before Christina Sharpe’s brilliant In the Wake was published, I compared 26 years in Vancity as living through a human-made weather system of white out conditions. In 2015, I spent nine nights plowing through my mind to rearrange the massive sea to sky snow job to reveal how the archive of activism in Vancouver is in fact a social movement crime scene. This excerpt is part of an attempt to jackhammer through the asphalt hiding the cobblestone trail of Black women’s activist labour in that town.

 Noon – 1:00pm        Catered lunch

1:15 – 3:00pm           Bodies and Land: Wayde Compton, Cheryl Foggo,                                                                  Rain Prud’homme Cranford

Moderator: Aruna Srivastava

Wayde Compton

Blackness and Affect in Vancouver and Beyond

Affect theory can be useful for analyzing the experience of anti-blackness in these times. Using three factors — police repression, the peculiarities of Vancouver’s racial history, and future media forms — I will pose some questions about how anti-blackness (and other forms of racism) are situated somatically.

Cheryl Foggo

Our Narrative Clashes with the Canadian Bedtime Story

Why is Alberta’s Black history suppressed? Despite 150 years of active citizenship, struggle and achievement, Black History is not embraced as Alberta History. Beginning with the social dynamics that drew Black people to western Canada from the 1870s forward, I will share a timeline of events, touch on intersections between Africa-descended people and First Nations, and offer commentary on the lives of influencers and innovators of African descent on the prairies who should be better known. My presentation will illuminate the long and puzzlingly invisible history of Black Lives in Alberta.

Rain Prud’homme Cranford

Anumpa nan anoli humma-lusa: Red/Black Stories from Oklahoma/Louisiana to Alberta

Between 1897 and 1911, Clifford Sifton, Canadian minister of the interior, recruited immigrants from Europe and the United States to the Canadian prairies. In response to restrictive and racist Jim Crow laws of the U.S. South, African Americans from Oklahoma responded. In 1908 Canada instituted a preventive immigration policy to restrain Black immigration. However, African Americans continued to migrate, and from 1908 to 1911 more than one thousand African Americans migrated to Alberta or Saskatchewan from Oklahoma (OK History). What is unique about the migration of so-called “African Americans” to the western prairies is that once in Canada the population was coded “Black.” However, many of the immigrants from Oklahoma were part of tribally disenfranchised Black-Indian communities known as Freedmen. In recent years, the Cherokee Freeman case has divided Indian Country over issues of identity, slavery, and histories of racial segregation. The case itself draws upon complex narratives of colonization surely, but also shared oppressions and rhetorics of dominance that have at various times been used by both the colonizer and colonized to place Red and Black bodies into subjugation. Cherokee Freedman, other Freeman from the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw, and other “Blindian” populations and their Native Nations, remind those of us in Indian country of the contested and related relationships of Red/Black bodies. Moreover, the complex history and place of Louisiana Creoles, post-contact Indigenous peoples, who occupy space as Afro-Indigenous peoples, further speak to the histories of slavery, Indigeneity, settler-colonial oppression, and Indigenous survivance, in Southern spaces that have sought to eradicate Red, Black and Red/Black bodies and socio-political-cultural identities.

“Anumpa nan anoli humma-lusa: Red/Black Stories from Oklahoma/Louisiana to Alberta,” seeks to review the historical and cultural relationships of Freedmen among the 5 Civilized Tribes and post-contact Indigenous peoplehood of Louisiana Creoles within current conversations around Indigeneity and sovereignty within Oklahoma and Louisiana. Further, when the history of Freedmen is understood, I offer that we problematize the history of Oklahoma “African American” migration in relation to Canada as it related to Freedmen history and culture.

