Publishing Indigenous Literature: From an Author and Artist’s Perspective
June 29, 2018 | Mika Lafond
“kimiwan has taken on a life of its own. the idea formed as I prepared to move back to the prairies from rainy vancouver. to move back home. the idea of moving home frightened me a little—a lot. i remember sharing the idea of this zine with carla—a friend, mentor and all-around rad lady—over tea a few days before I left vancouver, but the idea didn’t have a name yet.
“i had met carla at the purple thistle centre and eventually became involved with the R.A.I.N. (radical art in nature) collective, the folks who make rain’zine. i knew that when i moved home i wanted to carry back the energy of community/art-making that R.A.I.N. and the thistle had brought to my life.
“my natural instinct, when I got back to saskatoon, was to team up with my cousin mika—fellow pisces and awesome wordsmith—to create something special. it is in the spirit of wâhkôhtowin (kinship) that we bring these words and this art to you. we settled on the name kimiwan which means rain in nêhiyawêwin (plains cree)—our language.
“so, this project is named as a nod to rain—both the collective and the stuff that falls from the sky. it’s a nod to the west coast, because that is where i learned to love the rain. it is a nod to healing, because rain brings forth new growth, and it is a nod to family, because without those guys i’d be a puddle.”
— Joi T. Arcand, Editor’s Note – kimiwan zine, issue #1 / pipon 2012
Joi’s idea became a reality in kimiwan, and I was honoured to be her co-editor.
We asked ourselves many questions as we took a leap into publishing our own zine. We wanted Indigenous artists to have a safe space to share their voice and individuality. The pages of kimiwan would be a community space for Indigenous voices to come together as a collective. The submissions for the first issue seemed to have a common theme of identity. That’s where kimiwan began, but in later issues Indigenous voices expressed thoughts on other themes: decolonization, sexuality, retelling history and education. As editors, we maintained the voice of the artist, while asking questions for clarity to help authors and artists develop their own voices.
kimiwan launched on December 20, 2012. I remember walking to the launch and feeling a rush of excitement. We were coming together as Indigenous artists to say who we are, where we belong, and what we think. kimiwan’s uniqueness was in its grassroots beginnings. Joi was instrumental in providing space for many artists of all ages.
When I began writing my thesis, I was forced to make a decision and left my position as co-editor of kimiwan zine. But, like all great families, the kimiwan family stepped up to fill the space I had left. Jarita Greyeyes and Leah Arcand became the new editors with Joi, and kimiwan grew into a country-wide publication for Indigenous artists.
Meanwhile, I completed my thesis, nipê wânîn, and submitted it for publication to Thistledown Press. Quite often my experience at kimiwan helped me feel confident about what to say about my work. nipê wânîn is a bilingual collection of poems about nêhiyaw (Cree) worldviews. When I submitted to a non-Indigenous publisher I was afraid of being misunderstood, but also that my voice in my writing would be edited to sound like someone else. Rita Bouvier edited my book and my fears were set aside because she understood where I came from.
I had many discussions about the power of language on the page while editing my thesis. So, when discussing things like capitalization, punctuation, and allowing nêhiyawêwin to be prominent in my book, I had already had these discussions with my thesis advisor. My language was taken from my family, and I was taking it back.
The most important message from my experiences as co-editor of kimiwan zine and author of nipê wânîn is that it’s time to tell our stories. We have a voice as Indigenous authors and artists. We need to create space for our voices to be heard.