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Humber becomes new home for Indigenous Editors Circle

Saskatchewan’s groundbreaking Indigenous Editors Circle is moving east to Toronto’s Humber College this summer.

The weeklong program originally was initiated and developed by Joanne Gerber, a program consultant for literary and multidisciplinary arts at the Saskatchewan Arts Board, along with an Aboriginal Editors working group, writers, publishers, and arts administrators*, with the aim of mentoring and training new generations of Indigenous editors, and those wanting to learn more about the proper protocols and handling of Indigenous texts. The first Indigenous Editors Circle (then called the Aboriginal Editors Circle) was held in Saskatoon in 2014. In 2015, non-Indigenous editors and publishers were included in a pilot program sponsored by the Access Copyright Foundation for the last 1.5 days, which Gerber says attracted twice as many attendees as anticipated. “We came away knowing there was interest,” she says.

The program’s original funding allocation, provided by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Saskatchewan Arts Board*, covered only a two-year period (the circle was not offered in 2016). Gerber partnered with Cynthia Good, former head of Humber’s Creative Book Publishing Program, and together they successfully approached the Canada Council and the Canada Book Fund for new funds to bring the program to Toronto.

“It was time to have a real impact and move to where the publishers are in the country,” says Gerber, who has received inquiries about Indigenous editors from both multinational and small independent publishers. “Especially now after the Boyden controversy, publishers want to know about acquisitions, how do we recognize a genuinely Indigenous voice and text, and how do we ask whether they have the right to tell that story, or to find out and verify it.”

Faculty coordinator Greg Younging, who also taught in Saskatoon, says, “There’s an awareness now in the Canadian publishing industry that there have been a lot of books put out that are offensive to Indigenous peoples or have not followed the proper protocols. Canadian publishers want to get it right. They know they need Indigenous editors.” Younging will be joined by instructors Warren Cariou, Cherie Dimaline, and Gregory Scofield, along with guest speakers such as community elders, writers, and industry experts.

The two workshops, which run Aug. 13–19, will share faculty and morning classes, with afternoon sessions divided into two streams. The Indigenous Editors Circle is aimed at those seeking mentorship, and who want to learn and share best practices. The new Editing Indigenous Manuscripts program covers the basics for non-Indigenous editors and publishers.

“Sometimes the topic would be the same but the conversation would be different,” says Gerber, giving the example of a session around editing and acquiring Indigenous trauma narratives, where the majority of students and faculty were either residential-school or Sixties Scoop survivors, or the children of survivors. “It was very emotional, and it can be a shock for anyone non-Indigenous to hear. The initial conversation needs to be a place where editors can ask questions and feel comfortable. It’s important to have a safe place to have this topic introduced, where they can talk without fearing that they may offend a survivor in the room.”

Following the August sessions, there are plans – which originated from a group of editors who participated in 2015 – to launch an association that will provide publishers with editorial resources and contacts within various First Nations communities.


*Update, April 7, 2017: Other participating founders include the Aboriginal Editors working group, writers, publishers, and arts administrators. An earlier version of this story stated that the Saskatchewan Writers Guild was a program funder. The Guild acted as a partner, and provided logistical support.