This fall, the Indigenous Literary Studies Association will reveal the details of its inaugural literary award, a prize that started as a grassroots show of support for young Indigenous writers.
The award can be traced back to May 2017 when Write magazine ran an editorial encouraging the appropriation of Indigenous experience in literature, in a special issue of the publication that had focused on the work of Indigenous authors. The fallout shone a spotlight on the lack of representation of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour in Canadian media, and inspired a collective response of outrage and action. Toronto lawyer Robin Parker and Vancouver writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia spearheaded a crowdfunding campaign to support the Indigenous writers at the heart of the controversy.
Funds and support poured in – now at over $116,000 – and the initiative was championed as the Emerging Indigenous Voices Awards. With a focus on sustainable funding, organizers are seeking to raise a total of $150,000 and have tasked administration and distribution of the prize to ILSA, a scholarly body created in 2013.
“ILSA is working with several universities to find the right vehicle to distribute the funds to ensure ethical distribution,” says Deanna Reder, president of ILSA and a professor at Simon Fraser University.
The first jury includes Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, an Anishnaabe writer and publisher of mixed ancestry from the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation; Canadian broadcast journalist, Shelagh Rogers; Haitian-Canadian francophone poet Rodney Saint-Éloi; Red River Métis writer and teacher Gregory Scofield; Tlicho and Dene author Richard Van Camp from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.
In his forthcoming book Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, Cherokee Nation academic and author Daniel Heath Justice, who worked closely with ILSA to establish the award, affirms the relationship between Indigenous literature, experience and traditions: “By centring voices, perspectives, and subjectivities too often pushed to the margins, we might better understand where we’ve come from, where we are in the world today, and how we might realize better ways of being in the future.”
Winners of the Emerging Indigenous Voice Awards are expected to be announced at the 2018 ILSA conference.