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Autobiography as Indigenous Intellectual Tradition

Cree and Métis âcimisowina

By Deanna Reder
Subjects Life Writing, Literary Criticism, Indigenous Studies
Series Indigenous Studies Hide Details
Paperback : 9781771125543, 194 pages, May 2022
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781771125550, 194 pages, May 2022
Ebook (PDF) : 9781771125567, 194 pages, May 2022

Table of contents

Table of Contents

Glossary: Cree terms

Introduction: She Told Us Stories Constantly: Autobiography as Theoretical Practice

1. âcimisowina: Autobiography as Indigenous Intellectual Tradition

2. kiskêyihtamowin: Seekers of Knowledge, Cree Intergenerational Inquiry

3. Interrelatedness and Obligation: wâhkowtowin in Maria Campbell’s âcimisowin

4. Edward Ahenakew’s Intertwined Unpublished Life-Inspired Stories: aniskwâcimopicikêwin in Black Hawk and Old Keyam

5. Contradiction and kisteanemétowin in Edward Ahenakew’s “Old Keyam”

6. Traces of âcimisowina left behind: James Brady and Absolom Halkett




Autobiography as Indigenous Intellectual Tradition critiques ways of approaching Indigenous texts that are informed by the Western academic tradition and offers instead a new way of theorizing Indigenous literature based on the Indigenous practice of life writing.

Since the 1970s non-Indigenous scholars have perpetrated the notion that Indigenous people were disinclined to talk about their lives and underscored the assumption that autobiography is a European invention. Deanna Reder challenges such long held assumptions by calling attention to longstanding autobiographical practices that are engrained in Cree and Métis, or nêhiyawak, culture and examining a series of examples of Indigenous life writing. Blended with family stories and drawing on original historical research, Reder examines censored and suppressed writing by nêhiyawak intellectuals such as Maria Campbell, Edward Ahenakew, and James Brady. Grounded in nêhiyawak ontologies and epistemologies that consider life stories to be an intergenerational conduit to pass on knowledge about a shared world, this study encourages a widespread re-evaluation of past and present engagement with Indigenous storytelling forms across scholarly disciplines


  • Winner, Gabrielle Roy Prize 2022


“This fierce, timely, visionary book lives up to the ‘obligations of stories’ to which Reder commits. Reder is one of the most generous, brilliant scholars in her field, whose kindness and sharp wit radiate from each page. Bringing together essential texts in nêhiyaw intellectual tradition over a span of two hundred years, Reder doesn’t forget to place her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother within this constellation of storymakers. These writers and tellers of âcimisowina, or personal stories, have motivated Reder’s own lifelong work of words and inspired practice of ‘autobiography as methodology.’” —Sophie McCall, Simon Fraser University, co-editor, Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island

“By contextualizing these nuanced acts of interpretation within the rich storytelling traditions of her own Cree-Métis relations, Deanna Reder presents a mode of reading that is vitally important: reading through wâkôhtiwin. The result is a grounded, relational, and ethically engaged form of criticism that provides a new path toward understanding classic works of Cree and Métis autobiography. With its attention to critical responsibilities and to the connectedness that stories generate, this work provides an important model for all students and scholars of Indigenous literature.” —Warren Cariou, University of Manitoba, editor, mahikan ka onot: The Poetry of Duncan Mercredi