Native authors making waves

In contemporary Canadian society, Joseph Boyden continues to seebarriers between First Nations communities and the rest of the country.

In contemporary Canadian society, Joseph Boyden continues to see barriers between First Nations communities and the rest of the country.

Often more prevalent than seen through the eyes of non-First Nations people, said the part-Métis author, 43, their struggles continue to persist both on and off the reserve. But the Giller Prize winner believes writing is the perfect way to break down those barriers.

“You can put an audience in a place that they’re not necessarily comfortable with but they want to explore with you,” he said. “In Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, I ask my reader to become my character, take this journey where they don’t know where they’re going, and live in those shoes.”

It’s those shoes Boyden uses to communicate themes in his writing, works driven by characters, he said, rather than the issues and ideas that eventually spawn from them.

“What I try to do is bring to life characters that don’t just feel native per se, but feel like humans,” he said. “I try to break down stereotypes, simply put.”

First Nations people are breaking waves in Canadian literature according to Kamloops, B.C.-based author Richard Wagamese.

“That’s indicated by Joseph Boyden winning the Giller Prize and the number of aboriginal writers that are coming along to publish for the first time,” he said.

The 53-year-old Ojibway has published seven titles. In each, Wagamese said he tries to embed teaching paradigms encompassing universal moral and ethical teachings.

But Wagamese doesn’t want to create stories just for or about First Nations people without them reaching outside the community, the reason he said he plays with novel contexts, like rodeo in 2006’s Dream Wheels and homelessness in 2008’s Ragged Company.

“I look for a context to frame it in that’s probably not something you would ordinarily sum to in terms of aboriginal life,” he said. “The challenge is always the context.”

Vancouver-based Dogrib author Richard Van Camp, 37, has read all of Wagamese’s books and shares his motivation to disseminate his knowledge about his culture’s significance, today.

“I don’t write about aboriginal people pre-contact or shortly after contact. I write about aboriginal people living, loving and celebrating now,” he said.

Van Camp’s focus on the present reflects his pride in being Dogrib and desire to keep his First Nations traditions alive, but he said it’s also a way to impart the modern experience of living with a diverse background.

“I’m half aboriginal, half non-aboriginal, so I like to celebrate my inheritance as a person of mixed-races. I love being alive right now, and that’s what I want to focus on.”

 
 
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