Indigenous poetry has always been a place of unearthing, witnessing and healing. Gregory Scofield’s Witness, I Am (Nightwood Editions, 2016), embodies a Cree Sacred Story, revisions Metis identity, and evokes the critical issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women through poetics.
Scofield, who is Red River Metis of Cree, and of Scottish and European descent whose ancestors are traced back to the fur trade in Kinesota, Manitoba, writes from a personal and ancestral perspective.
As a Professor at Laurentian University, where he teaches Creative Writing, Scofield’s debut collection, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel, won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1994, and he’s published several poetry collections and guidebooks; including: Louis: The Heretic Poems (poetry, 2011), Singing Home the Bones (poetry, 2005), Thunder Through My Veins (memoir, 1999), Love Medicine and One Song (poetry, 1997), Native Canadiana: Songs from the Urban Rez (poetry, 1996), and The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel (poetry, 1993). Scofield is an integral part of the development of Indigenous Literatures, and notes this is a golden era for Indigenous writers, poets, and publishers.
“The state of Indigenous publishing has changed a great deal over the years with the introduction of many new and talented writers, who are working in various literary genres,” he says. “In fact, many of our writers are being recognized nationally and internationally for their incredible, powerful and moving work. This recognition has gone a long way in promoting Indigenous writing and Indigenous writers.”
Since the 1970s, Indigenous authors and publishers have struggled with a their relationship to Canadian Literature, and were often dismissed by the colonial literary canon. Trailblazers like Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, Beatrice Culleton-Mosionier’s In the Search of April Raintree, Lee Maracle’s Bobble Lee, Basil Johnson’s Indian School Days, Jeannette Armstrong’s Slash, Thompson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen, and Rita Joe’s Songs of Eskasoni and I Lost My Talk made space for Indigenous poetics. These writers were seminal to Scofield’s development as a writer.
“Our works were seldom noticed or honoured for their important and meaningful contributions to the Canadian Literature,” says Scofield. “In fact, it appeared for a number of years that mainstream publishers were not interested in Indigenous stories other than those that ‘fit’ into their mandates.”
Finally, Indigenous authors like Scofield, Eden Robinson, and her stunning new Giller-nominated novel, Son of a Trickster (Penguin Random House of Canada), Katherena Vermette’s Canada Reads contender The Break (House of Anansi) , and Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie (HarperCollins) are being scooped up by mainstream publishers, and gaining national and international recognition.
As Indigenous Literatures are embraced by mainstream Canadian Literature, Indigenous writers, poets and publishers belong to their our own canon. There are as many types of Indigenous Literatures as they are nations, and it’s not merely an extension of CanLit. Indigenous Literatures have become more accessible to non-Indigenous readers through a commitment from mainstream publishing houses, who have come to the realization Indigenous voices are integral to Turtle Island’s story.
“Oral stories have and continue to connect Indigenous people to our histories, our languages, our individual and communal stories, our lands and traditions,” says Scofield. “I would say that oral storytelling is the basis – the roots – of most if not all Indigenous literature(s)… It is important to remember that there is not one voice that is representative of Indigenous literature, history or storytelling.”
Indigenous Literatures invites all sorts of readers – Indigenous and non-Indigenous, into our worlds, our histories, and world-views. For Scofield, he hopes Indigenous Literatures continue to forefront Canadian Literature, and our voices, peoples, culture, and stories remain central to the conversation as collectively heal, and work towards reconciliation.
“[Indigenous Literatures] creates a space in which readers are invited into these histories and realities, allowing readers to challenge themselves on what they’ve been taught about Indigenous people, our shared history and ways in which to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation. ”