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Shannon Webb-Campbell: re-envisioning editorial practices on Turtle Island

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(Meghan Tansey Whitton)

(Meghan Tansey Whitton)

Storytelling is powerful medicine. The protection and dissemination of narrative and poetics are integral to the future of Indigenous publishing. As a Mi’kmaq poet, critic, and editor, I felt it was vital for me to register for the Indigenous Editors Circle at Humber College this summer to honour, acknowledge, and understand what it means to carry, craft, and shape Indigenous literatures.

Given the toxic climate in CanLit right now around these issues, my learning objectives are to cultivate an understanding of the protocols and style around editing Indigenous writers’ and poets’ work. As poetry editor of Plenitude Magazine, I focus on marginalized voices – queer, transgender, and Indigenous poets in particular, and I want to ensure an ethical, respectful Indigenous editorial practice.

Currently, I write a monthly column for Newfoundland Quarterly about my relationship to being Mi’kmaq and working from an ancestral place. My editor, Métis poet Michelle Porter, and I share an intrinsic relationship. To trust an editor with your story is a sacred act, accompanied by particular responsibilities. In a way, an editor is the re-teller of a story.

Indigenous literatures come from the ancestral past and present. Some stories aren’t meant for publication, while others are. The context of the publication, its editorial style – and the editor’s note – directly influence and shape how stories are received. The Appropriation Prize controversy caused by Hal Niedzviecki’s editor’s note in the Indigenous-focused issue of the Writers’ Union of Canada’s Write magazine has sparked critical conversations within the CanLit community, and exposed a colonial underbelly. As my poem “On Receiving a Government Letter Rejecting Our Indian Status” and essay “In Their Golden Age, Indigenous Literatures Break and Beckon to Tradition” were included in the issue, yet entirely overlooked due to the uproar, I was baffled when Chatelaine and CBC Radio’s The Current got in touch.

These media outlets weren’t looking to speak directly to my work – a heartbreaking poem about losing First Nations status, or to discuss the complexities of Indigenous literatures – this was about my take on cultural appropriation. My response? Clearly, we need more Indigenous editors. More trained Indigenous editors need to be hired in order to decolonize publishing houses, magazines, journals, and editorial offices.

If any publication is going to create an Indigenous focus, it needs to be mindful of settler assumptions. Consult or hire an Indigenous guest editor, and acknowledge the land we all write from.

As a freelance writer, I know many editors aren’t aware of Indigenous editorial issues, and often the responsibility lands on me as a contributor to work through the sticky issues of language. But my skills are very limited, and my work as a critic and editor will deeply benefit from being involved with the Indigenous Editors Circle. The opportunity to study with Gregory Younging, Gregory Scofield, and other brilliant Indigenous minds is a necessary step towards a broader conversation of reconciliation, and re-envisioning editorial on Turtle Island. My intention is to gain knowledge, insight, and experience, so we’re not wasting our time on settler debates, and the focus can return to the work – publishing thought-provoking essays, stories, and poems by Indigenous writers who extend beyond the colonial vision of CanLit.


Shannon Webb-Campbell is the recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award for her debut poetry collection, Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015) and and Who Took My Sister? (BookThug, 2018). She is a Canadian Women In Literary Arts board member and was its 2014 critic-in-residence. She holds a master of fine arts in creative writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and is working toward an MA in English Literature at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.