Monthly Archives: January 2021

BWS 13.01.21 report: “Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards” with Deanna Reder

Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder is Chair of the Department of Indigenous Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. In 2018 she was inducted into the College of New Scholars in the Royal Society of Canada and is the co-Chair of the Indigenous Voices Awards.

Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the Archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards

My name is Deanna Reder and while my family is from all over the Canadian Prairies, and my Cree-speaking Cree, or Nehiyow, and Métis, or apistowkustan, relatives, are from Northern Saskatchewan, I have had the great privilege to live and raise my children in Vancouver’s lower mainland over three decades. I write as an uninvited guest on the traditional, unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) Peoples and I teach in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and English at Simon Fraser University. My research focuses on the large, neglected archive by Indigenous writers who historically have had difficulty accessing publishing {1}.

When Dorianne Emmerton first reached out to invite me to the Brockton Series, she suggested that I could advise on how writers could best avoid anti-Indigenous stereotypes and instead write sensitively and respectfully about Indigenous peoples.

I feared that the first imperative I know about writing might be considered by you, by Creative Writers, to be cliché—the adage to write what you know. But I know enough from my experience teaching a spectrum of students—from the first-year university classroom to Masters and Doctoral programs—that this itself is a problem. Should you have graduated from the conventional Canadian school system, especially if you did so more than five years ago, then you typically know very little about Canadian history from the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. And in my assessment, I mean no disrespect. I am commenting on curriculum constructed around the logic of colonization that justified settlement: the belief in terra nullius or empty land, that Canada was empty and free for the taking, that Indigenous people had died out or were simply out of the picture, and that this was land upon which a new country could be built.

Now the “you” I address does not include those who have benefitted from amazing, transformative Social Studies teachers in high school, or graduates of Indigenous Studies departments at universities; and this doesn’t address those of “you” who are Indigenous writer yourselves. But even in 2021 the majority of students I teach have been only taught the settler history of the community they were raised in or the stories of the “pioneers” of their province, and little about the histories of members of the original nations. So forgive me if my words don’t apply to your situation, but instead consider whether most Canadians know the history from Indigenous perspectives.

I have had graduate students who are public school teachers themselves—solid citizens, elegant writers, hardworking researchers—who were never taught how Canada displaced Indigenous peoples. That is why, after all, the 2007-2015 Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued ninety-four calls to action {2}, many that repeatedly insist on curriculum development so that Canadians—especially teachers, lawyers, social workers, healthcare professionals—will be taught at minimum the history of residential schools, used to separate First Nations children from their communities and cultures as a way to undermine First Nations autonomy and vitality and encourage assimilation.

So this lack of knowledge creates a conundrum. Now it is always possible that a writer might wish to create a universe that is significantly different from the one we inhabit—like the world without adults in the Peanuts comic strip or in the Teen Titans Go cartoons. But if writers sketch out Canadian landscapes or cityscapes and exclude signs or references to Indigenous peoples then they enact a literary form of terra nullius.

And yet Canadian writers are cautioned by the words, recorded by Stó:lō writer Lee Maracle, at the famous debates in 1988 in Montreal, at the Third International Book Fair {3}; Secwepemc editor Viola Thomas implores: “Don’t buy books about us, buy books by us.” So I am not suggesting that you tell Indigenous stories. As Menominee writer Chrystos states: “We have a Voice.” This isn’t about writing our stories. Indigenous creators have told and recorded stories in various mediums since forever. And in my work looking at the archive, I see however that long before there has been a viable publishing industry in Canada, there have been Indigenous peoples who wrote and attempted to get manuscripts published, without success in their lifetime: Kainai war veteran Mike Mountain Horse; Cree cleric Edward Ahenakew; Métis activist James Brady; Cree activist Joseph Dion; Secwepemc/Ktunaxa dramatherapist Vera Manuel. Etc.

But this is about your writing, how you might describe your world. In his recent book Seen But Not Seen eminent historian Donald B. Smith examines several famous historical figures as a way to ask why it was that they, like Canadians generally, didn’t recognize Indigenous societies and cultures as worthy of respect. Smith begins the book by remembering his childhood and how little he was taught about Indigenous people in general. He begins, as I urge all my students to do, with something that is foundational to Indigenous inquiry: the acknowledgement of the writer’s—of your own—particular position, even as it is dynamic and changing and complex. It is self-reflection based on respect for your perspective, your genealogy and then expanding that respect to the territories where you live, to uncover the stories encoded upon the land, the shifting names of the territories where you live, maybe even the treaty histories and the names and histories of people who lived there before and now. All of this is even before you write, so it is a long process but this approach based on respect will guide you. Embrace the humility that results.

