Kwaskastahsowin (“Put things to right”): Case studies in twentieth-century Indigenous women’s writing, editing, and publishing in Canada

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Archival Research
Indigenous Literature
Digital Humanities
Publishing History

In the updated and restored 2019 edition of Halfbreed, Métis writer Maria Campbell introduces the Cree word, kwaskastahsowin, to describe what it means to seek conciliation or to “put things to right.” By focusing on what it means to “put things to right” in the context of twentieth-century publishing in Canada, this dissertation considers the ways that Indigenous women writers working within the Canadian publishing industry have been negatively impacted by intersecting issues of colonialism, race, and gender. My project explores Campbell’s definition of kwaskastahsowin in relation to two key twentieth-century works of Indigenous women’s writing in Canada: E. Pauline Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver (1911) and Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed (1973). Using a decolonial case-study approach that combines archival/digital methods with Indigenous editorial principles and protocols, my project focuses on the literary and storytelling contributions of three Indigenous women authors – E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk), Mary Agnes Capilano (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), and Maria Campbell (Métis) – and situates their authorial contributions and publishing experiences within the larger context of twentieth-century Canadian publishing. My project uses archival research to interrogate the publishing contexts and histories of these texts, and reveals the extent to which colonial issues of voice and editorial intervention have shaped the published works. Furthermore, by approaching the various editions of these two texts with a focus on their shifting “paratexts” (Genette) or critical frameworks over time, I draw attention to the lasting impacts of such editorial interventions (as evidenced by the two excised and recently-recovered pages from Campbell’s Halfbreed, detailing her sexual assault by members of the RCMP, and through evidence of Johnson’s preferred title for the Legends of Vancouver collection). My examination of the publishing histories of these two key Indigenous texts reveals the urgency with which other works of twentieth-century Indigenous literature must be re-examined, and simultaneously calls for a necessary reenvisioning of the Indigenous literary paratext – one that takes into account Indigenous editorial principles and protocols.

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Sophie McCall
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.