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Books From ‘appropriation prize’ controversy, a new Indigenous writing award is born

An Indigenous writing prize – originally sparked by a nasty controversy in Canadian literary circles over cultural appropriation, followed by a wild crowdfunding campaign – will be launched this weekend, with an announcement at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

The Indigenous Voices Awards (IVAs), organized by the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA), grew out of an ugly chapter in CanLit. Last spring, a glib editorial in an issue of the Writers' Union of Canada's Write magazine that been dedicated to Indigenous writing suggested establishing a cultural appropriation prize. The editor resigned, but then social media activity deepened the controversy, as journalists joked on Twitter about establishing such a prize.

Cultural appropriation: Why can't we debate it?

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Related: Writers' Union of Canada editorial sparks outrage, resignations

A Toronto lawyer, Robin Parker – who is not Indigenous – was dismayed. She launched a crowdfunding campaign for a Canadian literary award to support emerging Indigenous writers. She had hoped to raise $10,000. But the campaign snowballed and blew past its goal. It raised more than $116,000. After the Indiegogo campaign closed, a private donor made a large donation to bring the total to more than $141,000.

"People wanted to make a difference," Parker wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail late Wednesday. "Now organizers at ILSA have brought that dream to life." She added that she can't wait to read the writing that comes out of this.

Details will be announced first in Vancouver Saturday at a VWF event by Shelagh Rogers – one of the members of the prize jury – along with Cherokee writer Daniel Heath Justice and Vancouver writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who was also involved in the crowdfunding campaign idea.

Parker will attend a second launch event at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto on Oct. 26.

"It's such a lovely antidote to rising intolerance: collective action for art," Parker wrote.

Other jurors include Indigenous writers Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Gregory Scofield and Richard Van Camp, as well as Haitian-Canadian poet Rodney Saint-Éloi.

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ILSA says the prize is meant to "support Indigenous literary expression in its diversity and complexity, honouring the sovereignty of Indigenous creative voices while rejecting cultural appropriation."

Deadline for submissions will be Jan. 31, 2018. The winners will be announced in Regina on May 31.

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