#NPM18: 16 INDIGENOUS WRITERS AND ARTISTS TO LEARN FROM | GUEST POST BY CHELENE KNIGHT

Recently, someone tried to tear me down on social media because of the work I am trying to do around inclusion and self-care for underrepresented writers. As a Black, female writer, on social media, self-care is important. That very same day almost as if a timely gift dropped down from depths of Twitter, I saw Indigenous writers creating space for Black writers by talking about the importance of our work in the community. I then saw Black writers uplifting Indigenous writers in the same way. We were supporting each other. It was so beautiful to see, hear, and feel—I want to continue this allyship. How do we move forward and continue to do the hard work around inclusivity? We create equitable space. We have open and honest conversations, we share stories. If we continue to uplift each other, then we open the doors for the fresh voices, game changers, and mentors to do the work they need to do. Sometimes this work has absolutely nothing to do with writing or being a writer. Support can manifest itself as just creating an energy that inspires, giving permission to unlock our own truths, or giving power for folks to just speak. All of the amazing Indigenous people I mention in this post have changed or positively influenced my life in some way. The people I mention in this post have not only educated me about the importance of conversation, but made me think about the space we create for each other.

 

Mentors we can learn from

 

Cherie Dimaline is someone whom I hope to meet soon. While reading her book The Marrow Thieves and listening to Jully Black defend her work on CBC Reads, I saw the importance of having books like Cherie’s in the world, but also increasingly evident was the necessity of the allyship between Indigenous writers and Black writers. This realization essentially led me to shape this post in a very personal way.

Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. In 2014, she was named the Emerging Artist of the Year at the Ontario Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, and became the first Aboriginal Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library.

 

The first time I heard Bev Sellars speak in person, was at Vancouver’s Growing Room Literary Festival. I have never been so moved and hypnotized all at once. When she spoke about her incredible books, They Call Me Number One, and Price Paid: The Fight For First Nations Survival, I was floored. When she spoke about what her communities needed and what they have been through—eye-opening. When thinking about moving forward as a country, learning truths and bringing to light the harmful misconceptions about Indigenous people, I highly recommend picking up her books and hearing Bev Sellars speak. She has a lot to teach us, and we are listening.

Bev Sellars is a former Chief and Councillor of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, British Columbia. First elected chief of Xat’sull in 1987, a position she held from 1987-1993 and then from 2009-2015. She also worked as a community advisor for the BC Treaty Commission. Ms. Sellars served as the representative for the Secwepemc communities on the Cariboo Chilcotin Justice Inquiry in the early 1990s. Sellars has spoken out on racism and residential schools and on the environmental and social threats of mineral resources exploitation in her region.

 

Reading Gwen Benaway’s poetry and essays and sitting beside her on a panel will definitely be my highlights of 2018. When I think about the women whom I’ve learned from just purely from listening to their stories, Gwen is someone who I can easily say made me want to do better and think deeper. She may not know this, but she made me see my own privileges and indirectly inspired me to find ways to use these newly found privileges to elevate others. Her book Passage is an incredible book of finding a way back to one’s self. This book goes above and beyond poetry in ways I’d never be able to properly articulate. I look forward to reading her next book, Holy Wild.

Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She has published two collections of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage, and her third collection, Holy Wild, is forthcoming from Book*hug in 2018. A Two-Spirited Trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. She has received many distinctions and awards, including the Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writer’s Trust of Canada. Her poetry and essays have been published in national publications and anthologies, including The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s Magazine, CBC Arts, and many others.

 

Carleigh Baker is someone that I look up to in many ways. Be it fiction, book review, poetry, or Facebook status update, Carleigh’s words are the real deal. It’s impossible to attend every literary happening in the city of Vancouver, but Carleigh is one of those few who you can expect to see at the mic, in the audience, or behind the scenes organizing simultaneously—she is everywhere and I love it. She goes out of her way to help and support other writers and this became very evident to me over the past years. Carleigh’s award-winning book, Bad Endings will always stay close to my heart.

Carleigh Baker is a Métis/Icelandic writer, whose debut short-story collection, Bad Endings, won the 2017 City of Vancouver Book Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

 

Joanne Arnott is a very well-known and established writer with multiple books under her belt including Halfling Spring. One of my favourite readings took place this year as part of SFU’s Lunch Poems in Vancouver where Joanne Arnott and Jónína Kirton read together. What was so fresh and visceral was the conversation that took place between the readings. The glorious moments and breaths in between. What I learned about Joanne through her the context she gave about her work, helped me open the locks I placed around my own truths. As writers we sometimes focus on the books and the process, but we forget that there’s a human there behind it all and Joanne brought this important point back.

Joanne Arnott is an award-winning Métis/mixed blood writer from Manitoba. Born in 1960 in Winnipeg, she studied at the University of Windsor in Ontario. She has lived on the West Coast since 1982. She is currently the poetry editor for Event Magazine. Joanne recently won the 2017 City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award.

