ENGL 332: Topics in Indigenous Literatures

Professor Paul Watkins
Location: Nanaimo 345, 209
Class Hours: Tues & Thurs. 1 pm – 2:20 pm
Office Hours: Thursdays 3– 4 pm
(or by appointment)
Phone: Ext. 2118
Office: 359, 101
Email: Paul.Watkins@viu.ca

‘There are no truths, Coyote,’ I says. ‘Only stories’ (Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water).

The stories we tell matter, especially since Canada’s story is often about the country’s strained relationship with Indigenous people. We will read, watch, listen, and tweet (#ENGL332) as we engage with a range of Indigenous literatures in media as far ranging as fiction, poetry, art, comics, literary theory, film, and music. While many of these stories deal with the lasting effects of Canada’s colonial past, they are also about healing, reconciliation, and hope. Given all the explored texts are written by authors living in Canada (although they all cross and straddle borders), questions of what defines Canada and one’s citizenship/ nationhood/ identity within that space will be explored. Remaining attentive to contemporary injustices and Indigenous resistance movements, we will also witness how the authors are engaged with the communities from which they write and to whom they respond.

The course will include class visits and public readings from some of the authors we will study. This includes a public reading/talk from Haisla/Heiltsuk author Eden Robinson whose novel Monkey Beach won the BC Book Prize’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. You will also get a chance to share your own experiences (or lack thereof) with Indigenous Literatures and there will be a creative intervention project. It is my hope to deal with the material as fully as possible while being attentive to a number of important critical concerns on how we interpret the literature. We will include space for Aboriginal theories of interpretation, which tend to be personal, holistic, processual, and situated. I have limitations and I will get some things wrong, but will be open to correct them and receive greater understanding. Ultimately, I feel the literature is really important and deserves a forum for deep critical thinking in the way that any great literature does. The hope in this course is to open up spaces that challenge the colonization that affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not.


Primary Texts:

  • Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World
  • Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Red: A Haida Manga (available online)
  • Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water
  • Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach
  • Chester Brown, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography
  • Leanne Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love
  • Selected music, poetry, and film

Evaluation:

Participation 5%
Oral Witnessing 5%
Reflection Papers (4 x 500 words) 20%
Creative Intervention   (w/ 500 word write up) 15%
Research Essay (2500-3000 words) 30%
Final Exam 25%


Assignment Breakdown:

  1. Participation (5%)

Since discussion is an important part of this class, active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading before each class will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I will periodically check Twitter for the hashtag, #ENGL332. I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors. This class will also make use of a sharing circle. Circle Agreements—which we will adapt—can be viewed here: http://peerspirit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/PeerSpirit-Circle-Guidelines2010.pdf

Who Are You? 

On the first class we will learn and perform basic protocols for introducing oneself.  Students will use these protocols at various times throughout the course.  These include the following guidelines:

a. Stand in a calm and attentive manner, behind your chair, to address the class.

b. Acknowledge the Snuneymuxw [Snoo nay moo, with a soft “ch” ending] people upon whose traditional territory we are privileged to speak and learn.

c. State your name and where you come from.

d. Give the names of your parents and grandparents, and where they come from.

e. Acknowledge and thank all those present for being here.

  1. Oral Witnessing (5%)*

 An important oral skill is that of witnessing.  At some point during the semester, each student will be asked to give witness to that day’s activities.  The purpose of witnessing is to provide practice in (a) listening to, remembering, summarizing, and retelling information, and (b) following certain protocols for witnessing.  These include the following:

At the end of each class, the student who signed up for that class will stand and

a. Introduce themself according to protocol (refer to “Who are You” above);

b. provide a brief summary of, and personal comments on, the activities and highlights of the class; and

c. conclude with a general acknowledgement and thanks.

In the spirit of oral culture, there will be no reading from written notes.  I will not formally evaluate this exercise. By making a serious attempt to bear witness, each student can receive the maximum marks.

