Randy Lundy and Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm
Randy Lundy and Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, both award-winning Indigenous writers, have joined the Department of English at U of T Scarborough where they will teach creative writing, Indigenous literatures and oral traditions (Submitted photos)
Tuesday, June 30 - 2020
Don Campbell

Two internationally renowned and award-winning Indigenous writers are joining as faculty with U of T Scarborough’s Department of English this semester.

Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm and Randy Lundy join the Department of English July 1 as assistant professors, teaching stream, where they will teach creative writing, Indigenous literatures and oral traditions.

Akiwenzie-Damm, a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation, on the Saugeen Peninsula in Ontario, is a celebrated artist whose work includes poetry, fiction, non-fiction, radio plays, television and film, graphic novels as well as spoken word.

Her book of short stories The Stone Collection (2015) was a finalist for the Sarton Literary Book Awards, and her recording A Constellation of Bones, was a nominee for a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award. She has also initiated many projects supporting Indigenous writers including organizing the first Honouring Words: International Indigenous Authors Celebration Tour, an international event involving Indigenous authors from across the globe.

“I've tried throughout my adult life to give back, whether through activism, organizing events, or mentoring young writers,” says Akiwenzie-Damm, who has taught creative writing and Indigenous literatures at the University of Manitoba, the Banff Centre’s Aboriginal Arts Program, and the En’owkin Centre creative writing program through the University of Victoria.

Lundy, a member of the Barren Lands (Cree/nehiyaw) First Nation in Manitoba, is an award-winning poet whose collections include Blackbird Song (2018) and Field Notes for the Self (2020). He has also published fiction and non-fiction writing, and his work has featured extensively in anthologies of Indigenous writings in Canada.

“At my core, I am still just a boy from a small, isolated logging community in the bush of east-central Saskatchewan,” says Lundy, who recently taught creative writing and Indigenous literature at First Nations University as well as Campion College in Regina.

“That place shaped me and how I see the world, and it carries a much bigger weight in my life all these years later than I once believed it would.”

He says that one of the most powerful effects of literature – and one that may help at Canada’s efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples – is that it can expose readers to different places, people and cultures. 

“For a time, a reader gets to see the world through someone else’s eyes or from someone else’s perspective. There’s lots of learning to be done from Indigenous literatures and much of it is about that shift in perspective—walking for a time in someone else’s moccasins.

 

“Fiction and creative storytelling have an ability to connect with readers and convey a powerful message in ways non-fiction simply can’t achieve.”

Akiwenzie-Damm says the role literature and story-telling can play in reconciliation is by offering a gateway to hear about the experiences of Indigenous peoples.

“Someone may not pick up a non-fiction book about the children’s aid scoops for example, where Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in foster homes, but they may pick up a graphic novel about it,” she says.

“Fiction and creative storytelling have an ability to connect with readers and convey a powerful message in ways non-fiction simply can’t achieve.” 

Both Akiwenzie-Damm and Lundy started their writing careers around the same time, and while they agree the literary industry in Canada has changed for the better, there’s still a long way to go in breaking down systemic barriers.

On the one hand, there are so many more Indigenous-authored books coming out all the time,” says Lundy.

“But I still see the literary institutions exercising power over the kinds of stories that get told. While this is breaking down in some ways, there are still certain kinds of stories and authors that the dominant culture seems to want and to consume.”

“There has been change, but it’s been painfully slow,” adds Akiwenzie-Damm, who created Kegedonce Press in 1993, one of the few publishing houses devoted to Indigenous writers.

“The fact that Indigenous authors have been winning major national and international awards is a cause for celebration. At the same time, I am concerned the publishing industry is only interested in particular types of books rather than real change, which means letting go of the gatekeeping during acquisition, editing, and promotions that, in effect, force Indigenous literature to the periphery. It also means working with us to develop new audiences for our poetry and stories.”