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16 - Indigenous writing in Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2012

Ato Quayson
University of Toronto
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Words of power

‘Words are sacred’, Anishinaabe poet and editor Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm reminds us. ‘They can transform. Words can change peoples’ attitudes, their thinking, their construction of reality, their actions. Words can change the world. As can silence’. To understand the literatures of Indigenous peoples in Canada, one must recognize the power of words, especially when their source is rooted in the peoples who have called this land home for thousands of years, and whose voices have all too often been passively ignored or actively silenced since the onset of European invasion in the sixteenth century.

In the continuing colonial context of Canada, where Aboriginal peoples make up just over 3 per cent of the entire population, the very existence of Indigenous words is a reminder that this is, indeed, a colonized land, and that its first peoples have not gone away or resigned themselves to silence. If anything, their words – in writing as well as ceremony, song, and performance and visual art – affirm the growing representational strength of Native peoples in this land, a strength born of both expansive vision and continuing struggle. The resulting expressive archive – richly realized and diverse in form, purpose and content – constellates a very different understanding of Canada than that assumed by its settler citizens.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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