Monday, August 22, 2011 |
Shelagh Rogers interviewed many fabulous authors this past season on The Next Chapter. Every now and then, she would have a conversation so compelling, juicy, riveting or fascinating that it deserved more space than the radio show could allow. So, The Next Chapter offered up extended versions of those conversations as special webisodes and podcasts.
Every Wednesday in July and August, CBC Books will bring you Shelagh's Summer Specials, an encore presentation of those great full-length conversations.
Shelagh's Summer Special this week is her conversation with James Bartleman, author of As Long as the Rivers Flow. James Bartleman is a moving, powerful speaker and his conversation with Shelagh was insightful and illuminating. We are excited to offer the complete, unedited version to you.
An edited version of this interview originally aired on Monday, June 6, 2011.
We hope you enjoy!
You can hear The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One every Monday at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. (a half hour later in Newfoundland).
James Bartleman had an outstanding career as a diplomat in Cuba, Israel, South Africa, and elsewhere around the world. The son of a white father and a Chippewa mother, he became the first aboriginal Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. During his tenure as Lieutenant Governor, James worked hard to improve literacy among First Nations children.
Somewhere along the way Bartleman also found the time to write four books of non-fiction. And now he's written his first novel. As Long as the Rivers Flow is an unflinching look at the legacy of the residential school system through the eyes of his main character, Martha Whiteduck. Martha was taken from her family when she was six and placed in a residential school. There, she suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Years later, these events continue to haunt Martha, her children and her entire community of Cat Lake.
Bartleman grew up in southern Ontario and did not become fully aware of what was happening in the native community in the north — abject poverty, frequent drug use and high rates of suicide — for many years. But when he finally did, what he saw broke his heart. "I was devastated," he told Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview. "When I went up to the north, I saw conditions that were far worse than I ever saw as a kid back in the '40s."
A big reader growing up, Bartleman found that the lessons that resonated most with him often came from works of fiction. So when he saw what was happening in Northern Ontario, he decided to do something about it. "I have always been a passionate believer in the power of the written word," he said. "I decided that I should try my hand at telling the story of these people, so that it would educate, sensitize and make Canadians a little more aware of what is going on in our own third world."
The novel follows one girl, Martha, from the Cat Lake First Nation in Northern Ontario who is 'stolen' from her family at the age of six and flown far away to residential school. She doesn't speak English but is punished for speaking her native language; most terrifying and bewildering, she is also 'fed' to the school''s attendant priest with an attraction to little girls.
Ten long years later, Martha finds her way home again, barely able to speak her native tongue. The memories of abuse at the residential school are so strong that she tries to drown her feelings in drink, and when she gives birth to her beloved son, Spider, he is taken away by Children's Aid to Toronto. In time, she has a baby girl, Raven, whom she decides to leave in the care of her mother while she braves the bewildering strangeness of the big city to find her son and bring him home."