News / Toronto

Indigenous Voices Awards: The good that came out of the 'appropriation prize' scandal

The Toronto-born effort to raise money for recognizing Indigenous literary works has turned into a national movement.

The inaugural Indigenous Voices Awards will recognize eight emerging writers from across the country with $25,000 in prizes.

RONALDO SCHEMIDT / Getty Images

The inaugural Indigenous Voices Awards will recognize eight emerging writers from across the country with $25,000 in prizes.

A local initiative that sought to counter the so-called "appropriation prize" has turned into a national movement to support Indigenous writers.

The Indigenous Voices Awards will recognize eight emerging writers from Indigenous communities across the country in the inaugural ceremony planned for March 31 in Regina.

It's the result of a local campaign started to raise $10,000 in support of young Indigenous writers. That campaign was a reaction to a scandal that saw high-profile Canadian journalists tweet in support of honouring writers who "imagine other cultures."

Organizers of the Indigenous Voices Awards will start accepting nominations at the end of the month. Nominations can range from published and unpublished works in English, French and Indigenous languages to works in alternative formats beyond poetry or prose. The total monetary value for the awards will be $25,000.

Breaking into the writing field is particularly difficult for Indigenous people, said Sam McKegney, past president of the Indigenous Literary Studies Association, which is helping organize the awards.

"What I see is academic work and teaching in high schools and universities outpacing the literary work being produced by Indigenous writers," said McKegney, an associate professor of English at Queen's University and author of numerous studies about Indigenous literature.

"That's an unhealthy situation. We should be putting more energy towards the creativity, rather than the study."

Eminent personalities in the Indigenous literary community will be part of the awards' jury, including writers Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm and Richard Van Camp. CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers and poet Rodney Saint-Eloi will also be jury members.

McKegney hopes awards like this will give people an opportunity to listen to the voices of Indigenous people as the country embarks on a journey of reconciliation.

"These are the voices of priority. These are the voices to which Canadians need to listen," he said.

Toronto lawyer Robin Parker, who initiated the campaign, said it's encouraging that the effort has resulted in more than $140,000 being donated. Her hope is to have a permanent endowment with at least $500,000 for Indigenous writers to support and mentor each other on a continual basis.

"I'd like to see Canada create a space for Indigenous writers to be heard," she said. "We need to stop talking and listen."

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