Dr. Warren Cariou


Co-investigator - University of Manitoba


The main focus of my research, in both critical and creative idioms, is Indigenous identity in North America, giving particular attention to questions of mobility, energy, orality and canonicity.  My projects can be divided into three general categories:

1.  Storytelling as Contemporary Practice

One mandate of the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture is to analyze contemporary storytelling practices in order to understand the role of storytelling in maintaining or disrupting community cohesion. The CCWOC has worked with storytellers from many cultural traditions including Shona, Haida, Yiddish, Irish and Scottish, but my own contribution to this effort is my work with Cree and Métis storytellers. I have recorded a significant number of performances by these storytellers, but perhaps more importantly I have tried to understand their stories as contemporary living practice rather than as remnants of pre-­contact indigenous purity.  As part of this focus, I am also interested in the meanings of storytelling for Indigenous youth. Métis storytelling traditions and styles have also informed all of my fiction writing and much of my nonfiction including my 2001 book, Lake of the Prairies. I am currently working on two fiction projects that arise out of Métis and Cree stories of the 1885 Resistance.

2.  Petroleum and Indigenous Cultures

I have been obsessed with the relationship between petroleum and Indigenous cultures ever since the early years of this century, when the first of several massive oil sands developments were proposed near my home town.This interest led to my work on the film Land of Oil and Water (2009) and it has persisted in a series of other film, fiction, photography and performance projects that are ongoing. In 2011, I became affiliated with the Petrocultures research group at the University of Alberta and as part of my participation there, I began work on what I call the Tarhands project, a series of creative and critical investigations into the cultural politics of tar. The recurrent figure in this work, a character named Tarhands, is an amalgamation of my three intellectual forefathers:  Georges Bataille, the Swamp Thing, and the Cree trickster figure Wisakaychak.  The Tarhands project is focused on public engagement and it works through modes of irony, citation, irrationality and humour to expose the “energy unconscious” of colonial culture. Up until now I have focused largely on the Canadian context, but I hope to make connections through CCPPA and Hemi to expand the scope of this work and engage with petroleum and Indigeneity in the Americas.

3.  Aboriginal Literature

Much of my critical work on Canadian Aboriginal literature focuses on Cree and Métis writers and the role of literature as “community work,” in Maria Campbell’s terms.  As part of this process I have examined the meaning of oral styles and strategies in texts by writers such as Gregory Scofield, Marvin Francis, Louise Halfe, Jeannette Armstrong, and Thomas King.  I am also interested in positioning Aboriginal literature alongside representations of Aboriginal stories in other media, especially in film and web platforms. I have also been involved with numerous editing projects with the intention of bringing important works of Aboriginal literature back into public attention. I am general editor of a new University of Manitoba Press series of critical editions entitled First Voices, First Texts, and I am working with Gregory Scofield on an anthology of Métis literature