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80 years of Q&Q: talking with Theytus Books editor-in-chief Paul Seesequasis

Launched in 1981, Theytus Books – Canada’s first indigenous-owned publishing house – has played a pivotal role in developing the country’s canon of aboriginal literature. Theytus editor-in-chief Paul Seesequasis gives some insight into the press.

Why was the press started? Theytus founder Randy Fred wanted a press to reflect indigenous culture and literature in B.C. Then in 1982, the Okanagan Indian Education Resources Society bought it to promote indigenous writers, language, and culture.

What was aboriginal publishing like in Theytus’s early days? It was very barren. There were exceptions, but there weren’t many publishers interested in native literature. The attitude was no one wants to read it. If you wanted to read about native people you were going to read about culture, not about native people living in the contemporary world. It was a gradual emergence to get where we are today and there is still a way to go.

What were other early challenges? Because the press was indigenous owned, it was hard to find people with skills. There weren’t many aboriginal people working in the industry.

Is finding skilled employees still difficult? We’re committed to having our staff be First Nations, but there aren’t many people doing the work we want. It’s not like we have a pool of talented editors or designers to pick from; we usually train someone and then they move and we have to start over. There is such a focus on trades or law or health care for First Nations, but there is next to nothing for people who want to be editors or designers.

This story appeared in Q&Q’s 80th anniversary feature in the April 2015 print issue.