Saturday, 30 June 2018

Indigenous Style Guide: Writing with Respect

Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By 
and About Indigenous Peoples by Gregory Younging PhD 
Brush Education Inc., Edmonton AB: Feb. 15 2018
PB, 168 pp

ISBN Print:  9781550597165
ISBN eBook:  9781550597196 

This book is a must-read for every Canadian, writer or not. Gregory Youngling has done everyone a service writing and compiling this book.
It is more than just a dry style guide. (A usage geek, I actually don’t find style guides dry, but I know many people do). 

When Younging explains what the offense is in various word or phrases, you learn what the pain connected with it is, what the sorrow, the trauma, and the anger are—what, in some cases, the cultural or physical violence has been and, yes, the attempted genocide cultural or otherwise. 
Born in Canada, I initially found  it eally offputting to be considered a 'settler.'  
I’m not, nor were my parents nor any of my ancestors the people who came ashore and laid claim to this land centuries ago. Yet, the occupying force (Government; Crown) that was in place, that ordered my parents to relocate during WW2 to this country where I would later be born—that was the government of a colonial force, no matter how much time has passed. It’s simple. We are. They’re right. 
I have resented that settler label. This book helped me accept and wear it. By default, and not really my fault--you don't get to choose where you drop out--I'm part of settler culture. Unfortunate for me, it completely dispossesses me. (Where is my place in the world? What place can I claim to be from? Nowhere apparently. And that was hard to come to terms with and try to accept.)
Still, as I read this book, my heart opened even more to the suffering of the indigenous peoples (note: ‘indigenous peoples of Canada’: ok. ‘Canada’s indigenous people’: not ok -- that possessiveness again…).  We can’t undo what happened, but we can acknowledge it happened. (What we do about that, how we all handle it together—that’s another matter altogether.)
We need to fix it and make it right. That will never happen 100%: nothing can ever un-do the taking over, all the past pain, hurt and horror—but we can try. 

And one way we can all try is by watching our language. We can make that effort to become aware of how we talk about indigenous people, how we characterize them in language that may be deeply offensive (for very good reasons), and what we do with their stuff, in this case specifically their stories and history.
If you are writing about indigenous peoples or topics, one big takeaway from this book is: consult, consult, consult. 

Take your work to the Elders of the relevant nation and ask them to review what you have written to ensure not only that what you’ve done is accurate, but  especially that it is your story to tell. Because as Younging says in an interview cited below: 
There are a lot of editorial issues that are particular to writing by and about indigenous peoples. There are a lot of internal protocols and laws around indigenous knowledge and stories that non-indigenous people just don’t know. For example, some traditional stories are sacred, and there’s a training process required before you have the right to tell them. Some have an apprenticeship-like system, where someone has to train under an elder or master storyteller before they’re allowed to tell the stories.” We just need to think about how we would feel if some stranger came along and stole our histories and our stories and told them supposedly on our behalf, when we were perfectly capable of telling them ourselves, and those strangers told them incorrectly, out of context, and broke our sacred laws in the process.
It's all about respect. 
Younging says indigenous people are not saying ‘don’t write about us’ – they are saying, “If you’re going to write about us, make sure you understand these editing issues.”
We have a lot to learn. This book is one step towards starting that process.

Author Gregory Younging
 “is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba. He’s been the managing editor of Theytus Books, the first Aboriginal-owned publishing house in Canada, for over 13 years.  Elements of Indigenous Style evolved from the house style guide Gregory developed at Theytus in order to ensure content was consistent and respectful.” (--Alberta Writers’ Guild).  He’s a professor of indigenous studies at UBC–Okanagan.   
This Quill & Quire Q&A with Greg Younging on editing indigenous works, story ownership, and Canadian publishing is a good introduction. 

©2018 Margo Lamont