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Indigenous Poetics in Canada


Publication Year: 2014

Indigenous Poetics in Canada broadens the way in which Indigenous poetry is examined, studied, and discussed in Canada. Breaking from the parameters of traditional English literature studies, this volume embraces a wider sense of poetics, including Indigenous oralities, languages, and understandings of place.

Featuring work by academics and poets, the book examines four elements of Indigenous poetics. First, it explores the poetics of memory: collective memory, the persistence of Indigenous poetic consciousness, and the relationships that enable the Indigenous storytelling process. The book then explores the poetics of performance: Indigenous poetics exist both in written form and in relation to an audience. Third, in an examination of the poetics of place and space, the book considers contemporary Indigenous poetry and classical Indigenous narratives. Finally, in a section on the poetics of medicine, contributors articulate the healing and restorative power of Indigenous poetry and narratives.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Indigenous Studies

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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Neal McLeod

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pp. ix-x

This book emerged during the Ogamas Aboriginal Festival in Brandon in the fall of 2009. One panel, which included Randy Lundy, Louise Halfe, and Duncan Mercredi, discussed the creative process within Indigenous poetry. Randy Lundy talked about the nature of poetic language, Louise...


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pp. xi-xii

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Neal McLeod

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pp. 1-14

There is an old Cree-Anishinaabe story about when Cree and Anishinaabe people first acquired the mirror (wâpamon). The story goes something like this.1
Once there was a Cree man who went to a fur-trading post, which was cluttered with all sorts of items. There were shiny metal goods that bore...

Poetics of Memory

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1. Achimo

Duncan Mercredi

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pp. 17-22

These words, spoken in the old way, were simple yet they spoke volumes and the words flowed like water over the rapids in a singsong chant long into the night, and a child cradled in his Kookum’s arms would drift off to sleep.
I would dream of this man, who allowed no one onto his property. I would dream I am walking into his yard and he would run out of his house, ...

2. Interview with Armand Garnet Ruffo

Neal McLeod

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pp. 23-30

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3. Edgework: Indigenous Poetics as Re-placement

Warren Cariou

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pp. 31-38

Contemporary poetry is an arena of edges and boundaries. There are competing schools and styles, pitched battles for supremacy in the pages of review journals. Manifestoes proliferate. Cliques and cadres and coteries. Young poets are encouraged or required to choose between language and...

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4. Pauline Passed Here

Janet Marie Rogers

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pp. 39-42

I know I am spoiled because even with all the biographical material written about her, the numerous museum objects owned by her, the many stories and poems penned by her, and the seemingly small file of photographic likenesses of her, I still want one thing. I want her voice in my ear. I want...

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5. Writer–Reader Reciprocity and the Pursuit of Alliance through Indigenous Poetry

Sam McKegney

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pp. 43-60

At the Sounding Out: Indigenous Poetics Workshop, Métis poet Joanne Arnott responded to an audience question regarding the significance of clothing in her work with the declaration, “I love to wash the clothes of those I love.” Arnott’s assertion is instructive not only in its delineation...

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6. Remembering the Poetics of Ancient Sound kistêsinâw/ wîsahkêcâhk’s maskihkiy (Elder Brother’s Medicine)

Tasha Beeds

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pp. 61-72

Within a nêhiyaw understanding, stories and, by extension, poetry emerge out of and fall back into the land. The land gives birth to story and reclaims its people in the process. nêhiyawak,1 poets such as Neal McLeod, Gregory Scofield, Rosanna Deerchild, Louise Halfe, Marilyn Dumont, and Duncan Mercredi have grounded themselves with their nêhiyawak ancestors, territories...

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7. On Reading Basso

David Newhouse

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pp. 73-82

Poetics—and particularly Indigenous poetics—has not been a part of my formal education, which has been primarily in the sciences and social sciences. I am more comfortable with the knowledge paradigms and truth traditions embedded in them than I am with the interpretative and...

