Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice

Wilfred Laurier University Press (WLU Press) publishes an Indigenous Studies series of which I have reviewed Rachel Bryant’s The Homing Place, which is one of my “Very Best!” reads of 2018. So I returned to WLU Press’ website to look at their other titles. Daniel Heath Justice’s book Why Indigenous Literatures Matter has been very well received in literary circles, so I thought I would investigate it, as I enjoyed (and was very educated by) The Homing Place.

“This a book about stories, and how and why they matter. It’s about the stories we tell, and the stories others tell about us. It’s about how stories can either strengthen, wound or seemingly erase our humanity and shared connections, and how our stories are expressed or repressed, shared or hidden, recognized or hidden. Stories are bigger than the texts or the bodies that carry them.”

Daniel Heath Justice

Once again, I am amazed at the teaching (not to mention the writing) ability of persons such as Ms. Bryant and Mr.Justice. Both books are path-clearing works that guide the reader to ways of better understanding the Indigenous person, their ways, their beliefs and most importantly for us as readers, their literature. Utilizing Indigenous works of fiction and non-fiction, Mr. Justice employs them to effectively answer four questions (each question is a chapter title):

  1. How Do We Learn to be Human?
  2. How Do We Behave as Good Relatives?
  3. How Do We Become Good Ancestors?
  4. How Do We Learn to Live Together?

From Chapter Two comes this summation on being a good relative:

Humans are only one species among millions, and ours are not the only priorities in the world. There are countless conversations taking place around us, in voices and languages of every form and frequency. Too often we don’t hear them, and when we do we rarely understand them except perhaps in ceremony – or art. Art can help us focus our attention and translate some measure of that experience through imaginative empathy. Story, song, poem, and prayer all serve to remind us of our connections, to human and other-than-human alike. And we are in deep, desperate need of such interventions, to be good kin in a world of unfathomably complex relations.

This is just a sample of the wisdom that Mr. Justice has acquired from years of research. He is of the Cherokee Nation and is currently Professor Of First Nations and Indigenous Studies and English at the University of British Columbia.

“This book simultaneously affirms Indigenous writing, introduces Indigenous readers to the canon of Indigenous writing, and teaches non-Indigenous folks how to read our literatures. That’s impressive, and it’s done in a beautiful, intimate and at times playful way. It is instructional without instructing, grounded, confident, affirming, generous, brilliant, clear and joyful.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of As We Have Always Done and This Accident of Being Lost

That quote sums up the way I feel about Why Indigenous Literatures Matter: it was a pleasure to read, for I was learning new ways of viewing not only the Indigenous world but discovering new ways of looking at myself (as a settler Canadian) and my relationships with others, Indigenous or otherwise. Highly recommended reading.

Please note if you choose to purchase the book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

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