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Indigenous Studies in the United States and Canada  

Aubrey Jean Hanson and Sam McKegney

Indigenous literary studies, as a field, is as diverse as Indigenous Peoples. Comprising study of texts by Indigenous authors, as well as literary study using Indigenous interpretive methods, Indigenous literary studies is centered on the significance of stories within Indigenous communities. Embodying continuity with traditional oral stories, expanding rapidly with growth in publishing, and traversing a wild range of generic innovation, Indigenous voices ring out powerfully across the literary landscape. Having always had a central place within Indigenous communities, where they are interwoven with the significance of people’s lives, Indigenous stories also gained more attention among non-Indigenous readers in the United States and Canada as the 20th century rolled into the 21st. As relationships between Indigenous Peoples (Native American, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) and non-Indigenous people continue to be a social, political, and cultural focus in these two nation-states, and as Indigenous Peoples continue to work for self-determination amid colonial systems and structures, literary art plays an important role in representing Indigenous realities and inspiring continuity and change. An educational dimension also exists for Indigenous literatures, in that they offer opportunities for non-Indigenous readerships—and, indeed, for readers from within Indigenous nations—to learn about Indigenous people and perspectives. Texts are crucially tied to contexts; therefore, engaging with Indigenous literatures requires readers to pursue and step into that beauty and complexity. Indigenous literatures are also impressive in their artistry; in conveying the brilliance of Indigenous Peoples; in expressing Indigenous voices and stories; in connecting pasts, presents, and futures; and in imagining better ways to enact relationality with other people and with other-than-human relatives. Indigenous literatures span diverse nations across vast territories and materialize in every genre. While critics new to the field may find it an adjustment to step into the responsibility—for instance, to land, community, and Peoplehood—that these literatures call for, the returns are great, as engaging with Indigenous literatures opens up space for relationship, self-reflexivity, and appreciation for exceptional literary artistry. Indigenous literatures invite readers and critics to center in Indigeneity, to build good relations, to engage beyond the text, and to attend to Indigenous storyways—ways of knowing, being, and doing through story.


Indigenous Studies: Australia  

Peter Minter

Contemporary Indigenous Australian literature draws on tens of thousands of years of sustained cultural continuity and diversity, while bearing witness to the destructive impacts of colonization and assimilation, and imagining new horizons of restoration, healing, and sovereign expression. The late 18th-century arrival of the English language amid complex Indigenous societies presented Indigenous peoples with a set of unfamiliar literary, linguistic, and rhetorical conditions and forms, the sudden appearance of Western literary modernity forever changing Indigenous modes of expression. This “intercultural entanglement” of Indigenous Australian literature is central to an appreciation of its achievements, from its earliest appearances in letters, petitions, and chronicles aimed at negotiating with or at times subversively mimicking modes of colonial authority, to its growing confidence and autonomy in the 20th century as Indigenous Australians fought back again colonization, asserted civil and land rights, and began the long process of cultural restoration and healing, through to the sovereign expressions of Aboriginal consciousness today. Across various modern literary genres, from mythological narratives to political manifestos, in poetry, plays, short stories, and novels, Indigenous Australian authors have borne witness to tragic and humiliating histories of violence, incarceration, and cultural suppression and fragmentation, but have also assertively developed new and at times revolutionary reimaginings of Western literary modes and styles. Realist testimonial narratives and lyrics in prose and poetry are today complemented by assured works of the imagination in which genre and mode are transformed in the recovery of blood memory, country, and language. The literature of Indigenous Australia continues to make a profound contribution to the literature of the world.