It is almost as though winning a prize is the only truly newsworthy thing a cultural worker can do… in this context it is the prize, above all else, that defines the artist” (English, 2008).


Publishers submit books for consideration to literary award bodies and are thereby responsible for determining which authors are valued in the cultural economy (Bourdieu in Lash, 1993). The issue of diversity in publishing or the lack of it rather has been sung from the mountain tops and it rears its head once more when discussing awards particularly those considered to be the most prestigious. In this paper, I will argue that the Scotiabank Giller Prize also known as the holy grail of awards in Canadian publishing has found its match in the newly created Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA). Regardless of the commercial success the Giller Prize brings to authors and publishers alike, the Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA) have been created at a politically charged time making them impossible to ignore. It is my belief that the IVA will eventually occupy an equal amount of space in the cultural economy.

Because of its ability to command the attention of the nation and the media whilst turning the publishing industry on its head annually, the Scotiabank Giller Prize is what Michael Warner (2002) would label a “dominant public”. The Governor General’s Award and the Roger Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize are both revered but from what I have seen do not command the level of attention and glitz the Giller does. Therefore, using Warner’s theory, I am going to position the Indigenous Voices Awards as the most direct counterpublic to the “dominant” Giller.

  • Firstly, counterpublics are “continually at odds with the ‘dominant’ public” (Alice F, 2016). “Their members are understood to be not merely a subset of the public, but constituted through a conflictual relation to the dominant public” (Warner, 2002). Bearing in mind that it is in its flagship year and winners are yet to be announced, the Indigenous Voices Awards are at ideological war with the very Canadian Giller.  The Giller Prize is focused on the nation-state and finding the “best work” (Scott, 2007) within those borders. As Gillian Roberts (2011) mentions, however, Canadian national literature depends upon nation-state borders overridden by colonial logic. The Indigenous Voices Awards make it explicit that they are searching for emerging talent in “lands claimed by Canada” (ILSA, 2017) disregarding the “national-border”.

Gregory Younging who kindly spoke to the M-Pub cohort a few weeks ago stated in an interview with Quill and Quire that we should not forget that the current times are still colonial albeit not as “intense” as before (Carter, 2017) which explains why in the 23 years that the Giller Prize has existed an Indigenous writer has never won the prize. (Because of the serious questions surrounding his identity, Joseph Boyden who won in 2008 is not representative). Writers like Eden Robinson have been shortlisted but have never made the plunge into victory which brings me back to the quotation used at the start of this paper. Whether we like it or not, literary prizes determine the value and importance of a writer. The fact that an Indigenous writer has never won the most prestigious prize raises questions about whether Indigenous writing is recognised as being of equal merit in Canada. The creation of the Indigenous Voices Awards is, therefore, an act of autonomy where Indigenous cultural workers are saying “you do not need to recognise us, we do not need your validation, we can validate ourselves”.

Earlier this year I argued that the counter prizes which were dedicated to recognising people of colour were in danger of marginalizing/ further segregating the people of colour they wanted to represent. But in the case of Indigenous writers in lands claimed by Canada and based on what I heard from Gregory Younging, this is not the case here. It is not to be directly assumed that Indigenous writers are a part of Canada; they are from their own nations and this prize gives them an opportunity to not be thrown under one umbrella but to be recognised in their own right.

As mentioned previously one of the reasons that the Giller Prize is “the most prestigious literary award” in Canada is because of its monetary value. Since it was founded, it has been “the largest purse for literature” (“Who We Are”, 2017) in the country. The prize wields economic weight and subsequently has become a household name that ensures commercial success for winners, nominees and their publishers alike. The prize is worth $100 000 CAD and its main sponsor is Scotiabank, a corporation.

  • On the other hand, The IVA was created this year as an act of defiance after media executives shamelessly called for the creation of a “cultural appropriation prize” (CBC Radio, 2017). Toronto based lawyer, Robin Parker, set up a crowdfunding campaign which raised over $141 000 CAD to create the prize. Unlike the Giller, the Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA) are currently dependent on the financial support of the public at large. This takes the patronage out of the hands of corporations only and allows the average individual to contribute to the prize. I believe that this model is inclusive and represents another form of diversity, one found in how capital is raised. This also aligns with the IVA’s focus on community. Their mandate states that “the awards [as they are more than one] are intended to support Indigenous artistic communities and to resist the individualism of prize culture” (ILSA, 2017).This instance further shows why the IVA is a direct counterpublic to the Giller.