 3:00 – 4:45pm           Thinking at the Crossroads: Joshua Whitehead,                                                                     Suzette Mayr, Marlon Simmons

Moderator: Smaro Kamboureli

Joshua Whitehead

Two-Spirit (Re)animations and Settler Queer Red Face

Within nehiyawewin we divide language into categorizations of animate and inanimate rather than masculine and feminine and it is through this that we hold ourselves accountable to all of our relations (of which we include things deemed “inanimate” by western ways of being and knowing). If we read the cyberworld in nehiyawewin, I argue it too becomes an animate thing and thereby part of our epistemology: we are beholden and accountable to it. The cyberspace, those digital worlds, are where Two-Spirited Indigenous peoples are connecting, thriving, surviving, and resisting—where we are “coming in” to ourselves. Though, those same spaces are as precarious as our nation-state, if not more, as they’re riddled with appropriation, white guilt/fragility, and white nationalism (of which I include queerness). With the advent of scholarship and activism in regards to digital black face, I too wonder how that type of appropriation and psychic damage effects/affects Indigenous peoples, and more specifically, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer peoplehoods? It is the face of We’wha, a Zuni Two-Spirit, that is readily interpolated by the term Two-Spirit and seemingly used as a point of transit that inducts and transforms settler queerness, gifts it a genealogy via what I am calling settler queer red face. I ask: what are the politics and ethics of readily recalling and re-animating We’wha as the nexus of Two-Spiritedness and whom does it serve? How and why is Two-Spiritedness/Indigiqueerness, to take a term from Jodi Byrd, in a state of “zombie imperialism,” by being extracted, curated, and re-animated as the living-dead? If we must navigate our bodies, genders, and sexualities as “zombified” peoples within an already apocalyptic nation-state, how to do we navigate ourselves within a cyber necropolis?

Suzette Mayr

Writing the Unremarkable as a Creative Writing Fiction Strategy

For many years I have become increasingly perplexed by the idea that writing black identity means writing racism, means at some point writing about slavery and contemporary racist violence. It is important to explore this violence, but in works of fiction involving people of colour, the topic of overwhelming racism sometimes appears to be the only thing that is rewarded and read by a larger audience that seems very hungry for texts such as The Book of Negroes or Twelve Years a Slave, and recurring images of black subjugation and victimization. As a fiction writer of black heritage I want to pursue other fictional possibilities. My goal recently has been to write whole, black, fictional characters who have lives outside of racist violence and history. These contemporary characters are affected by racism, but reacting to racism is not their 24/7 concern.

I have also included characters of First Nations and Inuit heritage in my fiction in spite of my nervousness about doing so – I am nervous that I will inadvertently appropriate, that I will stereotype, and as a settler of colour perpetuate colonial violence. But I refuse to write segregated fiction, and I borrow from Paul Chaat Smith who in a 1994 article titled “Home of the Brave,” calls to the fore stereotypes that perpetuate “the continued trivialization and appropriation of Indian culture, the absolute refusal to deal with us as just plain folks living in the present and not the past” (C magazine 34). So I have endeavoured to write First Nations and Inuit characters who are “plain folks,” even unremarkable folks: in my novel Venous Hum they are the fellow student named Lloyd Weaselhead at the 20 year high school reunion who happily dances to bad 80s music; in my novel Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, they are the university colleague Dr. Olivia Tootoo who wears fashionable shoes and makes bad romantic choices.

I will argue that writing a racially minoritized character can also mean writing about “plain folk,” perhaps even unremarkable folk.

Marlon Simmons

Notes from the Diaspora: Black Life and the Search for the Human

With this discussion, I am concerned with how Black Lives involve ways of thinking of the world, which are relationally contoured through place, peoples and incommensurabilities of becoming. I am interested in the myriad ways Black Lives encompass historical engagements with Euro-Enlightenment knowledge constructs, as these forms of knowledge variably situate the terms and conditions of Diasporized Black peoples within the continuous production of capitalist modernity.


