By Mehreen Shahid, Orillia Packet & Times
A fire will be lit in Rama this fall and First Nations authors and storytellers will gather around it to share tales.
“These are mostly award-winning First Nations authors that we believe haven’t been assembled in one place before,” said Sherry Lawson, who is member of the organizing committee of Giiwenh, a day-long literary festival to be held in Rama on Sept. 30 in collaboration with the Huronia Cultural Campus and Chippewas of Rama First Nation.
As the line up was released a couple weeks ago, one name stood out the most. Joseph Boyden is known not only for his body of work but also for the controversy that surrounded his First Nations background.
“Joseph Boyden is an ward-winning First Nations author, winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the (book) Three Day Road,” said Lawson. “There has been controversy about his heritage in the past, but it’s died down.”
To her, there is no doubt about his Indigenous background.
“I met him at a conference in spring this year and he spoke about being a writer,” said Lawson. “And he talked about his writing and was clear (that) it comes from who he was as a young man and his time spent in First Nations communities. I didn’t see anything else but a First Nations man humbly telling his story.”
One can make a controversy out of anything, she said, but to Giiwenh’s organizing committee, the controversy is over.
“We’re lucky to have him come,” said Lawson. “What he’s done for (First Nations) writing is putting all these other people on the map. We need to be eternally grateful to him for all the work he’s done. In fact, my chief and council are quite excited to welcome him to the community.”
Some other authors who will be welcomed, include David Bouchard, Cherie Dimaline, Tracey Lindberg and David Wolfman.
“He is known from the APTN TV show, Cooking with the Wolfman,” said Lawson. “He’s a well-known First Nations chef. The Wolfman is going to cook here and we’re going to get to try some of that, too.”
Accompanying, Wolfman will be another name on Giiwenh’s list, his wife, Marlene Finn, who is co-author of his cookbook, Cooking with the Wolfman: Indigenous Fusion.
A treat for kids and families will be the Thursday appearance by Chad Solomon and his puppets, which look just like the characters from his books.
“(He) does graphic books for kids,” said Lawson. “He’s the only one doing this type of work. Our readers from age seven to 10, the reluctant readers, love reading these, because it’s like reading an Archie comic.”
The line up for the free festival was determined not just by the popularity of the writers, but their ability to engage audiences, said Stephen Davids, a member of the Giiwenh organizing committee.
“This is a good time to be a good Canadian writer,” he said. “And it’s a good time to be a good First Nations writer because of the level of attention being give to the the work now. It’s becoming more accessible and people who do read it and enjoy it are recommending it to others.”
Authors who were unable to make it to this year’s event expressed interest in attending next year, if possible, said Davids, adding the response from people, no matter how they are participating, has been universally positive.
As to the event becoming an annual feature, he said, at this time, plans for that are uncertain.
The festival will be kicked off in the traditional Anishinaabe way, said Lawson.
“We’re going to start with music and there will be invocation and a prayer,” she said. “We will close the day in a good way as well with a travelling song. For people who haven’t experienced that, they will have a chance to do that, too.”
Lawson added that this is not a typical literary festival, as it is strongly marked with the Anishinaabe tradition of hospitality and feeding the visitors.
And as much as they would like to open their doors to as many attendees as possible, she said, there is a limit to how many people can be hosted at the venues, which include the Mnjikaning Arena Sports Ki, as well as fire safety code and food available.
For that reason, she and Davids encourage those looking to attend to claim their free ticket using the link goo.gl/aWkoeB.
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