Looking at the Giller juries since 1994, I noticed that they were almost exclusively white and that when a person of colour was on the panel they were usually a former winner of the prize themselves. Well-known Giller critic Stephen Henighan (2015) argued that the Giller prize was laden with “cozy juries of long-time familiars”, becoming somewhat of a literary Boys Club. Despite the fact that the prize has seen winners of colour such as Esi Edugyan, Madeleine Thien and André Alexis, it is still predominantly Eurocentric and I believe that this is due to the lack of diversity on the judging panel. (I must admit that this year’s prize was an exception).


At the beginning of 2017, I did a dissertation titled “African Diaspora Writers and The Politics of Literary Awards”. My main focus was the Nobel Prize in Literature and the veil of secrecy that shrouds it. I argued that institutional racism was at play in the Swedish Academy, masking itself as “liberal egalitarianism/humanism” (English, 2008) which explains why in the hundred plus years since the prize’s conception, only 3 laureates have been Black. I can argue the same in the case of the Giller Prize with regards to Indigenous writers. Mordecai Richler stated that the organizers of the prize


“don’t give a damn whether a book has been written by a man or a woman, a black, gay, or Native writer, or somebody whose family has been here for 200 years. What [they’ll] be looking for is the best work of fiction published by a Canadian ” (Richler 1994 in Scott 2007).


This statement was made in 1994 and assumed that “Native” people would be placed under the umbrella of Canadianess in assimilation. The Indigenous Voices Awards are turning this on its head by having a jury that is formed of Indigenous academics and writers as well as other people of colour (speaking an array of languages, French and English included).


It would be unjust to scrutinize the prize and not the publishers making the wheels turn. A handful of publishers have been responsible for producing the winning Giller books over the years. These are McClelland and Stewart, Doubleday and Knopf Canada, now all part of the newly formed Penguin Random House. Certain independent presses which contributed to the prize in the past and made the shortlist such as Somerville House and Press Gang, have ceased to exist. A fee of $1500 (“Submissions”, 2017) needs to be paid to submit books for consideration eliminating certain small publishers from the running as this is expensive. I believe that smaller publishers are usually the ones responsible for increasing diversity in the industry.

  • The Indigenous Voices Awards counter this by honouring writers both published and unpublished alike. By doing so they are saying that even work that has not been vetted by a large publisher still deserves to be recognised.
  • Indigenous publisher, Theytus Books, has won numerous awards but none of their titles have been recognised by the Giller. It could be that they do not send their books in for consideration but it is curious that they have won international awards but not the Giller (Theytus Books, 2017). Something I read echoes what Theytus publisher, Gregory Younging implied in his guest lecture to us, “Canadian cultural sovereignty operates at the expense of indigenous sovereignties” (Roberts, 2011). Indigenous literature is viewed as some “other”, inhabiting the periphery of society whilst the Giller adheres to “the dominant construction of Canadianness [which] is still [very] white and Anglophone” (Roberts, 2011). The IVA is therefore crucial in giving Indigenous writers their own agency.



The idea of ranking literature based on the subjective opinions of a handful of people has always been fascinating to me. I know that it is easy to quantify success in sports such as basketball because they are based on point-based systems. But in literature, how can one objectively decide that one piece of work is worth more than another? I ask this but it has been done for centuries and it is not going anywhere. As a raced subject, I recognise my bias in that I almost always side with people of colour and the colonisation of Indigenous people is similar to the colonialism my ancestors and I have faced. It is important for me to point out that I have not resided in Canada for long and that my knowledge of these issues is limited to what I have observed and read in my time here. That being said, I view the strew of Indigenous Voices Awards as the counterpublic to the Giller Prize; they are a platform of cultural autonomy for Indigenous people. I would like to end with a quotation from Sarah Pruys for what we as Indigenous allies can do:


“ Just as the Indigenous community walks in two worlds, so to must publishers. We need to learn how to balance the tangible and intangible; and know both how to help preserve, circulate, and archive culture in a respectful and ethical way, and also know when it is time to take a step back” (Pruys, 2017).