Beware also of the overwhelming influence of American culture internationally, that has circulated the American national myth about “cowboys and Indians” that reverberates in a lot of what is identified as Indigenous in North America. So often what we expect an Indigenous person to look, dress, speak, act and live like is influenced by this Hollywood history. Navigating stereotype is emotionally charged. I recommend the NFB film Reel Injun as a way to review common tropes. Plus, it is funny. Recognizing stereotype as a way to avoid replicating it, is an important step.

But what can be surprising is that stereotype reverberates throughout a complex set of systems, and stereotype influences Indigenous aesthetics too. Often Indigenous creators will use images from popular culture to undermine or maybe even just amuse. I teach my students how to marvel at the ways that these creators can adopt and adapt these images for their own purposes. But for non-Indigenous creators, this is not as easy to do. So tread carefully.

There might be some who will urge you to stumble in without this level of respect or care. Should someone offer an Appropriation prize, back away carefully. But without taking up too much air space on the history of how the 2017 scandal unfolded, I want to share with you how with the support of a lot of allies, many pushed back, and believed and insisted that Indigenous writers still need support and space and opportunity to write.

In 2017, I was just about to become the President of the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA) {4} and through a complex set of events I and other members of the ILSA executive became the stewards for over $110,000.00 that helped us fund the Indigenous Voices Awards {5}. I am very proud to say that we are now coming up to our fourth year. In 2018 our very first poetry prize winner in English was Billy-Ray Belcourt who went on to win the Griffin award; our very first poet to win the unpublished category in English was Smokii Sumac, who the following year, had his first book published that took the 2019 prize. Recently American poet and editor Tracy K. Smith chose a poem by Francine Merasty for inclusion in her collection, The Best American Poetry 2021. And the IVAs (pronounced the eye-vahz) is the only literary awards IN THE WORLD that gives prizes to emerging Indigenous writers in FRENCH.

I urge all of you to go to www.indigenousvoicesawards.org to learn more, maybe to donate, and then on the 21st of June to watch our website and join us for our online gala. In 2018 we held our gala in Regina to celebrate our first group of authors; in 2019 we held our gala in Vancouver. All along the way writer, and patron Pamela Dillon and Penguin Random House supported us to put on mentoring events for the shortlisted writers. And then with 2020 and COVID we despaired because we wouldn’t be able to physically gather and instead had to go online. However, it is through our recorded gala, still available for view on-line {6}, that we caught the attention of the Giller Foundation, and discovered a national audience.

I’m not really sure how Creative Writers ought to write about Indigenous people, although I am convinced that the process begins by listening. I invite all of you to look for our podcast on National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st; and listen to these emerging Indigenous voices.

Endnotes

{1} See www.thepeopleandthetext.ca

{2} See http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

{3} See “Native Myths: Trickster Alive and Crowing” by Lee Maracle in Language in her eye: views on writing and gender by Canadian women writing in English. Edited by Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard, and Eleanor Wachtel, eds. ECW Press, 1990. P. 185.

{4} See www.indigenousliterarystudies.org

{5} See www.indigenousvoicesawards.org

{6} See https://indigenousvoicesawards.org/2020-ivas

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BWS 13.01.21: Kirby

KIRBY is the author of WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE CALLED? (Anstruther Press, 2020), THIS IS WHERE I GET OFF (Permanent Sleep Press, 2019), SHE’S HAVING A DORIS DAY (knife | fork | book, 2017). Forthcoming POETRY IS QUEER (Palimpsest, Fall 2021) and NOT YOUR BEST no 2 [editor]. She is the publisher, book fairy at knife | fork | book [Toronto] jeffkirby.ca.

from Poetry Is Queer out Fall 2021, Palimpsest Press

It’s just after 7pm the first of the year and I’m thinking how long I want to continue. Play this out.

I’ve put on some serious poundage since this whole mess started [“We all have Cher!” my friend Christopher chimes]. Breathing is laborious. Hell, going anywhere is.

I step onto my balcony. There’s light flurries made magical in the orangey-glow of the lamps along Church. I light the lantern and a pre-roll, as I do most nights. Someone has to keep this corner pretty.

People are out. Walking. To where? Everything’s pretty much closed. Sucks living in a city you can’t enjoy.

