'Fragments of myself': Why Shannon Webb-Campbell is championing Bearskin Diary

Montreal-based Mi'kmaq poet, writer and critic Shannon Webb-Campbell is making the case for Bearskin Diary, by Carol Daniels, in the 2017 edition of Turtle Island Reads. She explains why her connection to Daniels runs so deep.

Montreal-based Mi'kmaq poet, writer and critic feels a deep connection to author Carol Daniels

Shannon Webb-Campbell, a poet, writer and critic, who draws her Mi'kmaq heritage from her father's side, says her struggle with identity is one reason she is advocating for Carol Daniels' book Bearskin Diary, the story of an Indigenous girl adopted into a Ukrainian Canadian family. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, CBC co-hosts Turtle Island Reads — a live public event at  McGill University's Tanna Schulich Hall, highlighting stories written by and about Indigenous Canadians.

It's an opportunity to talk about and celebrate Indigenous Canadian writers and connect readers with their stories.

Three advocates will each champion one book of fiction written by an Indigenous Canadian author and try to persuade you to make that book the next one on your reading list.

Shannon Webb-Campbell, a Montreal-based Mi'kmaq poet, writer and critic, will make the case for Bearskin Diary by Carol Daniels (Harbour Publishing). 

Some books hold your spirit and shift your thinking as a reader.

When I read Carol Daniels's Bearskin Diary, I found many unwritten fragments of myself reflected in its pages.

As writers, both Daniels and I share cultural roles as critics and journalists on Turtle Island and have drawn from our own experiences and Indigenous backgrounds to create our poetic and literary convictions.

But the connection to Daniels feels deeper — ancestral, closer to bone marrow.

There was something that resonated about Sandy, her protagonist, and the internal narrative of her ancestors who kept trying to guide her, despite how, in moments, she ignored their offerings.

Carol Daniels is the author of the 2015 novel Bearskin Diary. (Harbour Publishing/Nightwood Editions)

Familiar territory

Sandy was adopted into a Ukrainian family and didn't actually know herself as a Cree.  I also came into my Mi'kmaq spirit later in life.

Throughout Bearskin Diary, Sandy struggles deeply with a lack of self-esteem, which spirals into a series of bad choices around sex, alcohol and men. 

She attempts to discover herself in bars, but only begins to find her voice in the telling and retelling of other people's stories.

This is very familiar territory to me.

As an Indigenous television reporter, Sandy straddles internal and external racism.

She feels like part of her job is being a tokenized Indian.

But she eventually begins to connect to her culture, history and Cree background through meeting other Indigenous people and conveying their stories.

It's in the storytelling that she finds herself.

When Sandy meets Blue, a Métis police officer in denial of his Indigenous background, the two develop a complex affinity for one another, as they are confronted by their own shame, trauma and ongoing echoes of colonialism.

Sandy's knack as a storyteller and truth-seeker gets her into some tricky situations, exposing larger issues facing First Nations people.

Yet, at the heart of Bearskin Diary, there are moments of ancestral transcendence, Indigenous love and good medicine.

Turtle Island Reads takes place at Tanna Schulich Hall at McGill University, 527 Sherbrooke Street West, on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Find out more about CBC Montreal's special event: Turtle Island Reads.

Co-hosted by CBC's Nantali Indongo and Waubgeshig Rice, the event is a CBC collaboration with the Quebec Writers' Federation and McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas.

Let us know you're coming by visiting our CBC Montreal Facebook Events page