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Reflecting on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Imaginings

Deanna Reder and Daniel Heath Justice in discussion

By Deanna Reder, Daniel Heath Justice Date: May 14, 2024 Tags: Blog

Deanna Reder: In 2007, when I was working on my first book with my now long-term trusted collaborator and friend, Linda M. Morra, it was she who suggested that we take our essay collection, Troubling Tricksters, to Wilfrid Laurier University Press. I was in full agreement, especially as I learned of WLUP’s small but mighty reputation. Additionally, this move fortuitously allowed me to continue the lively conversations that I had had in graduate school with my former classmate, and WLUP’s new editor, Lisa Quinn, about how to revolutionize departments of English. While I don’t remember all the specifics of our talks, I remember us complaining together about the scarcity of Indigenous professors in English departments across the country and the lack of Indigenous perspectives in conventional literary studies. To us, the solution was simple: hire Indigenous scholars and change conventional curriculum. It now seems as though we were ambitious and prescient, but to be honest, in the first few years of this new century, we were both impatient, frustrated by the limits of our field. Because both of us were studying while dealing with hefty family responsibilities, even if we saw solutions, we weren’t certain how we could put these plans into action.


Fast forward to life after graduate school, and Lisa, who had joined WLUP recently, was strategizing about how to revitalize the portfolios that she had been assigned. When we reconnected, it occurred to her that should I serve as Series Editor for the Indigenous Studies Series, we might finally be able to work together to make the changes we had long talked about.


One of the first moves I did was contact four Indigenous scholars whom I highly respect to serve on the advisory board: Stó:lō education theorist Jo-ann Archibald, Piikani archaeologist Eldon Yellowhorn, NunatuKavut literary critic Kristina Bidwell, and Cherokee Nation scholar Daniel Heath Justice, who, besides having written his important first monograph, had also recently completed his fantasy trilogy, The Way of Thorn and Thunder. While I was still a junior scholar at the time, I knew that as issues came up, I would be able to consult with some of the most accomplished and committed Indigenous academics in the country, each of whom were actively working in their respective fields to make space for Indigenous perspectives. When, a few years later, DHJ accepted a position at the University of British Columbia and moved to Vancouver, I knew immediately that he would raise the profile of Indigenous literary studies in our circles. He brought with him not just academic credibility, but a desire to make community. His agreement to serve on the WLUP Indigenous Studies Series advisory board was so encouraging.  


Daniel Heath Justice: I moved to Canada in 2002, and since then I’ve had dual footing in Canada and the US, where so much of my own scholarship is focused. One of the aspects I appreciate most about the Indigenous Studies ecosystem in Canada is that although it’s a smaller community than that in the US, it more than holds its own in terms of scholarly heft. The work here radiates well beyond imposed colonial borders, and part of the reason it has global influence is because scholars here are in closer and more substantial relationship—by necessity, we speak across disciplinary, geographic, cultural, and conceptual boundaries, and we learn from, with, and in relation to one another and one another’s work. We simply don’t have the false luxury of intellectual isolationism. For the most part we actively seek out opportunities to connect with others, and our work is stronger because of it.


One of the reasons I was excited to come to UBC from my first job at the University of Toronto in 2012 was the vibrant Indigenous Studies ecosystem in BC, and having Deanna Reder and Sophie McCall at Simon Fraser University and so near to UBC was definitely a plus! Deanna and I had been involved in various conferences and symposia over the years, and her moral leadership, intellectual energy, and commitment to building scholarly community informed everything she did. (As indeed they still do!) The results were clear: nurturing intellectual community made for better scholarship. And Deanna modelled that commitment in every way. So I was both honoured and pleased when she asked me to serve on the reimagined Indigenous Studies Series advisory board, not only because I already had so much respect for her and her work, but because of her vision for the series at WLUP. She explicitly made space for emerging scholars and emergent approaches through an explicit focus on work that pushed Indigenous Studies forward in ways that honoured work of the past without being beholden to it.


