Turtle Island Reads returns: Discover the best in Canadian Indigenous writing

Host Waubgeshig Rice invites 3 new advocates to champion their chosen fiction on Sept. 20 at McGill

Posted: September 10, 2017
Last Updated: September 20, 2017

Shannon Web-Campbell, left, Moe Clark, centre, and Ryan McMahon are each championing a book of fiction written by a fellow Indigenous Canadian in the 2017 edition of Turtle Island Reads. (Dayna Danger/Nora Nathoo/K.C. Adams)

Turtle Island Reads returns Wednesday with a live public event shining a spotlight on Indigenous Canadian authors and their stories.

Three advocates will each champion one book of fiction written by an Indigenous Canadian and try to persuade members of our live and online audience to make that book the next one on their reading list.

Turtle Island Reads is a CBC collaboration with the Quebec Writers' Federation and McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas.


The public event will be broadcast live on CBC Montreal's Facebook page so that Canadians from coast to coast can watch and weigh in on their favourite book.

If you're in Montreal, you can attend the event in person:

Where: Tanna Schulich Hall at McGill University, 527 Sherbrooke Street West.

When:  Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. ET (Doors open at 6 p.m.)

Admission is free.

CBC Montreal's Arts reporter Nantali Indongo will moderate the discussion.



Meet the 2017 advocates:

Shannon Webb-Campbell  

(Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

Shannon Webb-Campbell is a Montreal poet, writer and critic of mixed Mi'kmaq heritage and the author of Still No Word (2015) and Who Took My Sister? (2018).

Webb-Campbell grew up with her mother and stepfather in Ontario, uncertain of her Mi'kmaq heritage.

"My father was in and out of the picture," she says. "He always knew he was Mi'kmaq, but it was also hidden. He's a man of few words."

Webb-Campbell learned her family story over time, through jokes and mentions of her great-grandmother, Mary Webb, a famous Mi'kmaq medicine woman, healer and midwife who helped deliver 700 babies on the west coast of Newfoundland.

"My father sent me her obituary: she was 97 and died in 1987, five years before I was born. I thought, I must have more connection and responsibility to my ancestors."

In 2011, Webb-Campbell and her father were granted status in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation, a band made up of Newfoundland Mi'kmaqs that wasn't formally recognized by the federal government until 2008. Since then, more than 100,000 people have applied for status as Qalipu Mi'kmaqs, leading to a government review of the enrollment process, and earlier this year, Webb-Campbell and her father both learned theirs is being revoked.

(Harbour Publishing)

"It's a painful process to have to prove your Indigenous identity over and over," she said. "There is already so much shame — and now to have something given and taken away: this is ongoing colonialism."

Her own struggle with identity is one of the reasons Shannon chose to champion the novel Bearskin Diary by Carol Daniels for Turtle Island Reads.


Daniels' story follows Sandy, one of more than 20,000 Indigenous children taken from their homes and adopted in white families, in what became known as the Sixties Scoop.

Ostracized and isolated as a child, Sandy begins to discover her Indigenous culture as an adult.

Bearskin Diary won the 2017 Aboriginal Literature Award and the First Nation Communities Read Award and was short-listed for the Saskatchewan Book Awards prize for fiction in 2016.

It's stories like this one that Webb-Campbell is eager to share with a wider audience through Turtle Island Reads.

"Stories are so essential to our healing, our understanding and our relationships," Webb-Campbell says. "I believe stories are medicine, and I need to tell them and share them."

Moe Clark

(Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)


Montreal-based Moe Clark is a Métis poet, touring musician, educator, activist and self-described "mistress of the looping pedal."

"I'm hoping this event reaches anybody who's ever been curious about Indigenous storytelling," she said about Turtle Island Reads. "The who, the how, the why — all aspects of it."

Her belief in the inspirational power of poetry and storytelling is what motivated her to champion Leanne Simpson's recent collection of poems and short stories, This Accident of Being Lost.

Clark says the book is a witty and biting look at the past, present and future of First Nations life. In a series of interconnected stories, Simpson takes on social media, tradition, the environment, womanhood, grief — even gun violence.


"Leanne doesn't hold back," said Clark. "She's engaging in this radical truth-telling, in a way that's still poetic and approachable."

Clark and Simpson also share a passion for writing that goes beyond just printed words on a page.


Simpson's 2016 album, f(l)ight, is a companion piece to This Accident of Being Lost. It features performances of some of the book's lyrics set to music in collaboration with artists including Cris Derksen, Tara Williamson and Ansley Simpson.

"There's so many ways to enter into a story," said Clark of the multimedia approach. "Leanne calls them 'story-songs.' I love that there's no rigid definition to what she's doing."

She is also thrilled that this year's discussion will focus on three books written by Indigenous women.

"Indigenous storytelling is more visible than ever, and women absolutely need to be part of that discussion."

Ryan McMahon

(Supplied/Ryan McMahon)

Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe comedian, podcaster, new media creator and soon-to-be author based in the Treaty One territory of Winnipeg, Man.


He has toured and recorded extensively, and he's been featured on shows including Welcome To Turtle Island Too, UnReserved, Day 6 and Red Man Laughing. In 2012, he became the first Indigenous comedian to host his own CBC TV comedy special.

"There's a complexity to humour that creates a doorway for people to walk through," said McMahon.

His love for using comedy to dig at hard truths is why he chose to defend Eden Robinson's novel Son of a Trickster.

(Knopf Canada)

The book follows Jared, a wayward youth who has to juggle the awkwardness of high school with deadbeat parents, needy step-siblings, drug deals and endless partying. Things only get worse for him when a series of supernatural encounters lead to an unexpected discovery about his family's magical ancestry.

Son of a Trickster is the first in a trilogy about run-ins with the Trickster, a recurring figure in First Nations storytelling.


McMahon says Robinson's knack for wicked dark comedy is what makes her books so accessible and vital.

"As storytellers, it's important that we're not shying away from the darker places of where we come from," said McMahon. "We're looking backward in order to look forward."

Ryan's own work-in-progress, a collection of short stories titled The Great NDN Paradox, is due out next fall.

Meet the host: Waubgeshig Rice

(Shilo Adamson)

When author and CBC Ottawa journalist Waubgeshig Rice was 15, his aunt handed him his first books by Indigenous authors: Thomas King, Richard Wagamese and Lee Maracle. He now describes the moment as a life-changing experience.

"I'd never seen my own experience reflected in a book before."


Now, Rice — a member of the Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound, Ontario — can count himself among those authors. His first novel  Legacy came out in 2014 and explores how an Indigenous family responds to tragedy.

In 2011, he published a book of short stories, Midnight Sweatlodge, that reflects on the experience of growing up Indigenous in Canada.

Rice is excited to return to moderate Turtle Island Reads for a second year.

"It was a groundbreaking event," he says of last year's inaugural happening. "It showed that people of all ages and all backgrounds are really interested in Indigenous literature."

Rice is finishing his second novel, a post-apocalyptic thriller set on a reserve.

The sci-fi genre was no accident; Rice wanted to tackle an area of mainstream literature through a First Nations' lens.  

His ultimate goal? To see books by Indigenous authors in school curriculums across Canada.

"Reconciliation is a big buzz word that goes around these days," he says. "To really understand the experience, non-Indigenous Canadians need to turn to the arts for some context."