Editing is Power: Teachings from “Indigenous Sovereignty and Editing Practices”

May 28, 2021
Claire Kroening - University of Alberta human geography alumna and communications professional 

Congress 2021 blog edition 

Today, an esteemed panel of leaders in Indigenous scholarly editing presented in an open event. The panel included Michelle Coupal, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, and Deanna Reder. Together, they discussed their first-hand experiences of publishing Indigenous scholarly material--the challenges they faced, and the successes that came from telling Indigenous stories how they should be told--and the models they follow.  

Establishing Indigenous editing practices 

Deanna Reder began the discussion, explaining where Indigenous editing got started, and where it is going. The first established Indigenous press in the world is Theytus Books. Theytus provided academics and editors wanting to engage in Indigenous scholarship a “tremendously encouraging model.” This model served as a basis for Indigenous Editors Circles that began in Canada in 2014. Over three years in these circles, the manifesto for Indigenous editing was created: Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples. This style book, by Gregory Youning, is the premier resource all academics and publishers should know thoroughly.  

Things to consider, so we can reconsider how we edit 

Michelle Coupal exclaimed “We desperately need more Indigenous editors.” She outlined key points to consider: 

  • Humility is a central piece in how Indigenous people approach education and knowledge, so humility should be the guiding principle of Indigenous editing and peer review. 
  • Editing typos and changing words to suit the “Queen’s English” often does not serve the story being told and actually creates inaccuracies.  
  • It is essential Indigenous family members retain control over the copyright and copy editing process; the press must be cooperative. 
  • The commonly used double-blind peer review process can lead to loss of context and respect. If a peer review process remains transparent, it grants space for productive conversations about revisions and knowledge sharing. 

How editors can uplift storytellers 

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair closed the panel with a call to action. Editors must realize editing is inherently about power. It is a collective and collaborative process (the idea of single authorship is merely an illusion). An editor has a tremendous amount of responsibility to their storytellers.  

Editing is also a gift as it brings voices to the surface and offers knowledge to people wanting to learn. Sinclair presented his notes on ethical gift-giving in editing

  • Adopt a “Seven Generations” model and ponder if communities three generations back and three generations ahead need or want this story told. 
  • Adopt creativity as a hallmark of not only the work we study but our criticism, and consider new possibilities for the field. 
  • Recognize the full humanity in Indigenous communities and writers. Acknowledge--do not simplify--the complexities, disagreements and contradictions among stories. 
  • Situate narratives in their localities (place and time). It is where they have the most power.  
  • See an audience that includes First Nations readers of our criticism, consider how they feel and think, and what they need. 
  • Provoke, evoke and invoke inclusive change. 


Michelle Coupal of the University of Regina, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair of the University of Manitoba, and Deanna Reder of Simon Fraser University presented “Indigenous Sovereignty and Editing Practices” at the Canadian Association of Learned Journals conference.