Last week, Hal Niedzviecki resigned as editor of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Write magazine after his article, Winning the Appropriation Prize, was published in an issue highlighting Indigenous writers. Niedzviecki’s article sparked outrage on social media from Native communities. In opposition to the outrage, some high-profile Canadian journalists and editors answered Niedzviecki’s article by offering hundreds of dollars to fund an “Appropriation Prize.”
In his article Hal Niedzviecki wrote in defense of allowing non-Native writers to “write what you don’t know.”
The controversy was first brought to light on Twitter by Write contributor Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora), who wrote an article titled, “On Seeing and Being Seen: Writing with Empathy,” which appeared in the same issue.
In a post on his Facebook page, Hal Niedzviecki responded that support for such a prize is unhelpful.
“Calls for an actual ‘appropriation prize’ are extremely unhelpful. They do not represent me in anyway. In the short article I wrote, the satiric notion of the prize was brought up in jest — ie. how can we encourage writers of all backgrounds to explore points of view other than their own? That’s all I meant. I agree that the timing of the article was poor, and I feel terribly that writers whose beautiful and important words were featured in that issue were hurt. As I wrote in the piece, ‘Indigenous writing is the most vital and compelling force in writing and publishing in Canada today.”
“I invoked cultural appropriation, again, in the context of literature and writing only, because I wanted to touch on that very heated subject. And I was aware of the debates around that and I wanted to push back a little bit on the idea that we should be very, very wary and very hesitant to invoke other cultures and perspectives in our writing,” said Niedzviecki.
“You can't go back in time, but definitely if I had known that it would be taken out of the context of the Writers Union of Canada magazine, I would have clarified that a lot more, and that I meant writing and works of the imagination in print by literary authors,” he said.
During that conversation, the subject of prominent Canadian editors and journalists, including former Rogers executive Ken Whyte, National Post editor in chief Anne Marie Owens and CBC managing editor Steven Ladurantaye among others, began offering up money to fund an appropriation prize.
Tanya Tagaq responded on Twitter, “It doesn't get more Hollywood bad guy than dominant oppressors raising money to fight for their rights against minorities.” She also tweeted a list of editors and journalists who supported the notion of an appropriation prize along with a message, "If you are in this list and support the #appropriationprize never EVER dare contact me for an interview."
Ladurantaye and Owens later responded with apologies to the appropriation prize reference. “Let me be clear—I'm sorry for suggesting I'd give $100 last night. Was stupid, idea is stupid, and I'm sorry,” tweeted Ladurantaye.
“I[t]'s been 8hrs since I first apologized but to be clear, I'm sorry. I participated in a joke that was not at all funny,” tweeted Owens.
ICMN Correspondent Lisa J. Ellwood contributed to the research of this article. Follow her on Twitter at @IconicImagery.Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) - ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor - Follow @VinceSchilling