Richard Wagamese, author of Indian Horse, dead at 61

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Richard Wagamese has died, CBC has confirmed. He was 61 years old.

As one of Canada's foremost Indigenous authors and storytellers, Richard Wagamese has been a professional writer since 1979. His body of work includes six novels, a book of poetry and five non-fiction titles, including two memoirs and an anthology of his newspaper columns. His most recent book, Embers is a collection of Ojibway meditations. It is currently shortlisted for a BC Book Prize.

Wagamese was born in the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He was removed from his family by the Children's Aid Society as part of the Sixties Scoop and ended up in foster care in suburban Toronto. He struggled for many years before he going on a traditional Ojibway camping trip when he was 22 years old, where an elder told him he had the gift for storytelling.

He began his writing career in 1979, first as a journalist. then as a radio and television broadcaster. His debut novel, Keeper 'n Me, came out in 1994 and won the Alberta Writers Guild's Best Novel Award.

In 1991, he became the first Indigenous writer to win a National Newspaper Award for column writing. He has twice won the Native American Press Association Award for his journalism and received the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his 2011 memoir One Story, One Song. In 2012, he was honoured with the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communications.

His novel Indian Horse was defended by Carol Huynh on Canada Reads in 2013.

Wagamese told the CBC in 2015 that he felt telling stories "is definitely who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing."

In 2015, he won the Matt Cohen Award, a recognition given out by the Writers' Trust of Canada that honours a writer who has dedicated their entire professional lives to the pursuit of writing.

Wagamese was always open about his struggles with alcoholism and PTSD and the impact the residential school system had on his family. "I know that if I don't look at my whole history and embrace the dark and hard parts, I don't know my own story," he told CBC in 2012. "And if I don't know my own story, I can't heal myself."

"He was story. He was love," CBC host Shelagh Rogers wrote in a tribute online.

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