7:30pm                      Evening Reading at Contemporary Calgary (117 8th Ave SW): Nadine Chambers, Wayde Compton, Suzette Mayr, Joshua Whitehead                              Host and MC: Suzette Mayr

Short Biographies:

Nadine King Chambers is an Afro-Caribbean raised by working class grandparents and a librarian mother in Jamaica with the last 25 yrs in the semi rural and urban Pacific West Coast of Canada. Her formalized studies have been primarily hunting colonization in the areas of Gender/Law/Resource Management, Literature and Indigenous Studies. She left formal school in 2012 to remain ungovernable and free to travel between subjects, languages and transatlantic thought paths.

David Chariandy grew up in Toronto and lives and teaches in Vancouver. His debut novel, Soucouyant, received stunning reviews and nominations from eleven literary awards juries, including a Governor General’s Literary Award shortlisting, a Gold Independent Publisher Award for Best Novel, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. His second novel, Brother, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2017.

 Three of Wayde Compton’s books have been finalists for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and The Outer Harbour won it in 2015. In 2002, Compton co-founded the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, an organization devoted to the public memory of Vancouver’s historical black community, and he is a member of the Northeast False Creek Stewardship Group and director-at-large of the Hogan’s Alley Society. Compton is the program director of Creative Writing in Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser University, where he administrates the Writer’s Studio.

Cheryl Foggo a descendant of the Black pioneers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, is an award-winning writer who has been published and produced extensively in multiple genres. John Ware Reimagined won the 2015 Writers Guild of Alberta Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama.  In 2014 Cheryl co-produced Alberta’s first Black Canadian Theatre Series with Ellipsis Tree Collective Theatre Company. She is currently in production with the National Film Board of Canada on the documentary film John Ware Reclaimed, due fall 2018.

Suzette Mayr is the author of five novels, including her most recent book Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall. Her novel Monoceros won the ReLit and the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Awards, and was nominated for the 2011 Giller Prize, the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, and Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction. Her novel The Widows was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book in the Canada-Caribbean region. She is a former president of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and she has been teaching creative writing at the University of Calgary since 2003.

Christian Olbey has been a warehouse worker, mover, construction worker, grocery clerk, waiter, bartender, baseball instructor, teaching assistant, hockey coach, umpire, and has spent the 21st century, so far, teaching in the English department at the University of Calgary. He has published on the 19th century, African-American descended, Canadian abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd, the literature of slavery and abolition, and on the works of Dionne Brand. These days, his greatest pleasures beyond the humans in his life, are critically engaging literature with large groups of people, cross-country skiing, and using a ball and stick in the never-ending search for the pure line around a golf course.

Rain Prud’homme-Cranford (Rain C. Goméz) PhD is a “FAT-tastic IndigeNerd” and an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Literatures in the Department of English and Affiliated Faculty in the International Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Calgary. Dr. Prud’homme-Cranford’s research focuses on Trans-Indigeniety in the U.S., Canada, Gulf Caribbean, and Latin America.  Her research seeks to make First Peoples and post-Contact Indigenous communities unavoidably visible showcasing Indigenous acts of reinscription and decolonization in gender/sexuality, material, graphic, and literary culture. Her current projects include: Gumbo Banaha Stories: The Physics of Indigeneity and Decolonizing the Transnational South and “Remember the Red River Valley:” Transcontinental Red River Narratives of Métissage/Mestizaje & Indigenous Persistence. Rain’s first book, Smoked Mullet Cornbread Crawdad Memory (MEP 2012), won the First Book Award in Poetry from Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, her second poetry book, Miscegenation Round Dance: Poemes Historiques, is under review and revision. She is Co-Editor and Chief, (along with Carolyn Dunn), of This Painted Horse Press, a Borderless Indigenous Press of the Americas. Critical and creative work can be found in various publications including: The Southern Literary Journal, Louisiana Folklife, Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond (LSU P), Mississippi Quarterly, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Swamp Souths (LSU P), Tidal Basin Review, Natural Bridge, Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas, Mas Tequila Review, As Us, and many others.

Marlon Simmons is an Assistant Professor at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. His research interests include Diaspora and culture, governance of the self and communicative network practices of youth.