Power to the IVA, I wish them every success.

 Works Cited

Carter, S. (2017). Q&A: Greg Younging on editing indigenous works, story ownership, and Canadian publishing | Quill and Quire. Quill and Quire. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

F, A. (2016). Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics”. PUB800. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Henighan, S. (2015). How a Giller Prize critic got invited to the party. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Inaugural Competition 2017-2018. (2017). Indigenous Literary Studies Association. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Lash, S. (1993). Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives

Pruys, Sarah. (2017). Engagement and Experience: The Other Side of Archiving, Preserving, and Circulating Indigenous Knowledge…genous-knowledge/ ‎

Roberts, G. (2011). Prizing Literature: The Celebration and Circulation of National Culture (Cultural Spaces). University of Toronto Press.

Scotiabank Giller Prize | Submissions. (2017). Scotiabank Giller Prize. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Scotiabank Giller Prize | Who We Are. (2017). Scotiabank Giller Prize. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Scott, J., & Tucker-Abramson, M. (2007). Banking on a Prize: Multicultural Capitalism and the Canadian Literary Prize Industry. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from, while seeing the Giller Prize as part of a new “cosmopolitan” and free-trade-oriented Canadian cultural policy.

Theytus Books. (2017). Theytus Books. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal Of Speech, 88(4), 413-425.

‘I invoked cultural appropriation in the context of literature and writing only’: Hal Niedzviecki. (2017). CBC Radio. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from


Works Consulted

Bethune, B. (2016). Who wins Canada’s literary prizes — and why – Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Andrew-Gee, E. (2016). Coach House Books: Life after winning the Giller PrizeThe Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

 New literary prize for Indigenous writers to offer $25K in awards. (2017). CBC News. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Ostroff, J. (2017). Emerging Indigenous Voices Literary Award Is The Perfect Response To ‘Appropriation Prize’ ControversyHuffPost Canada. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). (2017). Retrieved 28 November 2017, from











In 1883, then Prime Minister John A. MacDonald laid the groundwork for Canada’s residential school system when he said to the House of Commons, “the Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men” (MacDonald 1883, 1108; Historica Canada 2015).


As most Canadians are aware, this is exactly what happened. Children were torn away from their families in an effort to eradicate their Indigenous languages, cultures, and values (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2015, Volume 5: Legacy). Over 100 years later, the lasting effects of this plan are still felt, and the country is in a race against time to save Indigenous cultures and languages that are teetering on the brink of extinction (United Nations 2008).


Dr. Kimberly Christen, who focuses her research on how digital technology and Indigenous cultures can intersect, has come up with one solution that has garnered international attention and acclaim. That solution? Mukurto (MOOK-oo-too) CMS (Content Management System), an open source community digital archive platform that “allows indigenous communities, libraries, archives, and museums to archive, preserve, and circulate their cultural materials and knowledge in ways that reinforce their own systems of knowledge management without denying the dynamism and flux of all such systems” (Christen 2012, 2884).


But when it comes to looking at the transfer of information within Indigenous knowledge systems, we cannot simply archive, preserve, and circulate. We cannot only facilitate a way for the information to be shared appropriately; we must also ensure that this new way of transferring knowledge does not negatively impact the communities that it is meant to help.


In this essay, I will examine how while certainly admirable and groundbreaking, Mukurto CMS does not fully account for the emerging negative repercussions of excessive use of smartphones and social media; or for the importance of community engagement and experiences that must go hand in hand with digitization and documentation. While preservation is important, projects need to also find ways to incorporate revitalization strategies and traditional ways of transferring knowledge if Indigenous cultures and peoples are going to continue to thrive and grow.


