Across traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories, an Indigenous Editors Association aims to shift the Canadian book industry. The IEA, founded on principles of Indigenous governance and place-based knowledge, incorporated in 2019. Now, with 40 established members and approximately 20 pending applications for membership, the organization is working to connect Indigenous editors, writers, and publishing consultants with job opportunities and to foster authentic Indigenous perspectives and representation.

IEA president Karon Shmon, a Métis educator, says she joined the IEA to “provide support to Indigenous people connected to publishing, and to maintain Indigenous worldviews, perspectives, and ways of telling our stories.” Shmon serves as the director of publishing at the Gabriel Dumont Institute, whose GDI Press promotes Métis culture and history: “We recently distributed 1600 Michif language kits, free of charge, to every school, every library, and every Metis local in the province,” Shmon said. “We have made the effort to make Michif revitalization resources and to ensure our children’s books are dual translation in English and Michif.” Her work with the IEA extends this preservation effort.

Momentum for the IEA gathered for more than a decade. “The longer history goes back to the 2006 Ânskohk Indigenous Literary Festival,” explained Métis writer Rita Bouvier, the IEA’s incoming president-elect and author of a beautiful rebellion (Thistledown Press). At that 2006 event, Saskatchewan Arts Board program consultant Joanne Gerber facilitated meetings among Indigenous book industry practitioners and public funding agencies. This led to the formation of the Indigenous Editors Circle, described by Bouvier as “a professional learning community held in the summers of 2014, 2015, and 2017 with the late Greg Younging and other Indigenous leaders serving as faculty.” (In partnership with Simon Fraser University, the IEA now hosts a May seminar called the Greg Younging Conversation.)

The IEA developed from the Indigenous Editors Circle, establishing a board of directors—known as the Council—and a primarily volunteer staff. Unlike the Circle, which takes place as a weeklong summer seminar, the IEA operates and shares resources year-round. “I am pleased that we have a flattened hierarchy and we rely on group leadership,” Shmon said. “I like to think we are flexible and responsive, so we will continue to offer professional development and networking opportunities.” For example, when the Circle couldn’t meet in person in summer 2021, the IEA developed a webinar series on topics the seminar likely would have covered, including sensitivity reading, substantive editing, emerging Indigenous editors, strategies for finding employment, and professional networking. Another webinar series is in the works.

IEA director Nadine Ryan, a citizen of the Shíshálh Nation, became the association’s first hired staffer in April 2022. “The IEA had been volunteer-run until I started, and we still see ourselves as a fledgling organization,” Ryan said, adding that they hope to hire again in the coming months. She now supports Schmon, Bouvier, and others on the Council, revising the bylaws and designing a website that’s accessible for those with disabilities as well as those dealing with technological barriers in rural or otherwise remote environments.

Outreach will be essential in the coming years, Ryan said, starting with “band offices and tribal councils and within the communities. Luckily, our council members are spread across Canada, so I see that as a huge advantage. Everyone can focus on a different province or territory and get the word out.” In addition to outreach, another goal involves “developing a membership policy, especially with the evolving controversy around Indigenous identity fraud,” Ryan said. Although the IEA wants to reduce barriers to involvement, they are wary of non-Indigenous applicants and determined to create opportunities for exclusively Indigenous communities.

Responses have been positive. “We've had so many people excited about the work,” said Ryan. Publishers suggest job openings, which the IEA circulates in a member newsletter. The Editorial Freelancers’ Association and editorial consultancy Salt & Sage Books share their resources, and university presses in Canada and the U.S. are offering to consult on projects. “We've even had some American publishing professionals want to join the organization, so we have a couple of American members already,” Ryan said.

Incoming IEA president Bouvier looks forward to increasing, intentional growth for the IEA. “Nurturing the foundations of who we are as an entity will be ongoing to ensure we are meeting the needs of our members,” Bouvier said. “We also understand that our vision and mandate is not something we can accomplish in isolation from the existing organizations in editing and publishing. We see ourselves working in tandem and sometimes in partnership with others involved in this industry.”