 

My goal for 2018: Meet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. I am very drawn to the way Leanne uses the idea of fragments in her writing. Combining fragments, music, poetry, and stories is a skill. Her book This Accident of Being Lost is one that I hope will help break down the stiff and rigid genre barriers. In a world where fiction is supposed to be fiction, and poetry is supposed to be poetry, and song should remain song, Leanne shows us that the bending of genres can indeed lead to an incredible work of art. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer, scholar, musician, and is a member of Alderville First Nation. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba and has lectured at universities across Canada. She is the author of three previous books, including Islands of Decolonial Love, and the editor of three anthologies. She has released two albums.

 

To write anything about Jónína Kirton makes me smile. She is one of the most influential mentors I’ve had since I began writing. Her energy, spirit, and willingness to speak up have taught me that it’s OK to question what’s happening around us and that it’s OK to share our stories and defend our words. Our paths have crossed in so many writerly and non-writerly ways, I feel very connected to Jónína’s work and its importance and value. When I first read page as bone – ink as blood I knew she would be on to big things. Poetry is difficult. Jónína writes as if it were not, and that’s talent. There’s a flawlessness that reveals itself in her work, and her second book, An Honest Woman is no different. That same brilliant honesty is there hovering just above the eyes as you read. These two books will shake you to your core. Stunning.

Jónína a Métis/Icelandic poet, author & facilitator was born in Treaty One and currently lives on unceded Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh land. A descendant of French, Scottish and English fur-traders her Indigenous ancestry includes Swampy Cree, Ojibwe, Assiniboine, Nakota and Sekani. She is a mother, a wife, a late-bloomer and a recovering new-ager who has published two collections of poetry with Talonbooks. A graduate of the SFU Writer’s Studio she is a member of their Advisory Board. A Room Magazine editorial member since 2015 she is an active member of their Equity and Inclusion Committee. She has twenty-five years of experience as a facilitator.

 

Fresh Voices: Writers to watch

The first time I laid eyes on Kelly Roulette’s work, I was reading submissions for the SFU’s The Writer’s Studio’s Writing Mom’s scholarship. I was not only magnetically pulled toward her words, but I found myself connected to her determination as a single mother to follow her dream to write and to publish just like I also wanted. Our paths crossed again at the Vancouver Public Library where we both worked. We talked not only about our writing challenges and goals, but we talked as mothers and how we navigated the tricky terrain of parenting pre-teens while still tightly gripping the pen. Kelly is currently working on a non-fiction short story memoir covering issues of Native spirituality and her relationship with her mother. She has written her first short video screenplay, called “Sometimes She Smiles,” which will be produced this year with the support of Vancity funding. Kelly also hopes to have her first children’s book published, Can’t Cocoon Today, which addresses the fear many kids face of growing up. Keep your eyes open for Kelly’s work.

 

Selina Boan impressed me immediately with her poetic prowess when via a Room magazine submission to an issue I was editing. I have been writing poetry since I was a young girl, and after reading the first three lines of Selina’s “the plot so far” I knew I had work to do. It’s not often that editors of magazines get to put a face to the words we publish on the page, so meeting Selina in person at the issue launch was a real honour for me. Selina is a poet living on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She has been published extensively in literary magazines across Canada, won the Gold National Magazine Award for poetry in 2017, and was shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize. She is currently working on a collection of poems exploring her Cree and European heritage.

 

Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries fell into my hands like a sweet gift. When I was asked to take part in an event that would be held for Terese and I to talk about our memoirs I was ecstatic. Even though the event had to be postponed, I was humbled by the fact that our words held space together only if for a moment. Terese’s memoir is urgent, important, and beautifully written. She has taught us all the power that trauma has and the healing power we house within ourselves. She has taught me that my stories are worthy of breathing air. Thank you, Terese.

 Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island, BC. She graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts MFA program. Her work has been featured in The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Carve, The Offing, Feminist Wire, and The Toast. She is a columnist for Indian Country Today.

 

Samantha Nock is doing great work in the poetry world, and we are all better for it. Her words saved me just a few days ago when I unintentionally fell in love with the poetics she self-published on her website. Her social media presence can be funny when you need a laugh, and serious when it’s time to do the work—a wonderful, honest, and much needed balance. She puts this work out there for us to breathe in as we need to. If you haven’t read her work, I highly recommend you check out her website and support her writing. Samantha Nock is a Cree-Métis writer and poet from Treaty 8 territory in Northeastern BC Her family originally comes from Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan.

 

Lessons in Community: The Game-Changers

Johnathan Dyer is someone I would call a game-changer on so many levels. The first time I met him, was at the Vancouver Public Library where he started when he was only eighteen years old. After speaking with him about not only writing, but his political and academic goals, he instantly set the bar higher for the rest of us.

