Editing Indigenous Manuscripts

Aug 22, 2017

Last week our Project & Development Manager, Amanda Lewis, participated in the Editing Indigenous Manuscripts course at Humber College in Toronto. Here’s her recap of the week.

I’m feeling full, challenged, and reinvigorated as an editor after completing a weeklong course on Editing Indigenous Manuscripts. The course was offered alongside the Indigenous Editors Circle at Humber College, on the traditional territories of the Ojibwe Anishinabe people. I’m grateful to the organizers for the opportunity to participate.

We were fortunate to have the guidance of wonderful facilitators and organizers, and I learned so much from my fellow editors and writers on best practices when publishing Indigenous texts. Who has the right to tell Indigenous stories? What protocols do editors need to follow, and how do these differ across communities? What alternatives can we put in place as we move to Indigenize publishing? As a starting place on these questions and themes, please check out Greg Younging’s important Q&A from earlier this year, on traditional knowledge and copyright.

Writing and editing can frequently be a lonely endeavour. We’re cooped up in our homes, offices, and cafes, hammering out the words and thinking, “Does this matter? Does it suck? Will anyone care?” Coming together to form what felt like the beginning of a collective or alliance reduced the silo effect that also exists in publishing, whether academic vs trade or Toronto vs…everybody (love you, Toronto).

Our dad frequently told us, as we were heading off to school, “Do your best. Listen and learn.” He still says it, and it’s advice I hold dear. This week I listened, shared, and learned. I felt a softening toward myself and the editorial process in general, and a renewed sense of the responsibility we have as editors and publishers. I’ve definitely made mistakes in protocol when working with Indigenous writers over the years, even though I was trying my best at the time. This course was a reminder that we will make mistakes along the way, but the work is in learning from these mistakes. Have the courage to err. I’ll make mistakes again and hope that I will be able to recognize those errors, or have them pointed out to me, and ask for guidance. I’m now looking for ways to increase my knowledge, through listening and reading and mentorship (both receiving and providing).

Gregory Scofield, one of the facilitators, shared one of his favourite Cree words, which I respectfully offer here as a summation of the course’s meaning for me: pêyahtik, meaning to be careful, take care, or walk softly. I think of editing as a caretaking role. We have a responsibility to take care when working with writers on behalf of readers–care of the writer and their stories, care of the writer’s community, and care of ourselves in the process. That care might look like new ways of working, or longer timelines. It might look like being gentler with feedback. Or it might look like not publishing a text at all, if it’s problematic to do so. Whether you’re giving or receiving feedback, have the courage to do things a little differently, even if that means potentially working outside mainstream models.