Bren Kolson remembered as 'passionate' writer, poet and advocate for Indigenous women

Bren Kolson, 67, was known for her poetry and other writing. She died of cancer on Wednesday at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Kolson began reporting for the Native Press; won awards for her poetry and memoirs

Bren Kolson, left, and her daughter Kiera Kolson. Bren Kolson, 67, was known for her poetry and other writing. She died of cancer on Wednesday at Stanton Territorial Hospital. (Submitted by Kiera Kolson)

Bren Kolson, an award-winning author and vocal advocate for Indigenous women, has died.

Kolson, 67, was known for her poetry and other writing. She died of cancer on Wednesday at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife.

Kolson, who was of Polish and Tso'Tine-Rocher River descent, spent years with the Native Communications Society as a reporter for the Native Press.  

From journalism to memoir

JC Catholique worked with her at the Native Communications Society. When Kolson was starting out there, "she was not really in tune with her culture," he said. "But she wanted to learn."

She was dedicated to her goal, later living in Fort Reliance, N.W.T., Catholique says, and in the Western Arctic barrenlands with a Dene elder.

"She was passionate enough about [her culture] that eventually she got to live it," Catholique said. "She managed to get on the land."

That experience inspired her 2009 book,Myth of the Barrens.

Bren Kolson and her daughter Kiera Kolson in 1987. (Submitted by Kiera Kolson)

Many accolades

Myth of the Barrenswon the first-ever Northwords Writers Festival Prize in 2010.

The festival was founded to celebrate Northern literature at a time when there was "lots written about the North but not by Northerners," explained Judith Drinnan, founder of the festival and owner of the Yellowknife Book Cellar.

That's changed over the years, Drinnan says, thanks to writers like Kolson.

"It's really hard when you're first in the field and breaking ground," Drinnan said.

The Northwords prize was one of Kolson's many awards.

Kolson started writing poetry at age four and won her first poetry award when she was 14, according to her profile on NWT Arts.

Kolson started writing poetry at age four and won her first poetry award when she was 14, according to her profile on NWT Arts. (Submitted by Kiera Kolson)

A University of Saskatchewan graduate, she won the English department's Hannon Travel Scholarship in 1992 and taught a class in Native Literature, according to the site.

It also notes that Kolson was one of five Indigenous writers in Canada who were chosen for the 2005 Aboriginal Emerging Writer's Residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Community activist

In 2010, Kolson wrote to officials about her concerns that the proposed Taltson Hydroelectric Expansion Project in Fort Reliance would negatively impact the local environment.

She was also a board member with the Northwest Territories Native Women's Association. At a 2012 meeting, she argued for more representation from small communities in the territory.

Kolson is survived by her siblings and by her daughter Kiera Kolson, an activist and hip hop artist. A funeral will be held on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St Patrick's Church in Yellowknife.