Thursday, May 16, 2019

Greg Younging and the history of Indigenous writing

Greg Younging, 1961-2019
He wasn't precisely a historian, but he was doing something historic, I thought. I was sorry to read recently of the death of Greg Younging (formerly spelled Young-Ing). Greg was a member of the Opsakwayak Cree Nation of Manitoba, for much of his life a publisher and editor with Theytus Books and En’owkin Centre in Penticton. BC., and a sometime academic. 

What he was constantly about was building up Indigenous writing in North America. That was creativity-building, as poet and editor, but also infrastructure-building.  His recent book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples was one example. (Note the ambition in the allusion to Strunk & White, The Elements of Style). But so was his energetic campaigning, in Canada and globally, for creators' rights and particularly for the legal recognition and protection of TK, traditional knowledge.

Given the explosion in Indigenous writing, publication, and public expression of all kinds, Greg's capacity building work was very much in at the creation.  There's a fuller obit here.

From a CBC "Unreserved" profile: Younging's list of five common errors of Canadian publishing.  Consider how it applies to Canadian history writing and publication:
  • That non-Indigenous people can write about Indigenous communities and interpret their culture through their own perspectives.
  • That because Indigenous people are modern, they are no longer authentic. Editors assume that "when Indigenous peoples participate in modernity, they are turning their backs on their ancestors."
  • Indigenous people are written about in the past tense, when they are in fact very much alive and thriving.
  • That Indigenous literature is a subcategory of CanLit.
  • That publishers have the right to publish traditional stories — a trend Younging sees in children's literature.
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