Books

Cherie Dimaline recommends Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield

Every day in June, an Indigenous writer will recommend a book they love by a First Nations, Métis or Inuit author from Canada.
Cherie Dimaline is the author of the YA novel The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy. (Cherie Dimaline/Nightwood Editions)

June is Indigenous Book Club Month. CBC Books will publish a recommendation each day from an Indigenous writer for a book written by another Indigenous author.

Cherie Dimaline recommends Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield.

"In a recent conversation with acclaimed author Lee Maracle, she mentioned that we are the people fed on scraps. It reminded me of when I worked for former national chief, Phil Fontaine who named his company 'Ishkonigan'. He explained to us that Ishkonigan meant 'leftovers', which is the land reserved for us under the Indian Act. It made me think of the bone soup we made back home when the family got together. We were the luckiest people alive in our one-room apartment, playing euchre at impossible decibels, feasting on chicken bones and boiled dough. Award-winning poet Gregory Scofield has a poem in this breathtaking collection called 'Scraps'.

I was born to eat at everyone else's table

Here a scrap, there a scrap

I am just a scrap, scrap

I was born to the sound of my mother's

footsteps

Echoing gone, gone

Long gone

I was born to the sound of her love

Aching in this room

Called my memory

Through his work, Scofield annunciates each tear, each crumb, and then binds them together with language and longing. He takes up each separate piece and weaves us something substantial, something remarkable and old. He gives us ceremony in his words, love in his images, belonging in his ache. After all, the most beautiful quilt starts off as a collection of scraps, each one full of potential and each one with a longing to be the weighted and useful. All it takes is the right set of words to tuck us all in. And I am grateful every time I hear Gregory speak or read the genius in his poems, because each time I remember how privileged I am to be Indigenous, to be Métis, to be a part of the community he refuses to compromise on, that he carries with him through each word and every line. We have the people handed scraps, but it just makes us hold together with more ferocity and with greater intent, weighted by our past, protective of our future. This is the song Scofield sings, the one that keeps us linked, that binds us to each other, that keeps us bound in sinew and sorrow and so much love."

Cherie Dimaline is the author of the novels Red Rooms, The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy, and the collection of short stories titled A Gentle Habit. Her YA novel The Marrow Thieves, won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.  

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