 Karina Vernon is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, specializing in Canadian literature, black Canadian cultural studies, collective memory, archives, and Canadian Urban Studies. Two book-length projects underway include The Black Prairies: History, Subjectivity, Writing, which constructs an archive of black prairie writing, from the nineteenth-century pioneers to contemporary writers, and The Black Atlantis: Black Prairie Literature and Orature, a selected anthology of black prairie writing. She is the co-founder and editor of Commodore Books, the first black literary press in western Canada, and she is active with the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, a grassroots cultural organization engaged in local archival work toward the publication of an oral history of black Vancouver.

Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1) in Manitowapow. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Calgary where he focuses on Indigenous Literatures and Cultures. Josh is the author of full-metal indigiqueer and the forthcoming Jonny Appleseed.

TIA House would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their support of Black Lives Out West: Contemporary Calgary, University of Calgary’s Department of English and Faculty of Arts, Canada Research Chairs Program, and SSHRC.

Poster: Black Lives Out West



Notes on Indiginegativity: An Addendum by Joshua Whitehead

You dig through your library and find Wacousta sitting in front of you, to its left, The Edible Woman, and to its right, In the Village of Viger; stacked atop these: Street of Riches, Bear, Life of Pi, Roughing It In The Bush, Wild Animals I Have Known. You open any of these books and see yourself, think, “here I am, god it feels good to be Canadian”—even if these authors appropriated Indigeneity to gift you a feel-good story (think Beauty and the Makwa), even if their words were crafted on colonized land, even if their mirrors are adorned with quill and bones (that’s paleontology). I open these books, novels I’ve been forced to study for three degrees over eight years, and see a stark-hot whiteness, see a wrought NDN like a stamped, trampled piece of sheet metal punched again-again-again into a shapeless mould. I throw these books into the corner of my room and behind them find: Tekahionwake, Joy Harjo, Maria Campbell, Rita Joe, Beth Brant, Tomson Highway, Sharon Proulx-Turner, Lee Maracle, Katherena Vermette, Rosanna Deerchild and think “here I am.” What makes Canadian literature a thing? Who is CanLit? Is it not a nation-building project? Then too is it not a settler colonial project? I think of Margery Fee who argued that literature is a land claim. Where do I fit in? Where do we fit in? Is there room in CanLit for the Indigenous? And, perhaps, the more important thing to ponder is: do I even want it?

I’m writing this in response to The Writers’ Union of Canada and Hal Niedzviecki in particular. You may think I hate you, I don’t, but I am deeply troubled and upset by your contributions. You, Hal, are wrong—appropriation is real. Tell me how you could write something after each of your contributors spoke vehemently about appropriation? I know you’ve read my piece because you edited my calling out of Anita Daher naming TWUC community a “tribe” and changed Indigiqueer to Indigequeer (both without my permission may I add). I can’t tell if that’s just ignorance or laziness? I’ll leave that for you to answer. While you wrote “Winning the Appropriation Prize” I scrolled through my social media feeds and saw appropriation working at its finest: Tanya Tagaq arguing against a white boy band named Get Inuit, I see Amanda PL capitalizing off of Norval Morrisseau, see Zach McGowan starring in Ni’ihau—tell me what isn’t real about that? How does this continue? I see this happening everywhere, every day, and yet we keep on getting the recycled excuse, “I just didn’t know.” That may be, but do better, do your research, do—my two degrees tell me I had to. That excuse isn’t enough anymore. Ignorance is a tactic best maintained by privilege and while it may be bliss for you it’s a death-sentence for me; bliss is a space of comfort for yoga-posing-eat-pray-loving white settlers who enjoy privilege as if it were a resort buffet, what’s bliss about a bought space, an inheritance? Again, it’s not enough. Ignorance is not indemnity and no longer stands as an apology I’m willing to accept—do your homework before you come for me, before you enter this gladiatorial arena incited with TWUC since ‘93. If ignorance is a buffet, well, it’s a dish best served dead. I’m sorry if my Indigeneity is indignity to you, a shame, but hey, that’s a gift from me to you. Shame was an energizer for me to come into myself—maybe it’ll work for you too?

