Friday, October 21, 2016

On Writing #110 : Waubgeshig Rice

On Writing
Waubgeshig Rice

I started writing partly out of boredom. I grew up in the bush on the reserve; our family home was relatively isolated from neighbouring family and friends, compared to the town across the water. There was a lot of alone time in my small room in our small house.

By my teen years, I started writing creatively about some of the things happening around me to pass the time. Fiction was a new plaything I learned about in high school. So I fictionalized my and my friends’ regular activities like fishing, bike riding, and bush parties just for fun.

And that was as far as I thought it would go. I saw writing simply as a creative outlet, like playing guitar or sketching. I never knew it could be a valid artistic path or viable career option because I didn’t know of any Indigenous authors.

We didn’t learn about them in high school, and I never saw them in the books pages of the major national newspapers and magazines. But they were there, laying a strong foundation of Indigenous literature for the rest of us. We just couldn’t count on the mainstream Canadian literary scene to expose us to them.

Fortunately, one of my aunts took note of my newfound hobby, and the good marks I was getting in English class. She was also one of my first teachers in elementary school on the rez. So she started giving me books by authors like Thomas King, Louise Erdrich, and Richard Wagamese. In their books, I read about experiences similar to mine as an Indigenous person on this land now called North America.

That inspired me to write even more, in the spirit of speaking our truths and sharing our unique experiences. That led me on a proverbial journey of self-discovery that has been fun, enlightening, and rewarding. Today, I write to bond with Indigenous readers and to help non-Indigenous people understand how we exist on our lands and in the society created on top of us.

The irony of writing predominantly in the language of that settling society to advocate for Indigenous culture isn’t lost on me. But if the authorities had their way, I wouldn’t know anything at all about being Anishinaabe. Brutal measures like residential schools and the Indian Act were supposed to erase that culture.

Fortunately, that erasure failed, and I see what I do as using the tool of the colonizer to bolster and enhance what’s left. I also see it as a small part of wider healing and celebration of Indigenous identity. It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously, and it’s an honour and a privilege to write in this spirit.

Waubgeshig Rice is an Ottawa-based author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. His short story collection Midnight Sweatlodge (2011) and novel Legacy (2014) were published by Theytus Books. He’s currently working on another novel and more short stories. When he’s not writing fiction, he works as a video and web journalist for CBC Ottawa.

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