A Giving Voice: Short Biography of Deanna Reder

A Giving Voice (n): 

A person who hands themselves over in the service of revealing truth; who gives­ even their voice in making sure the untold is spoken. 

Here in Canada, many still shy away from the basic truth of our colonial history: that European settlers erased the voices of entire populations already living here, stifling the heart of What-We-Could-Have-Been.

Even today reconciliation with this truth sometimes seems little more than a distant hope on the horizon; and yet, there are those who refuse to let such a cause die. Who give even their voices to this truth above all else, and who aren’t afraid to stand up for the many voices which were lost then—voices of healing that we need now more than ever to understand. 

A Giving Voice is Deanna Reder. 

Continually in the face of ignorance, Reder has lent her voice to revealing untold truths hidden behind years of equally untold history: speaking out against the strange forces that seek to keep those stories secret, unnamed, and obscured by a colonial lens. As a Cree-Métis woman, she has with that voice uncovered the aspects of colonization which still pervade our educational, social, and political systems, proving time and again her strength amid what must certainly feel like constant, daunting resistance.

Deanna has thus dedicated her life and career to passing on – and drawing attention to – the quieted stories of Indigenous peoples, truly becoming a woman ‘naming the unnamed’. From drawing out the lost mysteries still plaguing her own community, to uncovering the difficult-to-hear accounts of the trauma and genocide experienced by fellow Cree and Metis (among too many other Indigenous populations), Reder has become above all else a force of truth-making to be reckoned with: 

Presently an Associate Professor in the Departments of First Nations Studies and English at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Reder exemplifies her proud cultural heritage through a curriculum of Indigenous popular fiction and Canadian Indigenous literature, focusing her own research in that area on the previously unpublished works of other Indigenous writers including Vera Manual, James Brady, Maria Campbell, and Alootook Ipellie.  

Reder has equally contributed to this growing field of Indigenous literary study, committed as a writer, editor, and anthologizer to building a better – and much less British-centric – framework for how we as a country approach and analyze Indigenous texts and literature. As she puts it

“Canadians have been deprived of impressive, provocative, challenging, and visionary writing by Indigenous authors, some who have written before Canada began…My work is to bring these authors back into scholarly conversations and public access, while at the same time celebrating a new generation of upcoming writers.”

Reder’s work has therefore continued focus on a gravely neglected Indigenous autobiographical record, challenging a widespread cultural disregard of Indigenous literary perspectives, and using her voice as a platform on which others’ histories may be heard. From one of her earliest co-edited publications in 2010, Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations to her most recent from this year – a collection of the works of Vera Manuel called Honouring the Strength of Indian Women, edited with Michelle Coupal, Joanne Arnott, and Emalene Manuel – and everything in between (Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (2016), Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island), Reder has helped both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians better understand where we come from, and who we are. 

In 2015 as well, around the same time that she became the second president of the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (which she founded, and where she served on the board until 2018), Reder also became Principal Investigator for a five-year SSHRC project titled, The People and the Text: Indigenous Writing in Northern North America up to 1992, in partnership with co-applicants Dr. Margery Fee and Cherokee scholar Dr. Daniel Heath Justice of the University of British Columbia (See www.thepeopleandthetext.ca). Over the course of the last four or so years, then, Reder has found yet another way to contribute to Canada’s Indigenous artists, working collaboratively with Canadian scholars like herself who hope to produce a major database on Indigenous writing—one of the first databases of its kind. 

Reder’s remarkable achievements continue to reflect her dedication to ‘re-visioning’ the ways in which many Canadians have misguidedly contextualized the stories of Indigenous, Metis, and First Nations peoples, even beyond the almost 152 years since Canada sought independence. Not only was she recently named to the Royal Society’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, but she has also been appointed as Acting Dean of Libraries for SFU’s Fall 2019 Semester. 

Today, Deanna Reder is all this and so much more: both co-chair of the Indigenous Voices Awards and Series Editor for the Indigenous Studies Series at Wilfrid Laurier University Press, she supports emerging Indigenous writers as they find their own voices—even helping to re-open an unsolved cold case relating to the disappearances of two Metis men in the late 60s. In fact, it is through her autobiographical focus on storytelling that Reder continues to be the very mentor she wants to see in today’s literary climate, herself acting as a bastion for Indigenous access to publishing and increased recognition. 

Reder has thus, in her own way, become a priceless resource for Canadian Indigenous knowledge-sharing, giving her voice to the next generation of Indigenous artists who will continue to guide the trajectory she has set them on, dispelling the so-often negative perceptions of Indigenous cultures for generations to come. Thanks to her diligent work – and thanks to those who have contributed to anthologizing these narratives – no longer can settler-writers get away with telling Indigenous stories from a non-native perspective alone, forced instead to finally join the multiplicity they sought to destroy—but won’t.

Header Image Copyright Jessica Barratt
Post originally published here.


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