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Social Science Native American Studies

Taking Back Our Spirits

Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing

by (author) Jo-Ann Episkenew

University of Manitoba Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2019
Native American Studies, Native American, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2009
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2009
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 15
  • Grade: 10


From the earliest settler policies to deal with the “Indian problem,” to contemporary government-run programs ostensibly designed to help Indigenous people, public policy has played a major role in creating the historical trauma that so greatly impacts the lives of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Taking Back Our Spirits traces the link between Canadian public policies, the injuries they have inflicted on Indigenous people, and Indigenous literature’s ability to heal individuals and communities. Episkenew examines contemporary autobiography, fiction, and drama to reveal how these texts respond to and critique public policy, and how literature functions as “medicine” to help cure the colonial contagion.

About the author

Jo-Ann Episkenew is an Associate Professor of English at First Nation University of Canada, where she has served as Department Head of English, as Academic Dean, and as Associate Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre.

Jo-Ann Episkenew's profile page


  • Winner, Saskatchewan Book Award for First Peoples' Writing
  • Winner, Saskatchewan Book Award for Scholarly Writing

Editorial Reviews

“This is a powerful and important book. It undertakes a range and depth of analysis that no other investigation of the context, aims, and effects of Indigenous writing in Canada has yet attempted. It engages with the most painful, vexing, and hopeful matters in terms that are compassionate and unequivocal. We need this book.”

Jeanne Perreault, University of Calgary, author of Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autography

“Episkenew introduces the hope of First Nations authors to use narrative, novels, autobiography, and community theatre as a healing anodyne for themselves and their own people. She explains how Indigenous life-writing helps Indigenous readers to heal from the trauma of colonization by recrafting their personal and collective myths.”

Canadian Literature, Summer 2010

Librarian Reviews

Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing

This book presents the need for and way of using indigenous literature as a means of healing and understanding for both Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginals. The vital role of stories as a means of reclaiming ones heritage, addressing one’s past and progressing into a new future is clearly presented. Episkenew argues that governmental and social policies in regards to Aboriginal peoples have had a devastating effect. These detrimental policies governed their identity and controlled their rights to resources, agricultural activities, languages, culture, religion, freedom of movement and education. Later chapters deal with the central role and use of transformative and healing personal stories and drama in the redressing of these injustices and the opportunity for a positive future.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools. 2009-2010.