I could go for a walk. It’s mild.

I miss peoples faces.

“Stay home. Don’t go outside. Period. A message from your Ontario Government.”

Thank God she’s on the second floor.

Make a tall GnT w/fresh cucumber (salad, possibly dinner)… A gummy? Sure! She’s watching RuPaul tonight.

Go to my room, my current cell of sorts, what to play? Red House Painters. Really doll? Well… Exactly. Deep fucking well. “Mark Kozelek’s pain is our gain.” There’s comfort in the familiar.

And that’s more than I can ever give you.

Suzanne, early on, “I know not to worry about you, cause you enjoy your own company.”

The fact that I’m accustomed to being alone as a homosexual for as long as I can remember. That’s just home base.

This strange thing happened.

That family zoom call with Suzanne Christmas Eve, one day out of the hospital, the one I would have left if not for how much it mattered for my mom to see all four of her children’s faces.

“I did this,” she said.

Not sinking in until days later that she was—is still—someone, that this is who she is, a person who lived to do exactly this, be the mother of four.

We are so alike. The single wish to be seen, recognized as/for who we are.

My sweet friend Dre who made me come full stop face to face at a party, “Kirby, I’m right here, in front of you, see me,” but to see him would mean my desire for him [for Rex for David for Randy for Ron for Alex for Vincent for Chris for] would been seen and I didn’t want that, not that night.

Not my desires exactly, they were in fact quite tame, often welcomed.

No, these are the last remnants of being wrong for being. Here. At all.

That old View-Master.

“I’m not going to protect you from my love.”

Body, remember, not only all the times you have been loved
Not only the beds where you have lain down.
But also those desires which for you
Shone clearly in the eyes,
And trembled in the voice – and some
Chance accident brought them to nothing.
And now, when all that is in the past,
They seem very like those desires
To which you gave yourself – how they shone,
Remember, in the eyes that looked at you;
How they trembled in the voice, for you, body, remember.

[C. P. Cavafy trans Robert Liddell]

Is it time?

Not tonight. A romantic notion. A thought.

“Hey Mom, I heard what you said the other night…”

“Why? What did I say?”

“That you did this.”

“What?!”

“That you had us four kids.”

“O, yes, I loved having you four kids.”

“Happy New Year, mom.”

“You too, loved your call, bye, bye-bye.”


Kirby visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Laure Baudot
, Dominik Parisien, and Sonal Champsee. Our guest speaker, Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder, will give her talk on, “Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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BWS 13.01.21: Laure Baudot

Laure Baudot’s work has appeared in publications including The Antigonish ReviewThe Danforth ReviewFound Press, Prairie Fire, and Wasafiri Magazine of International Contemporary Writing. Her debut collection of short stories is This One Because of the Dead (Cormorant Books 2019). Her karate blog can be found at here. Currently a psychotherapist-in-training, she lives in Toronto with her husband and three children.

Behind the Front – a Health Care Worker’s Family Pandemic Journal

20 July 2020

6 a.m.

I read in the Globe that Comet Neowise, a comet with a split tail, will be visible in our hemisphere for the next few nights.

We have three children. We lost most of our childcare in the beginning of the pandemic, and getting up early is the only way I can write, exercise, read. My husband is an E.R. doc. I have contract jobs, so when Dear Husband (DH) isn’t at the hospital, we take turns doing our desk work. He has considerably more and better paid work than I, and since he took a pay cut early in the pandemic and we need the money, we have an agreement that he will lay claim to most of the working hours.

My four-year-old (Young Son or YS), rises at 6:30. I try to persuade him to watch T.V. so that I can do some yoga, to no avail. Unlike his older siblings, he hates T.V. I give up and try to do yoga anyway. When I’m in downward dog, he climbs on top of me and drapes himself over my back. I can smell the sleep on his pyjamas.

10 a.m.

D.H. puts two loaves of bread in the oven and then tackles his mountain of paperwork, while I wrangle YS into his shoes so we can go out. The playgrounds are shuttered, but YS has recently learned to ride a two-wheeler. For two hours, we circle a small soccer field. He bikes while I jog, my pounding feet punctuated by my exclamations of encouragement. “Good job, buddy! Great biking!”

At exactly 11:15, I talk him into going home. I’ve committed a half an hour a day to working on my novel. Carol Shields said once that when her kids were young she wrote between the time she picked up their socks and when they came home for lunch. I recite her words to myself when I feel the desperation that comes from parenting young children, which leaves no time or energy for intellectual work.

