1. You don’t need to be “educated” to write.
I did not read the white literary canon. My mother dragged me out of the classroom the day we were supposed to read Huckleberry Finn. She said I didn’t need to read that word two-hundred times to know it was wrong — to know white people were wrong throughout history.
“There are other books,” she said.
I remember her face and the freedom in it as we drove away. Mom had run away from residential school when she was about the same age. The same bravery she showed when she ran away from the nuns and priests was the same bravery she took to my teachers when she talked about race — when she talked about history. I used to be ashamed of it and that’s my burden now.
Class used to feel safe before she got me thinking. The place was decorated with rainbow paper weaving, pastoral drawings, and our first attempts at depth and realism — drawings with happy, smiling faces. It was the home of the VERY GOOD and SUPER STAR stickers. It was a place filled with remarkable growth and simplicity, and then it shifted. I became conscious of my difference as an Indigenous girl.
I loved literature, always, but it was difficult to find books that weren’t a problem. If I picked up Hemingway, I’d have to stop reading when I got to a story like “Indian Camp,” because it was violent about Indian women and Indian men, and our love. I didn’t want to waste my time on a white man who treated Indians like relics or savages or tokens or devices for a white male protagonist to imbue with meaning. There were no Native women writers in our libraries. It was all too hard, and I eventually dropped out at thirteen. It took a lot of time to get back on track and become a professor of English and a published author. And I still have no desire to read certain canonized work — it’s just not good for my soul.
I’m not arguing that people shouldn’t read the white literary canon; I’m saying that it doesn’t have to be our lodestar. I’m saying that a woman doesn’t have to read all the books deemed “necessary” by the white literary world to be a writer. If a classroom has made learning impossible or…