Settler colonialism has stolen twenty years of my life and I attribute this all too the ongoing appropriative and assimilative strategies of this nation-state and its systemic machinations. Two decades I hated myself because of appropriated images and mediations: NDNs are lazy, drunk, addicted, poor, ugly, meaningless, vanished, diseased, dead. And yet, here I stand and write, vicious and vivacious. Appropriation hurts, it bears repeating, it’s the machine that reiterates settler colonial ideologies. Appropriation is the iconoclasm of colonialism; the image that you see when you think of “Indian” is how you’ve been programmed to see me, feel me, hear me, hate me. Appropriation is the stamp of approval that acknowledges and allows the rape of our women, the destruction of our land, the invisibility/inaudibility of our stories. Appropriation is what gifted you the very canon of CanLit. I’ll be damned if I let you take twenty years from my niece, cousins, the youth of my generation—you can keep my time but you’ll give them theirs. And you may want to call me militant, savage, angry, feral, romantic—perhaps that’s one gift of appropriation, I can adapt it and become adept at playing the very games you’ve set out for me. Funny, I think, who needs a sequel to Blade Runner when we’re living in that world already?

Sometimes I feel like those totem-transfer women in Mad Max: Fury Road all pining for water, shambling over its lascivious salivations, a disappearing person in an apocalyptic wasteland, the water the real heroine of the story whose only lines of dialogue are: witness me. I feel like Mystique in X-Men telling Senator Kelly, with her legs wrapped around his neck, “you know, people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school.” Appropriation hurts and if you say you didn’t plan for it to turn out this way you’d be lying. You, who think that only one world exists; you who play life like a billion dollar playboy swirling Anne Hathaway on your arm. Here I feel like Cat Woman asking, “Do you ever wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us?” Or maybe I’m more the Anne Hathaway that disappeared into oblivion behind the shadow of Shakespeare? Who knows? A storm is coming and as Tanya Tagaq has forewarned, “retribution will be swift.” Buckle down, CanLit is burning, has been for quite some time, I’m here waiting to relish in its ashes—trust me, I know fire, I’ve been burned by ceremony already. I’m ready for the newness.

I ask myself what are the politics of reading and writing? You may want to tell me that good literature is apolitical, that theory and identity impede and intercept a good story. I want to tell you that all literature is political, that being apolitical is a type of politic, that any lack of the political is a politics of comfort. You are comfortable because you are blanketed by your ideologies and that literature on your bookshelf is your guarantor. I am here to unsettle you, a good story is a wave that ripples, unshackles earth from cement foundations, cracks open rocks, splits the ego. I turn back to my own theorizations on Indiginegativity that I published in Write. I’ll let the theory eat and show you resurgence in a handful of words. I cry again, pool energy into my clavicles, drink the rue of my own lamentations and sheath myself in lamination, I survive to resist another day.

You may think that passivity is weakness, but I repeat, crying is an act of aggression, tears are rivers that etch space. If, as Lee Maracle taught me, water owns itself then so too do our stories—I am only its safeguard, we, it’s vanguard. My stories come from the land, terra who owns itself, and my protagonists are my sovereign children. While it may be said I own them through contracts and copyrights, the land owns those characters, I borrowed them from her, I am a story protector. Perhaps that’s the difference between Indigenous literatures and Canadian literatures—we don’t own our stories, they own themselves; we don’t publish for canonicity, we publish to flourish, we circulate because we have to see ourselves in order to know ourselves. I return to passivity over ownership again. Here’s a Two-Spirit lesson from me to you: I’ve learned through queerness that I can be a power-bottom and here too I’ll be a power-leader.