*This assignment is borrowed from my colleague, Professor Dawn Thompson who adapted it from Dr. Mélody Martin of the First Nations Studies Department.

  1. Reflection Papers (20%)

Length:  approx. 500 words each
Value: 5% each
Due dates: spread throughout the term

Throughout this course, I am asking you to write four reflection papers (from a total of eight options) in response to the texts we are reading/hearing. I will have a separate hand out for you on January 10th that will provide concepts and questions to help inform your writing.

  1. Creative Intervention (15%): Due March 30th

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).

Taking up the above Baudelaire epigraph, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. Thus, this assignment is an attempt at decolonization through creative applications of the personal, the holistic, the processual, and the situated. Through a combination of analytical and creative pedagogies we can create new hybrid spaces that allow for alternative epistemologies and learning spaces. This seems to be particularly important in an oral/creative/ Indigenous context, and it provides a unique challenge and opportunity for respectful encounter. Kevin McNeilly, in negotiating his own response to Bringhurst’s work on Haida literature, urges for a respectful encounter between cultures, arguing that what is valuable in any cultural work is “the respectful encounter with what you are not, the pull of the other” (“Cutting Both Ways” 169). In applying good listening (which is always in productive transit between the speaker and the listener) we can create scholarship that forms new cross-cultural understandings, thus bridging common misapprehensions between cultures. Lee Maracle argues that cross-cultural encounters promise an interchange of ideas, rather than a conflict between cultures, creating bridges or arcs of mutual understanding: a “mutual construction in a language we both understand” (“The ‘Post-Colonial’ Imagination” 15).

A sensitive reading is itself a process that involves a highly dialogic and integral role in the process of uncovering a human voice in text. One of the best ways to do this is by engaging with the work on a human and creative level. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, a comic strip, a creative journal, a one act play, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. There are any number of possible approaches to this assignment: your piece could be prose, drama, visual, musical, dance, culinary, photography, etc, although it should have some visual/graphic component (loosely defined) to it. You could riff off of an episode in one of the texts or you could work with one of the larger themes of the course. You could even examine an aspect of Indigenous history or culture (the Indian Act, Idle No More, Indigenous music, etc.). This assignment asks you to think a little outside the box/book/page, and go into the world and listen. After that listening you are called to produce a “creative intervention.”

Through critical creative work and soundings—interventions—we can further develop and help to define interdisciplinary approaches among the bordering fields of literature, music, and indigenous methodologies investigated in this course. By “creative intervention” I mean: to intervene through creative means, using the word as the OED defines as “‘stepping in,’ or interfering in any affair, so as to affect its course or issue.” I am also using intervention as in to be “intermediate”: to be between things, as in this case between the creative and the analytical, European and Indigenous scholarship, the scholar and the citizen. The method of the assignment is itself an intervention against simply writing another paper. The intervention could also be a very real and tangible one.

For instance, given that one of the lenses through which we are reading the writers is through social justice and healing, it might be appropriate to think of these creative interventions as having a public or community-facing dimension. Broadly, try to imagine how your creative intervention might move beyond the walls of academia and make an intervention in a broader community. Essentially, how might we take many of the tools we learn in academia (particularly in English Studies) to enact social change or challenge simple conceptions? You may draw on local resources and social organizations, many of which are right here in Nanaimo, or you might simply relate to a larger web-community through a blog, a podcast, radio, or through some other media. It is not required for you to have a direct community-facing dimension to your project, you could alternatively write a poem, but I do want you to think and theorize about how the works studied in this classroom challenge us to move beyond a simple reading of them to some sort of enactment, however conceived.

You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavour. It is for the above reasons that you are required to write a two-page (around 500 words) discussion of why the intervention was conceived as it was. You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavour. You will present your work via a 5-minute oral presentation (without notes) on the day the assignment is due. You will also be graded on your ability to critically explain or perform your “intervention.” I also want to encourage the idea of you collaborating with another student (or multiple students), in which case the grade will be shared. More details as well as examples of past assignments will follow in class. 60% of the mark will be for the creative piece and 40% of the mark will be for the written portion.