Because today, in a way the first prime minister never imagined, children across the country continue to be withdrawn from their families. Just this time technology, the same technology that we hope to use to preserve and promote culture, is partly to blame. The iGen (born between 1995 and 2012) has grown up in the age of smartphones and social media; and according to an American study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens today will spend up to ten hours a week on social media sites alone, not counting their other internet usage patterns (Monitoring the Future Study 1989–2015). Canadian institute MediaSmarts reports that by Grade 4, 24% of students already have their own phone, a number which doubles by Grade 7; and of these youth with phones, 39% sleep with their device beside their bed (MediaSmarts, 2014).


Psychology Professor Jean M. Twenge wrote, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones… The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy” (Twenge 2017). In addition, increased time spent using and looking at electronic devices has also led to what some are calling screen tiredness or digital fatigue (Nowak 2017; Sweney 2017).


Teens are more connected than ever before, but feel feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness have skyrocketed since smartphones became an accessory to everyday life (Monitoring the Future Study 1989–2015). We have to be cautious that new technologies, such as Mukurto CMS, are not hurting instead of helping. We have to be cautious that these programs are an extension of culture, and not a replacement for it.


Mukurto CMS can be compared to social networking sites, as people have to create an online profile with their personal information. Then, depending on that information they are given access to specific data and history related to their gender, family, or age as it pertains to their culture. Twenge’s research shows that part of the reason for increased feelings of loneliness is because social media offers a window into others’ lives and people can observe what they are left out of. In a similar way, through Mukurto CMS, people know there are certain things they do not have access to. The dynamic is different, but the resulting emotions may be similar if the dynamic is not thoroughly explained to young people, who have grown up in an age where everything appeared to be public and free to share online.


In addition to the disconnect related to social media and smartphone use, research has also shown that Indigenous people face higher levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide rates than Canada’s non-Indigenous population (Aboriginal Peoples Survey 2012). So when introducing possible digital solutions to archive, preserve, and circulate culture to the Indigenous population, we have to be hypervigilant of the negative impacts of smartphone and social media use and make sure we are not exacerbating the lasting negative impacts the residential school system and colonialism have on Indigenous mental health and well-being (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2015, Volume 5: Legacy).


Without discounting the positives that Mukurto CMS has brought forward, including archiving endangered cultures and connecting people that no longer reside in the same space, the software does not bring communities and people together physically. To encourage youth to spend even more time in online communities, such as those created by Mukurto CMS, when studies show this correlates to less time spent with friends and family may not be healthy, especially when we know how important real-life experiences are and the important role they have held for generations (Assembly of First Nations 2015). Why innovation is necessary and impactful, so to are traditional ways.


Dr. Christopher Lalonde found that the risk of Indigenous suicidal ideations and suicide is “mitigated when a community has strong ‘cultural health’” (Lalonde 2005).  So perhaps even more importantly than concerning ourselves with digital preservation, online communities, and constant connection; we should be connecting youth with Elders so that the teachings can be passed on as they were for thousands of years: through oral storytelling and through on the land experiences. We can develop videos, post photos, and write detailed instructions to ensure that stories and skills at risk of extinction are preserved in some form, but practical skills, such as how to tan a moose hide, tell which wild berries are edible, or properly pronounce the glottal stop (ʔ) or the bar “l” (Ł) in the Dene languages are best learned in person from Elders.


The NWT On The Land Collaborative 2017 Report discussed how engaging youth is key to developing skills which will increase capacity and resiliency in both the youth and their communities. “On the land programming is valued because it produces interdependent outcomes across economic, social, and environmental spectrum,” the organization stated (NWT On The Land Collaborative Report 2017).


Meanwhile, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Wellness Foundational Model explored how the land is the source of Indigenous identity upon which culture, language, and spirituality are based; and how the land is the “backdrop for intergenerational knowledge transmission (education)” (Assembly of First Nations 2015). AFN noted that having “Access to culture, teachings, Elders, the land, medicines, and cultural self-esteem profoundly impact individual and community health.” Mukirto CMS offers a different kind of landscape, but it will never replace the land.


