Jeannette Armstrong was born on the Penticton Indian Reserve in 1948, and, aside from the two years in Victoria when she was attending university in 1977 and 1978, she has lived all of her life in the Okanagan. Yet she has become an internationally recognized writer and activist – a novelist, poet and spokesperson for Indigenous peoples’ rights to land and justice, education and language, and a healthy environment.
In her novels and poetry, Armstrong experiments with language and form, working to make English reflect Okanagan language, concepts, and relationships with a community that includes not only people but also the land and all that grows and lives on and in it. Her first novel Slash (1985), now in its tenth printing. Her second novel Whispering in Shadows was published in 2000 and has also been well-received. Armstrong has contributed to the development of Indigenous Studies at UBC Okanagan, and taken on the job of Assistant Professor in Indigenous Studies. Additionally, Armstrong has recently been appointed as a Canada Research Chair.
Art, scholarship, traditional knowledge and actively trying to make changes for the better in the world are not separate spheres for Jeannette Armstrong, but have always been intertwined. While organizing and educating in the Okanagan through her writing and through institutions like the En’owkin Centre, Armstrong has also worked both in Canada and internationally as an advocate of justice and rights for Indigenous peoples. Armstrong maintains that “Indigenous rights must be protected, for we are the protectors of the earth.”