Tracey Lindberg draws inspiration from aunties for Canada Reads novel

Edmonton-based author and law professor Tracey Lindberg’s debut book Birdie competes in Canada Reads 2016.

Aboriginal law professor's first book to be championed on CBC competition

Author Tracey Lindberg talks about Canada Reads contender "Birdie"

7 years ago
Duration 4:13
On CBC Edmonton's Radio Active, the inspiration and social context of Birdie by author Tracey Lindberg are discussed. The novel is a CBC Canada Reads contender for 2016.

Not a bad way to make a debut.

Tracey Lindberg's first novel Birdie is competing in CBC's annual book competition Canada Reads for 2016.

Birdie is the story of Bernice, a woman who leaves her home in northern Alberta and travels to the west coast B.C. On her journey she processes earlier tragedies and learns more about her past and her history.

"It's like a love letter to my mom and my aunties," Lindberg said.

Lindberg, an Edmonton-based law professor, hails from the Kelly Lake Cree nation west of Grande Prairie.

The book draws inspiration in part from her own experiences, with Lindberg going as far as transcribing pieces of conversations to include in the novel.

 "There's so much beauty hidden in the everyday that I think we just take for granted."

Fiction as truth

Sticking to the facts is essential to Lindberg's work as a lawyer, but she found that the law can also be limiting when getting at the truth of things.

"As a lawyer and a law professor, when you do your best work you're able to amplify people's voices and tell their stories," she said.

But "there is so much that the law can't see and the law can't give voice to," she added.

"Fiction allowed me to be able to look around me," she said, "and amplify it in ways that laws just couldn't recognize or understand."

She listened to stories from the women around her while she was working on the book, including her family in Northern B.C. as well as Cree and Metis women in Edmonton.

Lindberg was at times worried about offending people with the representations in the novel, but said that her family put her at ease and she realized the connections were more hidden than she previously assumed.

There's so much beauty hidden in the everyday that I think we just take for granted.- Tracey Lindberg, author

"My aunties would say, or my mom would say, 'Don't worry. It's fiction. People will know that'.

"But there are pieces transcribed directly from my experience in interacting with them, so not even they recognize it."

Starting over

The novel tackles difficult subjects of sexual assault and rape. In the novel, Bernice begins to reevaluate her relationships on her journey and she starts over by not only looking back at her own history, but the history of her people.

"For her to be able to go on and look at possible futures she has to examine what happened to turn her into the person she is," she said.

"Within this story Bernice does start over and she makes the choice to visit that past."

One of the decisions Bernice makes is befriending and informally adopting as an auntie, Lola, a baker she meets along the way.

The relationship develops despite the problematic presence of Lola as a racializing force and a person "who has not really figured out how indigenous and non-indigenous people can get along."

Lindberg said she an important part of the plot in terms of understanding reconciliation and exploring those broader themes in the novel.

"If we're going to talk about reconciliation and starting over as relatives and indigenous and nonindigenous, it's going to start that way."
Tracey Lindberg's first novel, Birdie, is one of five books in the running for CBC's Canada Reads 2016. (HarperCollins Canada)

The road to Canada Reads

Ahead of the Canada Reads competition, Lindberg will be going on a journey of her own. She will be bringing her Canada Reads defender, entrepreneur Bruce Poon Tip, to visit the Kelly Lake Cree Nation to meet elders and other members of the community.

Lindberg said the trip was planned for personal reasons, but it's also connected to her work as an advocate and writer.

"There is, I think, an important  story about land, disconnect, connection and making your family that is embedded in Birdie," she said, "but which comes from this land, specifically."

Beyond travelling north together, Tip describes reading Lindberg's novel as a journey in itself.

"For all of us who care about reconciliation, and frankly we all should, this book opens that path," Tip said.