And WLUP was the perfect press for this work. Like the discipline of Indigenous Studies in Canada, WLUP punches above its weight in scholarly circles, and its size makes it particularly nimble in responding to important developments in academic focus and concern and adventurous in foregrounding new voices, methods, and approaches that push the discipline forward in principled and productive ways. The entire editorial and marketing staff at the Press are enthusiastic boosters of their authors and keen participants in critical conversations at all levels, and the work that comes from WLUP is among the best in the country. And under Deanna’s forward-thinking direction as series editor and Lisa’s and Siobhan [McMenemy]’s respective editorial guidance and advocacy, the Indigenous Studies Series has been at the forefront of critical conversations in this country and well beyond.


DR: When I look back at my early hopes for the Indigenous Studies Series, I have to admit that things take longer to complete than I expected. I have learned that once junior faculty, especially Indigenous junior faculty, have secured an academic position, they have to juggle the demands of teaching and service, alongside research, meaning that they might choose to submit articles to peer-reviewed journals rather than seek out a book contract. Even should pre-tenure faculty have a contract in hand, it does not mean that they are going to be able to write the monograph in the foreseeable future. To adjust for this, the Indigenous Studies Series began to encourage peer-reviewed anthologies that could include essays from scholars from every stage of their career and offer editorial support to all; we released teaching anthologies informed by the best in the field, so that non-experts could feel confident when teaching a subject for the first time (see Learn, Teach, Challenge and Read, Listen, Tell).


And we learned to be patient, so that we could build relationships with more established scholars and invite them to bring their monographs to us when they were ready, on their own time. The fact that Daniel was already on our advisory board meant that we had more opportunities to discuss issues concerning the series. Knowing how valuable an addition it would be, I remember when I asked Daniel if he might be willing to bring his second monograph to the ISS, and how elated I was when he agreed! 


DHJ: When it came time to find a home for my second book on Indigenous literature, the choice of press and choice of series were very easy—indeed, in so many ways the book I imagined came about as a result of conversations with Deanna, Lisa, and Siobhan. The initial idea was a good one, but it was enormously strengthened by their feedback and vision, too. Because of this, I knew without a doubt that the series was the perfect fit for Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, and that WLUP would ensure that the book found its audience in Canada and internationally. And I’ve never been disappointed. Again and again, through the impacts of global pandemic on supply chains to economic downturns to reactionary political resurgence, WLUP and the Indigenous Studies Series have continued to ensure that cutting-edge Indigenous Studies work remains fiercely and firmly scholarly, accessible to a range of readers and engaged with the urgent ideas and politics of our time.


DR: After more than a decade as Series Editor, I knew it was time for me to pass the baton. Given the upside-down state of the world because of Covid, I knew the ISS needed someone credible and senior in the field, who understood how to create opportunities, especially for emerging Indigenous scholars. Daniel stood out as the ideal candidate to be the next leader of the series. I remain grateful that he said yes, with his own vision and strategies to take us into the next decade. 


DHJ: To be honest, following Deanna’s term as series editor was a bit daunting, not only because of her intellectual leadership but because of the strong profile of the series and its contributions—you want to build on something good that enhances it rather than take away from what’s worked so well. But that’s also what makes it such an exciting opportunity, as the vision I have for the series—now conceptualized as the Indigenous Imaginings Series, with Indigenous futurity firmly as its guiding lodestar—is both a complement to and extension of the work that’s come before. It means a lot to be in a position where we move from strength to strength, and so fully with Deanna’s support and encouragement and the unceasing commitment of the Press. I can’t think of any book series I’d be more honoured to guide into its next iteration. Of course, that requires exciting manuscript submissions, and I hope both emerging and established scholars continue seek us out as a home for their compelling, challenging, unexpected, and provocative works! As Deanna notes, these things always take longer than we might anticipate or hope, but the time taken is almost always for the good. That patience pays off with work that makes a lasting impact, and that’s what the series has always been committed to: the best scholarship from the most engaging thinkers taking up some of the most significant issues of our time and of the past. Those commitments continue unabated. My deepest thanks to Deanna for guiding us so well for so long, and for continuing to advise, encourage, and support the series and all involved in this important work. Here’s to more incredible conversations and contributions to come!