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8. The Pemmican Eaters

Marilyn Dumont

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pp. 83-88

“The Pemmican Eaters,” my unpublished fourth poetry collection’s title, is derived from John A. Macdonald’s moniker for the Métis—“the pemmican eaters.”1
My intent in this collection is to recreate a palpable sense of the Riel Resistance period in Métis history and evoke the geographical, linguistic...

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9. Cree Poetic Discourse

Neal McLeod

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pp. 89-104

In many Indigenous studies departments throughout Canada, the discipline has been put into the category of social science. Such an approach, while effective on some levels, does narrative violence to the integrity of Indigenous narrative knowing. By narrative violence, I mean that Indigenous...

Poetics of Place

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10. “Bubbling Like a Beating Heart”: Reflections on Nishnaabeg Poetic and Narrative Consciousness

Leanne Simpson

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pp. 107-120

The river that runs through the city I live in is called the Otonabee. The river runs through Kina Kitchi Nishnaabeg-ogamin1 from the Trent River (which we call Zaagaatay Igiwan because it is shallow)2 into Rice Lake (known to us as Pimaadashkodeyong, which means the “moving across the prairie”...

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11. Getting (Back) to Poetry: A Memoir

Daniel David Moses

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pp. 121-136

As a kid, I wasn’t much interested in poetry as such.
The words, if I can separate them out, that must have meant the most to me, that added meaning to my world, that made my reality most real then, that first decade or so of my life, were the language that was used in church. The forms that language took, the songs of praise and celebration...

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12. Kwadây Kwańdur—Our Shagóon

Alyce Johnson

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pp. 137-158

Place names hold significant value when an Indigenous language communicates narrative poetics filled with songs and stories onto cartographic maps. Place-based narratives denote embedded meanings such as directionals and verb-based instructions that a language provides for spatial...

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13. “Pimuteuat/Ils marchent/They Walk”: A Few Observations on Indigenous Poetry and Poetics in French

Michèle Lacombe

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pp. 159-182

Many Indigenous poets from a wide group of First Nations in Quebec are publishing in French, although in this chapter I limit myself to work by Innu poets Joséphine Bacon and Rita Mestokosho. My interpretation of a few of their poems draws further attention to their writing, but also...

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14. Through Iskigamizigan (The Sugarbush): A Poetics of Decolonization

Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy

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pp. 183-202

This spoken word poem—the knowledge that it conveys, the aesthetics, and the pedagogical rational imbedded within it—represents the experiences and knowledge embodied through my personal decolonization process as Ojibway Anishinaabe ikawe (being who is capable of creating a separate...

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15. The Power of Dirty Waters: Indigenous Poetics

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair

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pp. 203-216

"Winnipeg” is a Cree and Anishinaabe word derived from wiinad-, meaning “dirty” or “muddy,” and nibiing, meaning “waters.”2 The original phonetic pronunciation was likely Wînipêk or Wiinabik. It is used to describe Lake Winnipeg, a shallow body of water over 24,000 square kilometres in...

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16. A Poetics of Place and Apocalypse: Conflict and Contradiction in Poetry of the Red River Resistance and the Northwest Resistance

Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber

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pp. 217-236

The Red River Resistance (1869–70) and the Northwest Resistance (1885) were pivotal events in Canadian history, when the Métis and several First Nations defended their lands against western expansion.1 These martial conflicts were widely documented in historical texts, but they were also...

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17. My Poem Is an Indian Woman

Rosanna Deerchild

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pp. 237-244

The brilliant Thomas King said in his 2003 Massey Lecture that “The truth about stories is that is all we are.”1
There are two basic rules to good storytelling. The story must be kept and the story must be given away. My story is a poem. My poem is an Indian woman...

