Moving Forward: SFU’s Certificate in Indigenous Publishing

In 2012, the lack of Indigenous representation in publishing associations, on prize juries, and particularly on the lists of Canadian publishers was becoming glaringly obvious.

There is a strong Indigenous literary presence in Canada that is expected to continue growing. Currently, most Indigenous works are being edited and published by companies outside of Indigenous communities. It is time to offer educational opportunities in publishing within those communities.

To mitigate the lack of representation, the Indigenous Editors Circle was formed in 2012. At that first circle, Indigenous participants were trained in manuscript editing. Eventually, the organizers created a second circle for non-Indigenous editors and publishers who work with Indigenous manuscripts.

Meanwhile, Simon Fraser University (SFU) Publishing struck a planning committee and hosted a two-day National Indigenous Writers Conference in October 2013. One of the key findings coming out of the conference was the underlying dearth of Indigenous publishing professionals in decision-making positions in the industry.

There was still no cohesive program for Indigenous publishing protocols. In early 2014, the SFU Publishing Program began developing a Certificate in Indigenous Publishing in partnership with the En’owkin Centre, an Indigenous cultural, educational, ecological, and creative arts centre located on the Penticton Indian Reserve. Core to that process has been Greg Younging, publisher of Theytus Books, Canada’s first Indigenous-owned trade book publishing house.

The SFU program will complement SFU Publishing’s current education and research efforts. We have the capability to transfer knowledge in publishing management and provide training in the tools and skills needed to help the Indigenous sector take full advantage of available technologies to help preserve, publish, and promote Indigenous literature in all forms.

The En’owkin Centre has established educational programs, including its Foundations in Indigenous Fine Arts. It plays a lead role in the development and implementation of Indigenous knowledge and systems, at both the community and international levels. Theytus Books has played a pivotal role in the project in developing the SFU curriculum. Theytus will also create internship opportunities for program participants.

The Certificate will help Indigenous communities master the skills they need to take advantage of the many publishing platforms available today and to understand the fundamental underpinnings of publishing in Canada. Students will gain the skills to establish publishing initiatives ranging from small Indigenous publishing houses to digital publishing enterprises to Indigenous language–oriented hybrid publishing companies.

We expect everything to be in place for an official launch of the program in September 2019. As we move toward the launch date, we are exploring collaborative initiatives with other universities to ensure Indigenous students who are interested in publishing, specifically Indigenous editorial and design protocols, know about the Certificate and can access the courses.

There are six full-credit courses in the Certificate, which will be held on campus and at offsite locations. In addition, students will be expected to complete the Indigenous Editors Circle workshop, attend the Emerging Leaders in Publishing Summit at SFU, and complete a professional placement or research paper. Professional placements will help both students and publishing companies that often find it difficult to access Indigenous interns or employees with the required experience.

While current efforts to increase Indigenous representation in all aspects of publishing are important, the majority of that work is happening in organizations that are not centred in Indigenous knowledge and practices. By providing the training needed for Indigenous peoples to publish their own stories, we hope to disperse the appropriate knowledge and skills to Indigenous communities across Canada.

Suzanne Norman

Suzanne Norman (snorman@sfu.ca) is a lecturer in the Publishing Program, teaching courses in book publishing, digital publishing, and cultural entrepreneurship. She is the director of the Publishing Workshops at Simon Fraser University, and the director of Special Initiatives in the CISP. A graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland (BA), she also holds a Post-Baccalaureate diploma in Communications and a Master of Publishing degree (both from SFU). Over the years she has worked as an investigative journalist, a newspaper editor, and an editor of young adult fiction.

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