Sinclair (2016). Responsible and Ethical Criticisms of Indigenous Literatures.

Sinclair, N. J. (2016). Responsible and Ethical Criticisms of Indigenous Literatures. In D. Reder & L. M. Morra (Eds.), Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (pp. 301–308). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures recognize the full humanity of Indigenous peoples.” (p 301) …]

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures situate stories in specific times, places, and contexts.” (p 302) …]

“Native peoples, like all human beings, tell stories that reflect specific experiences, influences, and interests. These are always contextual and often promote a method of continuance somehow related to the interconnected nature of our communities, our families, and the world around us.” (p 302)

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures respectfully consider Indigenous-centred literary approaches as fruitful possibilities.” (p 303) …]

“… Armand Ruffo points out in his essay, ‘Why Native Literature?’ that ‘it is said that one cannot be a Native writer and not be political; it comes with the territory’ (670).” (p 303)

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures legitimate a long-standing and wide-ranging Indigenous intellectualism and recognize this intellectual history.” (p 303) …]

“It is also in the best interests of theorists, if they are sincerely interested in accurately developing meaningful approaches to North American cultures, canons, and critical legacies, to investigate Indigenous intellectual traditions, for they are the most expansive, wide-ranging, and influential knowledge processes in this area of the world.” (p 304)

“Simply, Native writers write about more than resistances to colonialism. To use Womack’s metaphor, European invasion of our territories is a branch on the tree, albeit a heavy one, but ultimately only a branch.” (p 305)

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures are responsible to an audience that includes real-life, modern Indigenous peoples in it.” (p 305) …]

“Métis critic Jo-Ann Episkenew reminds us, ‘When analyzing literary works, most scholars are very conscious that ideology is embedded in the text; what they often forget is the ideology that they bring to their reading’ (‘Socially Responsible Criticism’ 54).” (p 305)

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures do not assume that Native cultural expressions are ‘ending,’ nor do they adopt a ‘deficit’ model of change, especially if reality says otherwise.” (p 305) …]

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures dream of (and point to) important new possibilities for literary criticisms of Indigenous writing, as well as leave space for the reader to dream of (and point to) possibilities too.” (p 306) …]

“… the use of Roman orthography should not be the start or end point, nor the be-all and end-all of Indigenous literacy, intellectualism, or stories. Also, although I recognize how important historically constituted studies of orality in Native literatures have been, these have also proven to be reductivist and limiting in scope, particularly in relation to Indigenous signification systems continuing today (such as books, drums, tattoos, sand teachings, wampum, tagging, and footprints).” (p 306)

“… Simon Ortiz identifies, quite rightly, that it is ‘the oral tradition’ which has sustained and manifested Indigenous communities, histories, and stories, and ‘given rise to the surge of literature created by contemporary Indian authors’ (10). However, [page break]

‘It is not the oral tradition as transmitted from ages past alone which is the inspiration and source for contemporary Indian literature. It is also because of the acknowledgement by Indian writers of a responsibility to advocate for their people’s self-government, sovereignty, and control of land and natural resources.'” (p 306-307)

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures promote dialogic exchanges that include all interested parties, Indigenous or otherwise.” (p 307) …]

“Everyone, though, must bring some food so that everyone will benefit. And, with respect, everyone should try each other’s food, even if we don’t love it.” (p 307)

[“Responsible and ethical criticisms of Indigenous literatures provoke, evoke, and invoke change, growth, and beauty that are understandable by many, even if devised by few.” (p 307) …]

Selected References

  • Episkenew, J. A. (2002). Socially responsible criticism: Aboriginal literature, ideology, and the literary canon. Creating community: a roundtable on Canadian Aboriginal literature, 51-68.
  • Ortiz, S. J. (1981). Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism. melus, 8(2), 7-12.
  • Ruffo, A. G. (1997). Why Native Literature?. American Indian Quarterly, 21(4), 663-673.
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