This National Indigenous History Month, we asked John Borrows a few questions about his latest release with UTP, Voicing Identity, and what Indigenous History Month means to him.
1. Tell us about the research process for your most recent release with UTP, Voicing Identity. Was there anything in your research that surprised you?
The book arose from Professor Kent McNeil’s attempts to honour an Indigenous artist’s work on the cover of a prior book he published with another academic press. The book was about a case involving Indigenous peoples who had been silenced by courts, and he wanted to address this issue by examining and critiquing the court’s inability to hear Indigenous voices. When Professor McNeil suggested putting an Indigenous artist’s image on the cover of that prior book, someone at the press raised a concern about whether this was appropriate, given that Professor McNeil is not Indigenous. Kent reasoned that he was attempting to address the removal of Indigenous representation in the case he was examining, and that the inclusion of an image from an Indigenous person from the group who had been silenced was an important counter-balance and critique of earlier practices which excluded Indigenous peoples from making representations about their land, law, and identity. With this as a background, for our new book authors were invited to examine the issue of cultural appropriation in an Indigenous context from varied perspectives. After writing drafts of these papers, authors gathered at the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan and shared their ideas with one another in Saskatoon. After the workshop, authors took account of their colleagues’ views and revised their papers. We again reviewed one another’s work and final drafts were prepared for publication, which now appear as chapters in Voicing Identity: Cultural Appropriation and Indigenous Issues.
2. What kind of impact do you hope that Voicing Identity will have on readers and/or the current scholarship in this area?
Voicing Identity considers how law professors deal with questions of cultural appropriation in an Indigenous context through the courses they teach, judicial cases they consider, communities they interact with, as well as through their own personal lives and experiences. The book is meant to further generate dialogue about these issues at both an individual level and in a broader legal and political context. I hope the book encourages people to be more self-reflective about their own relationship to these issues and to find ways to engage with one another in respectful and informed ways.
3. What does National Indigenous History Month mean to you?
National Indigenous History Month provides opportunities to consider Indigenous peoples’ understanding of history, alongside how they are represented by others through time across this land.
4. Do you have any favourite Indigenous Studies books or writers/scholars that you would recommend, that have most influenced or inspired you?
I love reading Anishinaabe authors, and find I am inspired by authors who are unafraid to express their own vulnerabilities in their work. Robin Wall Kimmerer and Richard Wagamese are favourites.