This week we’re in conversation with Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel, whose powerful poetry project NISHGA was released over the summer with McClelland & Stewart.
Author Billy-Ray Belcourt says “Abel sculpts a narrative of dislocation and self-examination that pressurizes received notions of “Canada” and “history” and “art” and “literature” and “belonging” and “forgiveness”… By its Afterword, NISHGA adds up to a work of personal and national reckoning that is by turns heartbreaking and scathing.”
Jordan Abel is a Nisga'a writer from Vancouver. He is the author of The Place of Scraps (winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Un/inhabited, and Injun (winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize). Abel's work has recently been anthologized in The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (Hayward), The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry (Anstruther), Best Canadian Poetry (Tightrope), Counter-Desecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene (Wesleyan), and The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation (ARP). Abel's work has been published in numerous journals and magazines—including Canadian Literature, The Capilano Review, and Poetry Is Dead—and his visual poetry has been included in exhibitions at the Polygon Gallery, UNIT/PITT Gallery, and the Oslo Pilot Project Room in Oslo, Norway. Abel recently completed a PhD at Simon Fraser University, and is currently working as an A …
Today we are pleased to kick off our special coverage of the 2020 Governor General's Award winners (English-language) with an interview with Michelle Good, whose Five Little Indians (Harper Perennial/HarperCollins) won the fiction prize.
Enter for a chance to win Five Little Indians as well and don't miss the excerpt at the end of this post!
“Intimate and ambitious, Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians is a heart-breaking account of lives shaped and destroyed by the residential school system. Here is powerful testimony, expertly crafted and wisely observed, tragic yet full of redemptive moments. An unflinching, compassionate and moving novel about the struggle to live and love in the wake of deep trauma.”—2020 Governor General’s Award Peer Assessment Committee
Michelle Good is a Cree writer and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. After working for Indigenous organizations for twenty-five years, she obtained a law degree and advocated for residential school survivors for over fourteen years. Good earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia while still practising law and managing her own law firm. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in magazines and anthologies across Cana …
Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
Residential Schools are often talked about beginning with the study of Indigenous Peoples in the Grade 3 social studies curriculum, but awareness can begin even earlier. These texts, from preschool to teens, address some of the harsh issues—and are especially meaningful in connection with Orange Shirt Day on September 30.
The Orange Shirt Story, by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol, is a true story. Six-year-old Phyllis was looking forward to going to the same school as her cousins. She even had a new orange shirt for the occasion, but the nuns promptly removed it, and then cut off her hair. The nuns showed no empathy—a poignant illustration shows Phyllis crying, alone, in her bed at night. One nice teacher was her only solace. Luckily, Phyllis only had to endure one year away at school and never went back. There’s a section at the back of the book explaining the meaning of Orange Shirt Day. (Grade 3+)
Fatty Legs, by Christy Jordan …
Today we are in conversation with Tanya Talaga. Her hard-hitting and important Seven Fallen Feathers tells the story of seven Indigenous teenagers who have gone missing in Thunder Bay over the past several years. Throughout the narrative, she unpacks the legacy of the residential school system and explores how ongoing colonialism and bureaucratic indifference impact Indigenous youth in Northern Ontario. The book was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust of Canada Prize for Nonfiction.
According to The Walrus, "Seven Fallen Feathers is a must-read for all Canadians. It shows us where we came from, where we’re at, and what we need to do to make the country a better place for us all."
Tanya Talaga has been a journalist at the Toronto Star for twenty years, covering everything from general city news to education, natio …
Phil Fontaine is a Survivor, TRC Honorary Witness, and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He writes the Foreword to new book A Knock at the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, reproduced below.
My name is Phil Fontaine and I am a survivor.
Survivor is a word that years ago I used in hushed tones to describe my experience at Indian Residential School. But that was then. I have now come to say the word louder and more imbued with pride with every passing year of my life. This year, “survivor” has reached a crescendo.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, and its findings, represents a historic moment for all survivors; for all Indigenous people everywhere. It is, I think, a historic moment for Canada, the significance of which rests in not only what has been, but also what is to come.
I cannot speak for every survivor—each of us has our own story—but we do have common characteristics. As survivors, we number in the thousands. But if you count our brothers and sisters who are no longer with us, we number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly many more. All of us, the living and the dead, endured the effects of a policy that sought transformation—transform …
In Talking History, Canada's foremost historians and history experts show that Canada's history is essential to our understanding of our country and the world today. The series is made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Kaleigh Bradley is a historical consultant and PhD candidate in the Department of History at York University. Her current research examines the environmental history of Indigenous lands and the effects of mining and development on Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. She’s also a co-editor of the popular history website ActiveHistory.ca.
In the nineteenth century, near present-day Sault Ste. Marie, Chief Shingwaukonse dreamt of a teaching wigwam where Anishinaabe children could acquire vocational and academic skills. Chief Shingwaukonse wanted children to have these tools so that they could preserve Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe language), and easily adapt to a modernizing economy and society. Indigenous peoples, with the help of church missionaries and government officials, sought the creation of the schools for their children, but the schools later became an instrument for cultural genocide.
The Indian Residential School (IRS) system began in the early nineteenth century with the missionary …
Mini Aodla Freeman's Life Among the Qallunaat—a memoir of her experiences in the north and of working for the Department of Northern Affairs during the late 1950s—was first published in 1978, and appears now in a brand new edition edited and with an afterword by Keavy Martin and Julie Rak, with Norma Dunning. The new book begins with a conversation between Freeman, Martin and Dunning, excerpted here, in which they discuss how Freeman came to write her memoir, its enthusiastic reception by readers, and how copies were kept in a basement at Indian Affairs for fear that Freeman had included details of her time at residential school. (Freeman says, "I should have, but I didn't.)
The original publication of Life Among the Qallunaat (1978) began with a foreword by Alex Stevenson, the "Administrator of the Arctic" who had worked at the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources during the time when Mini Aodla Freeman was employed there as a translator (1957–1960).
To provide context for this new edition, Aodla Freeman detailed her experiences of writing and publishing the original text in an interview with Keavy Martin and Norma Dunning. This excerpt is taken from a longer discussion recorded on March 20, 2014, at Aodla Freeman’s home in Edmonton.