  1. Research Essay: Due April 11th 

The Research Essay will be around 8-9 double spaced pages in length, not including a Works Cited list. You are required to actively engage with at least three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—core course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. More detailed instructions, as well as topic suggestions, will be provided in class. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing. 

  1. Final Exam: TBA [Part page analysis / essay]

Resources:


Schedule: 

Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses.

Jan 5
Introduction exercise; course outline; standards and expectations

Jan 10   
Reading and Discussion (see D2L):
Thomas King, “You’ll Never believe What happened”; audio
Discussion on Reflection Papers
Listening: Willie Dunn, “I Pity the Country” (1973)

  • Click here to read my review of King’s The Inconvenient Indian

Jan 12 
Reading and Discussion (see D2L):
Basil H. Johnson, “One Generation From Extinction”
Emma LaRoque, When the Other is Me (see “Insider Notes: Reframing the Narratives”)

Jan 17  
Class visit: Taiaiake Alfred
Read “Being Indigenous: Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism” (on D2L, or here).
Read “What is Radical Imagination” (on D2L, or here)

Jan 19 
Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife  (Prologue and Chapters 1, 2, 9, 19)
See Article on D2L, “We who have Traded our Voices for Words” (Bradley)
Listening: Bringhurst Reading
REFLECTION PAPER [on King, Basil, LaRoque, or Alfred’s visit]
(Elder Gary Manson present)

Jan 24
Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife (Chapters 3, 11, and 13)

Jan 26
Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife (Chapters 18 and 22; also see the short Afterword)
Read the two short articles on D2L by Káawan Sangáa and Ishmael Hope
(Elder Gary Manson present)

Jan 31
Michael Yahgulanaas, Red: A Haida Manga
REFLECTION PAPER [on Sharp as a Knife or Red]


Feb 2 
Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (part one)

Feb 7  
Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (part two)
Extra Reading: Armstrong, Disempowerment of First North American Native Peoples (D2L)
Selected scenes from Reel Injun



Feb 9 

Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (part three)
See “Finding Balance and a ‘Good Mind’ Through the Rearticulation of Sky Woman’s Journey” by Kahente Horn-Miller (D2L)
Selected scenes from Reel Injun

Feb 14
Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water (part four)
See Carlton Smith’s “Postmodern Trickster” article on D2L
REFLECTION PAPER [on Green Grass or Reel Injun]

Feb 16
Chester Brown, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (until the end of PART ONE)

Feb 20-24    Study Days 

Feb 28
Chester Brown, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (PART TWO & THREE)

Mar 2   
Chester Brown, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (PART FOUR)
Read “Becoming Métis” (on D2L)
REFLECTION PAPER [on Louis Riel]

Mar 7  
Leanne Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love

Mar 9 
Leanne Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love
REFLECTION PAPER [on Islands]

Mar 14
Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach (part one)

Mar 16
Jordan Abel and Gail Scott Reading at Shq’uapthut
(see D2L for Abel Readings)

Mar 21
Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach (part two) 
REFLECTION PAPER [on Poetry event from March 16]

Mar 23
Eden Robinson Reading [try to have book read]
eden-robinson-event

Mar 28
Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach (part three and four)
REFLECTION PAPER [on Monkey Beach or Robinson’s reading]

Mar 30
Indigenous Poetry Reader (see D2L)

  • Interview with Gregory Scofield
  • Poem about missing and murdered Indigenous women by Gregory Scofield

April 4
CREATIVE INTERVENTIONS

April 6   
Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire, Secret Path
REFLECTION PAPER  [Due April 10 by noon: on Poetry, Intervention, Secret Path, or Rhymes]

Evening Film ScreeningRhymes for Young Ghouls

April 11  
Final Circle and class potluck
Reading: Jeannette Armstrong, “Keepers of the Earth”
Uncle Gary present
FINAL PAPER DUE

 

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Ph.D. Professor. Writer. Musician. A space for riffings on film, literature, and music.

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