First aired on Fresh Air (28/01/12)
As a CBC journalist, filmmaker and blogger, Waubgeshig Rice knows a lot about modern storytelling techniques. But he's keenly aware of how important the printed page has been in preserving Aboriginal culture and history.
"With the 8th Fire series that CBC has undertaken, it's a wide range of stories on a variety of platforms," he told Fresh Air's Mary Ito recently. "There's a TV documentary series, there's a radio series, and there's a whole bunch online...Those are all very modern forms of storytelling that the last couple of generations of Aboriginal people in this country have embraced in terms of making other Canadians aware of our experience and also maintaining our own culture. But in the latter half of the 20th century, it really was the written word in book form that sort of immortalized some of these initial experiences and helped keep our culture strong in the pages of these books, but also amongst each other across the country."
Traditionally, Aboriginal stories were passed down from generation to generation through oral storytelling. Young people would listen to these stories and be expected to pass them on in the future. But, starting in the 19th century, Canada's residential school system took Aboriginal children and tried to strip away their traditional language and culture. Books became a crucial medium for storytellers.
"As the [Aboriginal] authors in the latter half of the last century had to adopt to this new method of storytelling, it really became a method of capturing the Aboriginal spirit at that moment in time, and it helped other Aboriginal people going through similar crises, such as identity issues, or abuse, or despair or isolation. It helped them relate, and also, more importantly, it provided non-Aboriginal Canadians a window into what this unique, but relatively unknown, experience was all about."
Rice himself grew up on a reserve in the Wasauksing First Nation, near Parry Sound, Ont. At 16, he picked up Jordan Wheeler's Brothers in Arms, a collection of novellas about the young Aboriginal experience, which "really opened my eyes to the possibility of this form of storytelling."
"I thought, 'Wow, I can really relate to this,' and maybe if I wrote about some of my experiences some other kids on other reserves might be able to relate to it someday as well. That really catalyzed my desire to explore the written word as a viable option for storytelling and for maintaining our culture and some of the stories I heard as a kid."
Last year, Rice published his first collection of short stories, entitled Midnight Sweatlodge. The title refers to the traditional sauna used for healing and purification. To find out more about his writing and his journey exploring Aboriginal literature, read his 8th Fire blog series.
by Waubgeshig Rice
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From the publisher:
Midnight Sweatlodge tells the tale of family members, friends and strangers who gather together to partake in this ancient healing ceremony. Each person seeks traditional wisdom and insight to overcome pain and hardship, and the characters give us glimpses into their lives that are both tearful and true. Rice captures the raw emotion and unique challenges of modern Aboriginal life. It's a hard-hitting and genuine look at the struggles First Nations people face."
Read more at Theytus Books.