I know what I am writing even if you don’t: I’ve thrived and survived twenty-eight years in this death game. #Canada150 is less a birth day, more a dooms day—we are the surveyor of its ruins. If your literature has run dry, entered its drought, don’t come to us for new kindling, that’s your fire to keep. You want to seek out “truth telling” through appropriation? Here it is: you’ve already won your appropriation prize—that’s 150 in the making. Happy birthday, here’s your cake, eat it too. I’ll keep crying, orating, waiting for that pool, for Sky Woman to fall from my hair, splash into a clavicle filled with saltwater, make a world, make space for me; I’ll keep writing back, against, carving space again, again, and again. Hell, I feel like the NDN Del Griffith with all you protectors of appropriation and Niedzviecki: if you want to hurt me, go ahead, I like me, my people like me, my characters like me, and if you need a drop of blood or a browning bruise to authenticate your story, tell me, I got pain archived in spades—but don’t expect it easy or for free.

See, my fingers are crisped, my ducts spark flints, CanLit is burning and has been for quite some time but our words are galvanized and reinforced, Indigenous stories emerge from the ash. Here’s what I found in the aftermath: I am not CanLit, my words don’t recognize canonic or tectonic borders, I have all of Turtle Island to nourish and energy with my story. I am not CanLit. I am an Indigenous storyteller writing for Turtle Island, I am Indigenous Lit. I wonder what that looks like and see Daniel Heath Justice already surveying its land mass with his #HonouringIndigenousWriters, I see the work that Gregory Scofield has been doing for the last thirty years, I see Lee Maracle and Thomas King, the grandparents of Indigenous literatures, dancing on the horizon. I remember the words of Zitkala-Sa, William Apes, Chrystos, Leslie Marmon Silko, Paula Gunn Allen, Gerald Vizenor, hear them now in Tommy Pico, Cherie Dimaline, Alicia Elliott, Erika T. Wurth, Gwen Benaway, Billy-Ray Belcourt. I am first and foremost from Peguis First Nation, Treaty 1 territory, the home and heart of the Metis Nation—all of this before Canada. I am the red river that splits apart the land, I am the strait, I am Manitowapow, the drum-heart-river pulse that intersects your borders, I am the strait that isn’t straight but veers into the United States, beats into the heart of the Americas—that’s Indigenous Lit and there’s nothing linear, temporal, straight about it. I asked you where do we fit in? Is there room in CanLit for the Indigenous? I guess I do not want it because we need our own space. CanLit cannot do us justice because Write sounds too close to white.


Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit storyteller and scholar from Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1). He is currently working towards a PhD in Indigenous Literatures and Cultures at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7). His debut book of poetry, full-metal indigiqueer, will be released this fall from Talonbooks.



Statement from the TWUC Equity Task Force in Response to Niedzviecki editorial “Winning the Appropriation Prize”

We, the Equity Task Force of TWUC are writing in response to the editorial in the latest issue of WRITE. We are angry and appalled by the publication of “Winning the Appropriation Prize” by Hal Niedzviecki in the editorial column. In the context of working to recruit writers historically marginalized in the union, this essay contradicts and dismisses the racist … [Read more…]

Unpacking the Creative Writing Degree

Paris Locks Lai credit

The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing and The Creative Writing Research Group Present: Unpacking the Creative Writing Degree 11am Tuesday, April 11, 2017 TIA House SS1059 Department of English University of Calgary Presenters: Jane Chamberlin Peter Forestell Rod Moody-Corbett Jess Nicol Moderator: Larissa Lai The inclusion of creative writing as an academic discipline has allowed for a secondary area … [Read more…]

The Littoral Contact Zone: Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Sea to Treaty 7 Territories

SYMPOSIUM/A GATHERING The Littoral Contact Zone: Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Sea to Treaty 7 Territories March 9-10, 2017 The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing, SS1059, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta CANADA T2N 1N4 Opening Welcome: Anita Eagle Bear Keynote: Lee Maracle Speakers: Roy Miki, Marcia Crosby, Sarah Ling, Szu Shen, Iyko Day, Rita Wong, … [Read more…]