The oft-touted “walk in two worlds” mantra teaches that It is possible for Indigenous people to walk in two worlds, meaning both their traditional world and the Westernized world. There is a way to combine traditional teachings with modern technological advances, but there must be a balance.


“I agree social media is NOT an effective way to build the communities we build in physical space, but it’s an extension of our communities. Our goal should be to create the healthiest spaces possible, wherever we meet/talk,” says Ryan McMahon, a vocal Anishinaabe comedian, regarding the ways communities come together to talk, grow, and support each other (@RMComedy, September 21, 2017).


As publishers, we have to be aware that while emerging technologies may appear to be perfect solutions, often we are unable to gauge unintended and negative consequences until the damage has already been done. We need to be aware that while technology has great power to connect and preserve, it also has the power to disconnect and distance communities from what truly matters. It has the power to blind us and make us believe that it is the way forward; and while innovation will always be important, sometimes the best way to archive, preserve, and circulate knowledge is through traditional ways that have not only proven successful but have also shown to increase wellness and resiliency (NWT On The Land Collaborative Report 2017).


If Indigenous traditions and languages are to flourish and grow—so that they are not only spoken in classrooms and posted on websites; but so that stories are written, the languages are fully integrated throughout the communities, and the skills are kept safe within the minds of members—than any initiative that aims to revitalize culture must do so not only through a lens of preservation, but also through a lens of understanding the importance of true engagement and experience.


Just as the Indigenous community walks in two worlds, so to must publishers. We need to learn how to balance the tangible and intangible; and know both how to help preserve, circulate, and archive culture in a respectful and ethical way, and also know when it is time to take a step back.



Assembly of First Nations: Safe, Secure, Sustainable Communities Unit. 2015. “Wellness Foundational Model.” Accessed September 20, 2017.

Christen, Kimberly. 2012. “Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness.” International Journal of Communication 6 (2012): 2870-2893. Accessed September 16, 2017.

Christen, Kimberly, Alex Merrill, and Michael Wynne. 2017. “A Community of Relations: Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes.” The Magazine of Digital Library Research 23, no. 5/6 (May/June). Accessed September 15, 2017.

Greenwood, Shannon, Andrew Perrin, Maeve Duggan. 2016. “Social Media Update 2016.” Accessed September 17, 2017.

Historica Canada. 2015. “Residential Schools in Canada: Education Guide.” Accessed September 21, 2017.

House of Commons. 1883. “Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada.” Commons Debates, April 20-May 25, 1883: 1108. Accessed September 21, 2017.

Kanopi Studios. 2017. “A Safe Keeping Place for Sacred Materials.” Kanopi Studios Blog, June 25, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Lalonde, Christopher. 2005. “Identity Formation and Cultural Resilience in Aboriginal Communities.” Accessed September 20, 2017.

McCue, Duncan. 2016. “For For First Nations facing suicide crisis, the solution is rooted in teh community.” CBC News, April 18, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2017.

McKinnon, Melody. 2016. “Canadian Social Media Use and Online Brand Interaction (Statistics).” Accessed September 17, 2017.

MediaSmarts. 2014. “Life Online: Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III.” Accessed September 20, 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2015. “Monitoring the Future study 1989-2015.” Accessed September 20, 2017.

Nowak, Peter. 2017. “Digital fatigue behind the overkill in ebooks.” The National, May 4, 2017. Accessed September 17, 2017.

NWT On The Land Collaborative. 2017. “NWR On The Land Collaborative 2017 Report.” Accessed September 17, 2017.

Sweney, Mark. 2017. “‘Screen fatigue’ sees UK ebook sales plunge 17% as readers return to print.” The Gaurdian, April 27, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2017.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. “Canada’s Residential Schools: Legacy.” The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 5: Accessed September 16, 2017.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. “Canada’s Residential Schools: Reconciliation.” The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 6: Accessed September 16, 2017.

Twenge, Jean M. 2017. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, September 2017 Issue. Accessed September 17, 2017.

United Nations. 2008. “United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Accessed September 17, 2017.

Washington State University. 2013. “Powering cultural preservation: New grants expand archiving of indigenous treasures.” Washington State University News, October 10, 2013. Accessed September 15, 2017.