Edmonton

Edmonton's Indigenous writers finally being heard, Inuk author says

Norma Dunning was at the playground as an eight-year-old Inuk girl when her friends started bragging about their heritage. One kid said they were Swedish; another said they were German.

Norma Dunning won 2 awards in June for 'Annie Muktuk and Other Stories'

Norma Dunning has had a great month of June, winning two awards and being shortlisted for one more. (Submitted by Norma Dunning)

Norma Dunning was at the playground as an eight-year-old Inuk girl when her friends started bragging about their heritage. One was Swedish, another was German.

Dunning remembers going home and asking her mother, "What are we?"

Her mother told her to tell her friends she was French. She was born in Quebec, but she was Inuk, her ancestors from Whale Cove, Nunavut.

"That was a way of how my mother protected us," Dunning said. "If we could present as non-Indigenous children, it made our paths easier."

Dunning, who was based in Edmonton until last month, doesn't think her experience is unique from that of other Indigenous kids — but Canada has few Inuk prose writers, so it sets her apart.

Her most recent work, Annie Muktuk and Other Stories, has received international praise. 

In June, Dunning won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the work.  The $10,000 award recognizes the best short fiction debut by a Canadian writer. 

Also in June, Dunning won the Writers' Guild of Alberta Howard O'Hagan award for Elipsee, one of the short stories in Annie Muktuk.

Annie Muktuk was named a bronze winner for short stories in the 2017 Foreword INDIE awards, which take submissions from all over North America.

In May, Dunning was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize but lost out to fellow Indigenous writer Billy-Ray Belcourt. 

Despite her recent successes, Dunning said she isn't able to support herself as a writer full-time. She also works as a teacher, working with Indigenous youth.

"I think it's my way of contributing back to the Aboriginal community," she said.

Dunning, who's now based in Victoria, says Edmonton's Indigenous writer community is finally getting the recognition it deserves. (Caitlin Hanson/CBC)

While it's difficult to make a living as a writer, Dunning believes it's a good avenue for Indigenous voices to move to the forefront.

"We've come to a point where Aboriginal writers are being taken seriously," she said. "I'm very happy that we've finally reached the point where our work is being accepted."

Dunning now lives in Victoria and said she's hoping to get some more of her work published soon.

She said the community of Edmonton's Indigenous writers that she left is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

"There's a very strong base of Aboriginal writers in Edmonton," she said. "It's time. It's time for mainstream Canada to recognize that our stories are wonderful and they're worth it."