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Acimisowin as theoretical practice : autobiography as indigenous intellectual tradition in Canada Reder, Deanna Helen


This dissertation examines autobiographical writings by Indigenous authors in Canada, giving attention to a rich archive that has been understudied or misunderstood. Drawing on the insights of autobiography theory and Indigenous studies, I critique the still prevailing influence of founding scholars of Native American autobiography who disseminated the belief that autobiography is a European invention, that there are no prior models in Indigenous cultures and that Indigenous autobiographies must therefore be the result of European contact. The lack of Indigenous perspectives in the academy has left many of these assumptions unchallenged and I introduce personal stories modeled on Cree-Métis storytelling methods as a corrective. Inspired by the work of previous Indigenous scholars who have relied on autobiography as theoretical practice, I introduce a version modeled on âcimisowin, Cree autobiographical narratives, to support my contention that Indigenous authors in Canada write autobiographically as part of varying Indigenous intellectual traditions. This approach prioritizes Cree intellectual and cultural perspectives that considers one's identity and position to be a central rather than peripheral concern in research. Focusing on wâhkotowin, the Cree value of kinship or interrelatedness, as well as kisteanemétowin, respect between people, I provide new readings of texts that accommodate Cree and Métis epistemologies. In this work I ally myself with members of the Indigenous literary sovereignty movement that insist that attention be paid to the innovations and contributions of Indigenous intellectuals that to date have been neglected. Seeing autobiography as an Indigenous intellectual tradition allows us to move beyond colonization as a prism with which to examine Indigenous life and literature. It allows us to see Indigenous identity not as hybrid but as living with contradiction. Some of these contradictions, like anxieties, are produced by the multiple and conflicting discourses that place special demands on Indigenous autobiographers, subject to a scrutiny that non-Indigenous autobiographers evade.

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