Book Launch and 40 Year Retrospective and Reading with Poet Erín Moure

You are cordially invited to: Book Launch and 40 Year Retrospective and Reading with Poet Erín Moure Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure (Wesleyan University Press) TUESDAY FEB 28TH 4:00-5:30 PM TIA HOUSE (Social Sciences, 1059) This event is FREE and Open to the Public. Light refreshments will be served and books will be available for purchase. Organized by … [Read more…]

The Littoral Contact Zone: Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Seas to Treaty 7 Territories

SYMPOSIUM/A GATHERING The Littoral Contact Zone: Indigenous/Asian Relations from the Salish Sea to Treaty 7 Territories March 9-10, 2017 The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing, SS1059, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta CANADA T2N 1N4 Opening Welcome: Anita Eagle Bear Keynote: Lee Maracle Speakers: Roy Miki, Marcia Crosby, Sarah Ling, Szu Shen, Iyko Day, Rita Wong, … [Read more…]

February 15, 2017: Paper Hearts II: Gender and Power in Turtle Island Literary/Canadian/US Literary Communities

Paper Hearts II: Gender and Power in Turtle Island Literary/Canadian/US Literary Communities Wednesday, February 15, 2017 The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing University of Calgary SS1059 2500 University Drive NW Calgary, AB T2N 1N4 Treaty 7 Territory/CANADA A simple lunch will be served Open to students, faculty and the general public Free of charge RSVP if possible to … [Read more…]

Upcoming Events for February and March 2017

February and March 2017 are going to be a busy time in the TIA House! Here’s a little preview of some of the events we have planned:   Feb 15th – Paper Hearts II: Gender and Power in Turtle Island Literary/Canadian/US Literary Communities With a critical panel running from 12 noon to 1.45pm, followed by literary readings from 2pm to 3pm, … [Read more…]

Nikki Reimer — Hold Your Fucking Communities Accountable

Hold Your Fucking Communities Accountable: Defining and creating safer spaces for women, trans, non-binary individuals, and people of colour in literary writing communities by Nikki Reimer Note on the text and content warning: This essay is adapted from two talks I gave in fall 2016 with the same title. The first talk was presented at the Canadian Creative Writers and … [Read more…]

Canadian Literature Forum at the MLA

Session 632: Respect, Responsibility, Coalition, Relation Saturday, 7 January, 5:15-6:30pm, 110B Pennsylvania Convention Centre Philedelphia, PA In the wake of Idle No More and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, writers and scholars are called to self-reflexively articulate and act upon a politics or poetics of relation. What forms might such a politics or poetics take? How … [Read more…]

Taking Stock

It’s that time of year to look back, and I’ve been asked to name all the things that TIA House has done since it started for more official purposes. I thought that all you insurgents out there might also like to know. We’ve been busy!! Paper Hearts: A Valentine’s Day Roundtable on Gender and Power in Canadian Literary Community February … [Read more…]

Relational Innovations: Creative Writing as Social Practice

Relational Innovations: Creative Writing as Social Practice Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 Innovative writing and socially-oriented writing are often imagined as incompatible practices. This collaboratively organized one-day symposium at The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing at the University of Calgary queries how social questions can be taken up innovatively. Topics for discussion include: urban poetic practices, visibility and invisibility, representation, … [Read more…]

Jill Yonit Goldberg: Decolonize This: On Taking the English Out of English Departments

One of the great joys of organizing TIA House events is the opportunity to bring together other writers and thinkers on questions of justice and aesthetics. This piece, by the Vancouver-based writer, instructor and organizer, Jill Yonit Goldberg, was originally delivered as a contribution to the panel “Equity Now”, sponsored by CCWWP and TIA House at the recent Canadian Writers’ … [Read more…]