Poetics of Performance

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18. Interview with Marvin Francis

Rosanna Deerchild and Shayla Elizabeth

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pp. 247-252

This conversation between Marvin Francis, Rosanna Deerchild, and Shayla Elizabeth occurred when members of the Aboriginal writers group were visiting to perform at the Crow Hop. The interview took place at Sâkêwêwak First Nations Artist Collective on October 2001, Regina, Saskatchewan...

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19. Blood Moves with Us—Story Poetry Lives Inside

Janet Rogers

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pp. 253-258

We, as poets, respond to our history, social dynamics, culture (in whatever form it is saved and lost and lived now). We are the result of our environment resisting development and the battles our surroundings have lost to progress. And we, as poets, are here to witness, ruminate, and creatively...

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20. Revitalizing Indigenous Swagger: Poetics from a Plains Cree Perspective

Lindsay “Eekwol” Knight

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pp. 259-262

Memory, thoughts, language, words, translations, recitation, and reaction. These are the stages observed with each piece released from whatever that place is in which the lyrics originate. I never know when the good ones will bubble and surface, exposing themselves into forms I process. Sometimes...

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21. A Conversation of Influence, Tradition, and Indigenous Poetics: An Interview with Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm

Rhiannon Johnson

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pp. 263-270

When I was first asked to do this interview with Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, I was overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement that I would have such an opportunity. Having been a fan of her book of poetry, my heart is a stray bullet, I was thrilled to have the chance to ask her a few questions...

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22. The “Nerve of Cree,” the Pulse of Africa: Sound Identities in Cree, Cree-Métis, and Dub Poetries in Canada

Susan Gingell

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pp. 271-292

Literary critics have generally shied away from bringing the writing of Indigenous and African diasporic peoples into conversation with one another, perhaps made wary by critiques of post-colonial theory that have rightly censured the tendency to make colonially centric and homogenous those...

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23. Poetics of Renewal: Indigenous Poetics—Message or Medium?

Lillian Allen

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pp. 293-302

Much of Indigenous poetics, like dub poetry, is about freedom—freeing up sounds, words, and ideas that need to be alive in the world. I believe that in our communities the search for beauty is the search for justice. Poetry, by its very nature, is the literary means of representing ideas, values, the...

Poetics of Medicine

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24. Indigenous Poetry and the Oral

Lee Maracle

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pp. 305-310

Despite the fact that assimilation and integration have witnessed a movement away from old social structures and old cultural forms of governance and leadership toward hierarchy, patriarchy, and coercion in recent history, the artistic expression in both the written and oral arts retains its...

25. Poems as Healing Bundles

Gregory Scofield

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pp. 311-320

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26. Small Birds / Songs Out of Silence

Joanne Arnott

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pp. 321-330

Nestlings have so much faith, awaken into this world with the full expectation of being loved, cherished, cared for, and protected. Guided, succoured: How is it that we small birds go about our living? Learning the cultural patterns (“This is what is,” “This is what we do’) from our elders, we move...

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27. Stretching through our Watery Sleep: Feminine Narrative Retrieval of cihcipistikwân in Louise Halfe’s The Crooked Good

Lesley Belleau

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pp. 331-350

The narrative of Louise Halfe’s The Crooked Good is a long poem that holds a multi-layered voice, profuse with story and choices, and offers a feminine perspective within the story of cihcipistikwân1 (Rolling Head). The reader steps into the language of the Rolling Head, whose feminine voice reveals...

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28. “Learning to Listen to a Quiet Way of Telling”: A Study of Cree Counselling Discourse Patterns in Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed

Gail MacKay

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pp. 351-370

This is an exercise in Indigenous poetics. It contributes to theorizing Indigenous poetics to the extent that it describes how the rhetorical form of Indigenous Elders’ discourse is a pathway to Indigenous knowledge and a tool for finding and structuring the meaning in a contemporary Indigenous...

About the Contributors

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pp. 371-380


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pp. 381-403

Further Reading

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p. 404-404

E-ISBN-13: 9781771120098
E-ISBN-10: 1771120096
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554589821

Page Count: 382
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Indigenous Studies