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Why Indigenous Literatures Matter

By Daniel Heath Justice
Subjects Indigenous Studies, Literary Criticism
Series Indigenous Studies Hide Details
Paperback : 9781771121767, 306 pages, March 2018
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781771121781, 306 pages, March 2018
Audiobook : 9781771124928, 328 pages, March 2021

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Part survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today.

In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? How do we become good ancestors? How do we learn to live together? Blending personal narrative and broader historical and cultural analysis with close readings of key creative and critical texts, Justice argues that Indigenous writers engage with these questions in part to challenge settler-colonial policies and practices that have targeted Indigenous connections to land, history, family, and self. More importantly, Indigenous writers imaginatively engage the many ways that communities and individuals have sought to nurture these relationships and project them into the future.

This provocative volume challenges readers to critically consider and rethink their assumptions about Indigenous literature, history, and politics while never forgetting the emotional connections of our shared humanity and the power of story to effect personal and social change. Written with a generalist reader firmly in mind, but addressing issues of interest to specialists in the field, this book welcomes new audiences to Indigenous literary studies while offering more seasoned readers a renewed appreciation for these transformative literary traditions.


  • Winner, PROSE Awards 2019
  • Short-listed, ACQL Gabrielle Roy Prize for Literary Criticism 2018
  • Winner, NAISA Award Best Subsequent Book 2018


Daniel Heath Justice’s Why Indigenous Literatures Matter tackles the significant task of illuminating the heart of Indigenous literary engagement, articulating the significance of the literary arts to Indigenous peoples. While politically impactful and theoretically cogent, Justice’s book is simultaneously tender and personal. While owning his feelings and experiences, Justice comes out swinging against the systems that exacerbate and perpetuate the misrepresentation and erasure of Indigenous stories—but not by positing himself as a pure critical voice above the messiness of mutually complex relationships. Through this fertile approach to his questions, Justice opens up space for collective engagement around the significance of Indigenous literatures to Indigenous peoples.

- Aubrey Hanson, Canadian Literature 237 (2019)

Concise, engaging and readable, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter evokes Indigenous frameworks of relationality at every turn, whether the history of dispossession and removal, or pressing contemporary issues like reconciliation and climate change. Ultimately, this book argues that Indigenous literatures matter because they transform lives. The last chapter, ‘Reading the Ruptures,’ is startling, moving, brilliant storytelling—troubling and transformative tribalography, laced with humour, provocation, and insight. The characters, drawn from real life, are ones I want to travel with.

- Lisa Brooks, Amherst College, author of Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War

A seminal work of simply outstanding scholarship, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter is as impressively informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking.

- Jack Mason, Midwest Book Review

The fact that Justice writes on the matter of why Indigenous literatures matter in an analytically clear and intellectually generous, compassionate, and inclusive manner, always making clear how and why they do so to him, might make it easier for readers less familiar with Indigenous writing, history, and culture to consider the significance of Indigenous literatures to them personally, even if the possibility did not occur to them before. The book ends with an appendix that makes a case for
the richness of Indigenous literatures in a more encyclopedic fashion and provides an excellent starting point to explore more Native writing. . .. In a time where the question about the existence and worth of Indigenous literatures still has not ended, [Why Indigenous Literatures Matter] now stands as the number one recommendation to anyone asking this question.

- Rene Dietrich, Transmotion

[. ..] this compelling book offers a point of entry into the field of Indigenous literary studies to new readers as well as a better, more expansive, understanding of the field for scholars.

- Janie Beriault, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 38, No. 2 (2018)

"Justice has created a wonderwork of his own in Why Indigenous Literatures Matter; it is a text that I will read, teach, and share with students, fellow scholars, friends, and relatives because it demonstrates with such clarity and conviction why "Indigenous peoples matter" and why that fact should be celebrated [. ..]

- Jennifer Andrews, The Fiddlehead 277

Justice makes strong, well-reasoned arguments that indigenous liberation is essential for indigenous peoples to survive and recover from colonialism . .. and offers erudite, passionate analysis of and paths toward discovering new material.

- Publishers Weekly

This book simultaneously affirms Indigenous writing, introduces Indigenous readers to the canon of Indigenous writing, and teaches non-Indigenous folks how to read our literatures. That’s impressive, and it’s done in a beautiful, intimate and at times playful way. Why Indigenous Literatures Matter was an honour to read. It is instructional without instructing, grounded, confident, affirming, generous, brilliant, clear and joyful.

- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of As We Have Always Done and This Accident of Being Lost

In Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, Daniel Justice, a writer and scholar from the Cherokee Nation, points out the all-too-common disparity between the stories Indigenous writers tell about ourselves, and the stories others have told about us. . .. [Justice is] a bridge builder between cultures.

- Carleigh Baker, Literary Review of Canada