Karl Ove Knausgaard captures parents’ complex feelings toward their children when he writes about dealing with his toddler’s tantrums:

The corrosive part, of course, is the awareness that being nice to them is not of the slightest help when I am in the thick of it, dragged down into a quagmire of tears and frustration. And, once in the quagmire, each further action only serves to plunge me deeper. And at least as corrosive is the awareness that I am dealing with children. That it is children who are dragging me down. There is something deeply shameful about this. In such situations I am proably as far from the person I aspire to be as possible. (My Struggle, Part I)

I persuade YS to watch Peppa Pig, and I get to work. My limited time frame forces me not to censor myself. Later, when I share snippets to my writing group, they will praise the work. They will make me feel like I’m producing some of the best material of my life. For now, I park my kid in front of a screen and write with the desperation of a person walking through a desert who glimpses an oasis, who runs to catch up to it before it reveals itself to be a mirage.

2 p.m.

DH leaves for work. He takes nothing with him. He keeps his work bag in the car. It’s the early stages of the pandemic and nobody knows whether the virus is transmissible via surfaces, so he keeps his work materials out of the house.

At work, he will don his greens, cap, mask, shield, and isolation gown. For eight to ten hours, he won’t eat, drink, or pee – for one, it’s too tiring to remove and replace his PPE to do these tasks. Some people are still downplaying the importance of PPE, but he believes that being in the presence of others without PPE is hazardous. Months later, when colleagues get sick and COVID outbreaks are declared in the hospitals, he will feel vindicated in his decision never to remove his equipment during his shifts.

23 July 2020

8 p.m.

Today, I had childcare. I got some work done, and by the evening I’m so energized by a feeling of accomplishment that I take an evening walk with DH. As we walk through Christie Pits, we notice passers-by craning their necks, some with binoculars.

“Right,” I say. “The comet!”

We circle the park again, straining to see the astronomical sight. But the cloud cover is too great, and we see nothing, not even constellations.

24 July 2020

4 a.m.

Hoping to glimpse the comet, we leave the children still sleeping and drive to the darkest park we can think of, in the city’s west end.

The humidity is rising, and the combination of fog and the yellow bulbs from the park’s lamplights lends some corners of the landscape a yellowish, eerie glow. We stand in the middle of a soccer field and look up. Even in this supposedly dark place, there is too much light from the city beyond to see more than a handful of stars, sparking from a few, black patches.

8 p.m.

DH has a day and night off. In a last effort to see the meteor, we put YS to bed and leave him and his older brother in the care of my teenage daughter, and drive out of the city. We’ve never gone so far from the youngest without an adult present before. Driving west on the 401, I stare at the reddish glow of the sunset through the clouds and fret.

“They’ll be fine,” says DH.

We arrive in a little town on Lake Simcoe. It’s pitch black. We leave the car on a side street. We thought we might sit on a beach, but the beach is fenced off. We debate jumping the barrier but decide not to. We plant ourselves in a parkette, only to be driven out by mosquitoes, so we retreat to the beach side of the road.

The Black Lives Movement has been active for the last few weeks, making salient issues I knew about but didn’t think of on a daily basis. DH and I have always taken night drives. Once, when DH we were both students, we drove to Niagara Falls on a whim. Fuelled by happiness, I must have been driving erratically, because I was stopped by a cop. “Have you been drinking?” he asked me, sniffing audibly when I scrolled down the window. I hadn’t, and he let us go, with a warning. Looking back, I wonder if, had I not been white, he would have let us go so easily.

Now, standing in the darkness, a stranger in a small Ontario town, I think to myself that, were I black, I might not dare take these nightly adventures, for fear of being the target of racism.

DH has downloaded an astronomy app on his phone. We pace back and forth on the rural road, hoping that the cars seemingly barrelling toward us won’t hit us, and look through the app at the sky. But, either because of the cloud cover or our inexperience in all matters astronomical, we can’t find the meteor. We do, however, manage to make out some constellations. For the first time since I was a child, I pick out Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

On our way home, we text my daughter to check on the kids. We pick up some McDonalds fries. My escape from domesticity, coupled with the mundane nature of searching for a comet, have made me feel happy. We drive toward home through a quiet city – still under lockdown – the taste of cheap oil and salt on our tongues.

Laure Baudot visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Dominik Parisien, Sonal Champsee, and Kirby. Our guest speaker, Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder, will give her talk on, “Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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