It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples. I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process. The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.
I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson. Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry. We owe it to ourselves to become educated.
This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason. We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.
The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world. Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died, the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.
I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years. His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet. An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.
I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries. While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories. I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.