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Poet donates prize as reminder of award namesake's legacy

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 | 10:44 AM ET

Shane Rhodes won the 2008 Lampman-Scott Award for his poetry collection The Bindery.Shane Rhodes won the 2008 Lampman-Scott Award for his poetry collection The Bindery. (Charles Earl)

An Ottawa man has given a First Nations health centre half of a $1,500 poetry prize named for a 19th-century civil servant who advocated sending aboriginal children to residential schools.

"Taking that money wouldn't have been right, with what I'm writing about," said Shane Rhodes on Monday after winning this year's Lampman-Scott Award, given annually by Arc Poetry Magazine to recognize an outstanding book of poetry by a resident of the National Capital Region.

Rhodes received the prize for his book The Bindery at the Ottawa Book Awards ceremony Saturday and said he is pleased that his poetry, which is woven with history, is being recognized. But he will give $750 to the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health as a reminder of who Duncan Campbell Scott was, he said. Scott and the other namesake of the award, Archibald Lampman, were good friends and local pioneers of Canadian poetry in the late 1800s.

But Scott was also head of Indian Affairs for decades, and in that role, he promoted Canada's residential school system as a way to assimilate aboriginal children.

In June, the federal government made a historic apology to aboriginal Canadians for the abuse suffered by some children at the schools and for the damage the schools caused to aboriginal culture, heritage and language. Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it a "sad chapter" in Canadian history.

Rhodes, who is reading old documents about treaties with First Nations for his next book, said Scott's name keeps coming up in his research, and he feels Scott's legacy as a civil servant overshadows his work as a pioneer of Canadian poetry.

Anita Lahey, editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, said she too has questions about Scott's work as head of Indian Affairs decades ago.

"I think it matters that we're aware of it and that we think about and talk about these things," she said.

But she added, "I don't think controversial or questionable activities in the life of any artist or writer is something that should necessarily discount the literary legacy that they leave behind."

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