November 16, 2022
  • November 16, 2022

Book reviews: Indigenous voices resonate in rich anthology

By on August 25, 2018 0

Bill Robertson reviews the Kisiskaciwan anthology: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly, Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy and House of Charlemagne by Tim Lilburn

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Many readers and scholars in Canada date the beginning of the revival of First Nations literature to 1973 and the publication of Halfbreed, by Maria Campbell. Since that time, to paraphrase one writer, the doors have been opened wide and we have witnessed a remarkable increase in First Nations writing and storytelling.


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The time has come for a thoughtful and inclusive anthology of the writings of the First Nations of Saskatchewan, and a bold step in this direction has been taken by the University of Regina Press with kisiskaciwan: Indigenous voices from where the river flows quickly ($ 39.95), edited by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber. Campbell, a Métis woman, falls roughly in the middle of this anthology with a poem called Jacob. Before it, the work dates back to the 1700s and pre-Contact life stories, followed by speeches by immortal leaders such as Sweet Grass, Big Bear and Beardy when signing important treaties, words that still resonate today.

In these early writings are creation stories, funny stories about the trickster figure – wesakechak – horror stories about the epidemics that raged in the villages, and the wise words of visionary leaders who saw what happened. was going to arrive for their people and asked for help when “our country is no longer able to support us.” There are also pleadings from leaders such as Thunderchild who defend their spiritual practices against the prejudices of people who only see their way as righteous.

This kind of government prejudice leads to attitudes such as those described by Vicki Wilson when she talks about “losing her childhood” in residential school, separated from her family and being told they were “a bunch of pagans”. A lucid, gripping, and concise indictment of the history and legacy of residential schools is found in SkyBlue’s poem Legacy of Residential Schools by Mary Morin, immediately followed by Jo-Ann Episkenew’s policies controlling education. Indians. Everyone should read these plays on a regular basis.


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There are songs here by Buffy St. Marie, Tom Jackson, Andrea Menard and Brad Bellegarde (InfoRed), snippets of longer prose works by Harold Johnson, Ernie Louttit, Yvette Nolan and Bevann Fox, and short stories from Lisa Bird-Wilson, Carol Daniels and Warren Cariou. Then there are the contemporary poets, people like Randy Lundy, Gregory Scofield, Mika Lafond and Tennille Campbell, who all have new collections in bookstores right now. What Maria Campbell woke up in 1973 is huge in 2018. Look where the world is going.

kisiskaciwan: Indigenous voices from where the river flows quickly
kisiskaciwan: Indigenous voices from where the river flows quickly SASwp

Song of the blackbird

Speaking of a new collection of poems from Randy Lundy, there’s Blackbird Song (U of R Press, $ 19.95), his third. In it we find a mid-life man struggling with grief, loss, nameless depression, constant sleeplessness – “again, man cannot sleep” – and feelings of loss. inability to keep his life simple and be grateful for what he has. . A not uncommon complaint.

There is a woman who is gone, parents who have passed away or left in dire circumstances, and a general funk about the world and the man’s place in it. Lundy divides his collection into three: short lyrics in the first and third, and mostly prose poems in the middle. And the lyrics are interspersed with very short pieces that are almost haiku in nature, some like aphorisms.

For every poem in which the speaker complains about his “desperate invocations”, the coarse hairs that come out of his nose (aging), “the lies on which (he) subsists, his” usual traps of the mind ” , there are poems that ask for and receive grace in the world. Autumn Elms, Miracles, and the aptly titled Grace are all beautiful responses to the world in its glory, which he misses when his head is bowed, thinking that he “may have been cheated / in every moment of (his) life. until now”.


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In poems such as An Ecology of Being and Non-Being, Wear Your Skin Lightly, and Listen, to name a few, Lundy’s speaker works hard for acceptance and gratitude. The great Persian poet Rumi once said: “Your depression is linked to your insolence and your refusal to praise. Lundy is working hard in this collection to scratch a few bright lines of praise on what he thinks are the gray walls of his soul. The results are pure poetry.

Song of the blackbird
Song of the blackbird SASwp

Charlemagne House

And to complete this U of R trio, the House of Charlemagne by Tim Lilburn ($ 19.95). Métis artist Edward Poitras asked poet and essayist Lilburn, originally from Regina and now Victoria, to write the lyrics for a dance based on the life of Honoré Jaxon, secretary of Louis Riel’s second provisional government in 1885. You may have seen a famous photo of Jaxon (or Jackson, as he was born), sitting on a sidewalk in New York City, buffalo hat on his head, surrounded by a sea of ​​paper and cardboard, kicked out of his dwelling with all the recordings of Riel’s grand vision of a homeland for the Métis.

This amazing little book (70 pages) contains not only Lilburn’s lyrics for this dance / mask / song staged on September 19, 2015 at Performing Turtle Island in Regina, but also Lilburn’s imaginations, based on scrupulous research and a significant engagement with the land itself, from the metaphysics upon which Riel based his ideas of a Métis nation that would live in the prairies 500 years after his death.

True to the rich and flowing spirit of Lilburn and his commission from Poitras, he mixes his poetry and prose with extracts from Riel’s own writings and with pieces of modern poems and the works of philosophers such as Plato and Julien de Norwich. It shows the beautiful ideas of a poet and religious visionary as they clash with the nation’s stubborn and uplifting army of British-Canadian business. Time will tell the winner.

Charlemagne's house
Charlemagne’s house SASwp



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