Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Date: March 20, 2007
From: Gary H. Dunham
Subject: CFP: Evolving Relationships Between Indigenous Communities and Publishers

Dear colleagues,

I am putting together an anthology that explores the complex and rapidly evolving relationship between indigenous communities and publishers; please see the summary below. I am particularly interested in contributions from members of those indigenous communities who have dealt directly with publishers without a scholar as mediator or go-between. Your experiences and assessments are welcome.


Indigenous Communities and Publishers

Increasingly in recent years, organizations and individuals within a growing number of indigenous communities have set aside working with outside scholars and sought instead to publish themselves the results of ongoing historical, cultural, and linguistic research and preservation efforts. A few indigenous communities have self-published but often this initiative involves an unmediated partnership between publishers and indigenous communities, one that is uniquely collaborative and represents the latest—and perhaps final—stage of a research and representative process long connecting scholars and publishers. This final collaboration, this latest expression of sovereignty by indigenous communities, complicates, enriches, and potentially undermines the traditional publisher-scholar relationship.

The proposed anthology draws upon the perspectives and experiences of indigenous individuals, publishers and scholars and a myriad of case studies to illuminate the complexity, challenges, and opportunities that arise when individuals and organizations from indigenous communities attempt to get a work published themselves.

Send questions and abstracts to Gary Dunham, Director, University of Nebraska Press, at gdunham1@unl.edu.


The above came to me through H-Amerindian, an academic listserv for people who work with Indian materials. Veeeerrryyy interesting! Of course, I can’t send anything for this because I’m not a genetic nor an enrolled indigenous individual. Actually, I’m not even an academically approved scholar of indigenous peoples. It’s just that I’m in this community full of Blackfeet and so on, hanging around for half-a-century, and lately I’ve been doing my best to get them to see that they can bypass publishers and go straight to Lulu.com. In truth, many of them have simply defined the public school or tribal college as a publisher (meaning they footed the bill) or have taken a check to a local printer and come back with a box of books.

Adolf Hungry Wolf, who has a long history of using one specific Manitoba printer, has produced a massive set of books he calls “The Blackfoot Papers,” all on credit. The Blackfeet Heritage Center is acting as promoter and distributor in the USA while Adolf’s own “Good Medicine Foundation” does the same on the Canadian side. He is not indigenous but his wife and children are. But Adolf, as everyone knows, lives more like an Indian than most Indians do. (Log cabin, creek water, a solar-powered MAC iBook.)

My own books, some about Blackfeet and some not, amount to about a dozen so far -- about half already on Lulu.com with the other half still being formatted (by myself). Why mess with publishers? Esp. publishers who don’t edit, don’t promote, barely distribute, print small numbers, and remainder before the end of the first year?

I’m also interested in going a different way entirely: buy a used book (either fiction or not) in good condition, take the cover off, and rebind it in a custom way -- maybe Indian-tanned (smoked) leather, maybe beaded or burned, maybe quilled or feathered, maybe sold in a special pouch or parfleche-- converted into a “Bundle.” Maybe write or draw in the margins or throw in some pressed plants. Pretty nineteenth century thing to do, but a beguiling idea.

One lady (not a scholar) back east sat through one of Darrell Kipp’s speeches about how to start an immersion school. (“Above all, don’t ask permission!”) She made a transcript, got it converted into a printed pamphlet at the local Kinko’s or Office Depot, and sent Darrell a couple of boxes of them. A donation. VERY helpful.

The “scholars” (harrumph) come out on summer break, full of preconceptions, and take back a lot of notes that have to conform to some institution. The “adventurers” (yee-haw!) come out in the spring, find some fascinating character in the local bar who claims to know “all the myths” and publish their adventure as truth. No one ever comes around in the winter, not even the engineers and geologists who are a little more hardy types.

The exception I know of has been in Canada where the University of Calgary Press (disclosure: they’re publishing my bio of Bob Scriver) has published several books where the indigenous people were pretty clearly in control -- though, I guess, they’ve had helpers and editing, especially for layout. The North Piegan have not been writing books so much as generating computer/GIS maps of ancient trails.

So am I making fun of this anthology idea, scuffing dust on it? Absolutely not! It’s about time these post-modern folks took a look at their own practices, their own oppressions, their own foregone conclusions and guarding of the gate. I have a feeling that the dip-net will bring up the same old fish as usual, but there’s always a chance that something new -- maybe even one of those Kuhnian paradigm shifts -- will rise to the top.

Podcasts? (Podfish?) Tribal publishing houses? Or just good old Print-On-Demand Lulu.com? Great project for a high school senior or a tribal college “mom” returning to school. The problem is keeping track -- who will count the beans??


Corky Alexander said...

I am interested in your anthology and wonder if you might consider posting on my Overhill Institute blog? I'm thinking an article about this would be engaging. Go to www.overhillinstitute.blogspot.com
check it out.

prairie mary said...

Corky, Thanks for your comments but go back and read the blog again. I'm not doing anything about an anthology -- it's Gary Dunham at the University of Nebraska Press who called for material from his colleagues, which presumably do not include me nor probably you.

I did look at the overhillinstitute blog but I don't think I'm a good fit. For ten years I was a Unitarian Universalist minister and though some of the people I served were Christian, more or less, most were not. My natural inclination is not towards either Christianity nor mission work.

But I notice that you are also interested in the "Christian Cowboys" movement, which has some links with the Blackfeet Community College in Browning. You might contact them to see whether one of those folks might write something for you. Good luck for good works!

Prairie Mary

dr.hypercube said...

I've been thinking along the same lines regarding self publishing/print on demand and crafted books. The Lulu end of things ties in nicely with the long tail - there are a very few big hits (traditional publishing) and a huge catalog of books that interest a smaller group of people. About the only thing I see being lost by bypassing a publisher are the editorial services - since I've never experienced it, I have no idea whether its a real loss or not. I agree wholeheartedly that there's a lot of 'book as object (as well as info container)' space to be explored. Based on some of the rumblings I've heard about bookbinding classes, etc. we may not be the only 2 thinking in that direction >wink 'n grin<.

prairie mary said...

Today I'm checking the editing changes for my biography of Bob Scriver to be published by the University of Calgary Press. Since I'm a former English teacher, I'm grateful that he's catching and changing -- mostly just to conform to the "house style" -- small things like the proper number of commas in a sequence. So far I'm three chapters along and have found only this sort of change.

However, I have a friend who wanted to write her own memoir and who simply wrote out as much material as she could dredge up, then hired an "editor" to organize and polish it. It was a major undertaking.

Both are "editing" but what's involved is quite different in each case. I think that for an academic context, one wants to have an irreproachable text and no one can do that alone. On the other hand, I would never do what my friend did and think that I wrote the book. For a friendly, informal book of tales meant to be mostly local, a certain amount of grammar and slippage is forgivable.

On the other hand, I've seen published books that were so riddled with errors in spelling and simple mis-typing that they were nearly unreadable.

What one is really SUPPOSED to be getting when one is "published" includes editing, but also production, distribution and promotion. Self-publishing rarely means that anything but the book printing will be provided. The author must still self-distribute and self-promote, though Google and Amazon help quite a bit.

One of my fondnesses is for "art books." Once I gave a sermon proposing that the universe is a giant serpent that swallows the present and then lays an egg containing the future. A woman wanted to make it into a mock serpent of a book, long and coiled, and even found paper that looked like serpent skin and egg surface, plus veils of intercosmic dust! It was great, but her daughter had a baby and the new grandmother lost all interest in art books! I wish I had the skills to do it myself!

Prairie Mary