Writer Joseph Boyden dares Edmonton Indigenous community to dream big

Author Joseph Boyden brought the message "Anything is possible" to a conference looking at Indigenous Innovation in Edmonton Wednesday.

'When I push away all those outside voices, that's when the magic starts to happen,' acclaimed author says

Joseph Boyden delivers the keynote speech at the Indigenous Innovation Summit Wednesday. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Even though he's a winner of prestigious awards including the Giller Prize and a member of the Order of Canada, Joseph Boyden still gets scared when he sits down to write.

"I'm like, can I do this?" Boyden told an audience at the Indigenous Innovation Summit in Edmonton, Wednesday.

Trump victory a win for 'hatred'

A few hours after Donald Trump won the U.S. election, writer Joseph Boyden described his shock and devastation.

"He's a person who belittles everyone," he said, calling the result a victory for "anger, hatred, fear and self interest."

The writer has dual citizenship and lives in New Orleans much of the year. This election was his first as an American voter.

The U.S. is heading for a "seismic shift," he says.

"Canada unfortunately is going to be one of the first places to feel the seismic shift."

Boyden likens Trump to a trickster in Indigenous culture, but reminds people his presidency won't last forever.

In his keynote speech, Boyden shared stories of his own creative process to motivate and assure others it's OK to be scared when starting out with a new idea.

Sharing passages from his books, as well as playing the harmonica as part of his presentation, Boyden urged people to see fear as something that sparks desire.

"After all the voices of all the people in the world saying you shouldn't do this, you're not Indian enough or you're not this enough or you're not that enough, when I push away all those outside voices, that's when the magic starts to happen," Boyden said.

The author of Irish, Scottish and Anishinaabe heritage is celebrated across the country for his books about Indigenous history and culture, such as Three Day Road.

Describing Edmonton as an amazing city where he has many friends, Boyden said the current climate of reconciliation shows anything is possible for Indigenous people here.

"Reconciliation is the Edmonton Oilers recognizing treaty territory, schools in Edmonton recognizing these are the original peoples' traditional land," he noted.

About 300 delegates at the summit have been hearing about new ideas in First Nations communities, Indigenous organizations and entrepreneurs.
Joseph Boyden plays a harmonica during his presentation to the Indigenous Innovation Summit. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

"There's some great work happening all over the country," said Cowboy Smithx, an organizer who paid tribute to Don Iveson for his work with Indigenous people as mayor of Edmonton. "Everyone is tackling different circumstances in unique and innovative ways."

Smithx (his name ends with an x) said barriers remain for many Indigenous people who struggle with poverty and suffer trauma from residential schools, but the summit is one way to share knowledge and expertise about such issues.

Iveson said Edmonton is trying to be a leader in making the city more inclusive, pointing to the Indigenous People's Experience project at Fort Edmonton Park as something of which he's proud.

He said the city was committed to telling a more respectful version of history and is working hand in hand with Treaty 6 leaders to bring the idea to life.

Mayor Don Iveson told the summit Edmonton is working on becoming a more inclusive city. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Boyden said he's pleased to see such projects, but reminds everyone reconciliation remains a difficult thing to quantify and it's still going to be a rough voyage.

However, he returned to his message that anything is possible as long as people have passion, love and belief in the ideas they're working on.

"If you want it that bad, it'll happen and you have to surround yourself with the right people," he said.

The summit at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre is the second annual Indigenous Innovation Summit, following the first in Ottawa last year.