Johnathan is now in his early twenties and already has many impressive projects underway. He is working with the Vancouver Public Library on an Indigenous information session presentation to be delivered to each branch by the Truth and Reconciliation committee. His hopes are that these presentations will educate staff and infuse understanding about the various issues that Indigenous patrons face. He is also dedicated to developing a practicum program where the main goal will be to bring Indigenous youth into library work and hopefully lead them to careers in the information fields.

In addition to attending school at Langara, Johnathan is also working on two pieces of writing: a modern urban fantasy steeped in the rich culture of his ancestors—an idea that came about when he realized that most fantasy seemed focused on European mythology. His other piece is historical fiction based around his late Grandmother’s life and her experience being part of the Sixties Scoop. Johnathan Dyer is a Non-status Indigenous person with ancestral ties to the Cree, Blackfoot, Iroquois, Cowichin, Huron, Métis, T’sou-ke and Songees people.

 

I am always writing about the power of Alicia Elliott’s voice. The necessity of her social media presence, and the honest way in which she writes. I call Alicia a game-changer because she’s made major players in CanLit turn the camera on themselves and face all that going wrong while giving them ample opportunity to do right. She not only gives detailed and well-thought out reasons why CanLit needs to be less white, but demands it. She, in my opinion, is a force to be reckoned with. Alicia Elliott  is a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations living in Brantford, Ontario, with her husband and child. Her writing has been published widely and won a National Magazine Award. She’s currently Creative Nonfiction Editor at The Fiddlehead, Associate Nonfiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths, and a consulting editor with The New Quarterly. She’ll be the 2017-2018 Geoffrey and Margaret Andrew Fellow at UBC. Her book of essays A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is forthcoming from Doubleday Canada.

 

Jessica Johns is a name you will start to see everywhere very soon. She (in collaboration with Jónína Kirton and Patricia Massy) co-founded the new Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series. The series grew out of the shared desire of Massy Books owner Patricia Massy and Room Magazine editorial members Jónína Kirton and Jessica Johns to raise the voices of Indigenous women, Two Spirit, and queer writers. I was absolutely blown away by the amount of time, care, and heart put in to create this series. I am excited to see Jessica continue to break down barriers for folks. This is no easy task. Jessica Johns is a writer of Cree ancestry and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation. She is the incoming Poetry editor for PRISM international, living and working on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She has been published in SAD mag, Glass Buffalo, Saltern Magazine, Bad Nudes, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others.

 

Patricia Massy is the owner of the beautiful Massy Books in Vancouver. Listening to her speak about her dreams of owning a bookstore and then seeing it realized, would be inspirational for anyone. Patricia is an avid supporter of the community’s underrepresented writers and offers free accessible space for people to hold events such as book launches and readings. She is also one of the founders for the new Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series in Vancouver. Patricia Massy is Cree and a member of the As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation. After 17 years of working at various bookstores and non-profits, she was inspired to open her own used bookstore that would also serve as an event space for the community. She believes books connect us to our humanity and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

 

Tracey Draper an established musician, community mentor, and a personal hero of mine. She not only creates necessary space and support for the women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but she does it with style and grace. From putting together writing, art, craft, and other skilled workshops to full-on literary nights at Atira’s Women’s Resource Centre, Tracey creates a space where women feel like they have purpose. I definitely felt like I had purpose when Tracey put together a beautiful literary night called “Homegrown Stories.” She not only created space for local writers but encouraged folks who have never written or shared their work before, to step up to the mic. At the age of six Tracey first performed on stage as a classically trained pianist  and has since honed her musical talents by making remixes and demos for several Vancouver artists and various songs for new media, commercials and film, all while working in the Downtown Eastside for a non-profit organization. Tracey Draper is the Programming Coordinator at Atira Women’s Resource Society https://traceydraper.com/

 

As I was writing this, I thought about how easy it would have been to put together a simple reading list so I didn’t do that. Instead I wanted to focus on the person behind the writing, art, and music. I wanted to share how the person and the work can unintentionally help out another writer, just like it did for me. Suddenly, we all become game-changers and mentors. This act of uplifting and sharing of space goes beyond the allyship of Indigenous writers and Black writers. We are constantly talking about white allies—whom are incredibly important too—but we have to create space for each other first.

Chelene Knight is a Vancouver born-and-raised graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU. In addition to being a workshop facilitator for teens, she is also a literary event organizer, host, and seasoned panelist. She has been published in various Canadian and American literary magazines, and her work is widely anthologized. Chelene is currently the Managing Editor at Room magazine, and the 2018 Programming Director for the Growing Room FestivalBraided Skin, her first book (Mother Tongue Publishing, March 2015), has given birth to numerous writing projects including her second book, memoir, Dear Current Occupant (BookThug, 2018).

In 2016 Chelene worked with fiction mentor Jen Sookfong Lee to flesh out the first draft of a historical novel set Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley.

Chelene is currently focusing on providing manuscript consults and is also designing an online writing course for emerging writers.