N.W.T. Indigenous youth advocate publishes first book of poetry
Fireweed, a poetry compilation by Tunchai Redvers, is set to be published this summer
The fireweed — a tall, flowered plant with pink and purple petals — is so named because it spreads quickly on lands ravaged by forest fire.
It's also ubiquitous in the North, where soil is dry and wildfires are common.
"Once that fireweed grows, it signals to all of the other life and plants in the area that it's time to also grow," says Tunchai Redvers, a poet and advocate for Indigenous youth who grew up in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., Hay River and Yellowknife.
"The fireweed itself, it represents the healing cycle of the natural world."
That's why Redvers named her first book of poetry after the perennial weed.
Redvers is Dene/Métis and two-spirit. She is also a co-founder of We Matter, a non-profit aimed at uplifting Indigenous youth. Redvers says she hopes her book resonates with young Indigenous people who may be going through hard times.
'I never saw myself represented'
"Growing up as an Indigenous person from the North, I never saw myself represented and I never saw my story is represented, especially as an Indigenous woman and an Indigenous two-spirit woman," said Redvers.
"Me sharing my story is a way for those folks out there, to let them know that they're not alone … that they can find solace, or understanding, or comfort in knowing my story, and pick up some like healing or inspiration from my own words."
Redvers describes writing the poems as a kind of cathartic exercise.
For a long time, she says, she struggled to express herself through writing, even though it's something she has always loved doing.
"I kind of suppressed all of these things that I was feeling inside and wasn't putting that pen to paper," she said.
But when Redvers finally did feel ready to write, the words spilled out of her.
"I would be literally walking onto airplanes and I would have a spark of inspiration and a poem would come to me and I would write that down," she said.
For Redvers, writing is self-care. She said she also leads workshops for Indigenous young people on how to use art and poetry to cope with difficult situations.
From devastation to finding self-love
The poems in Fireweed are short. Redvers says she was trying to relay as much as she could in as few words as possible.
The compilation is divided into four chapters, said Redvers, with each chapter relating to a phase in the "healing cycle of the fireweed plants."
I talk about those very difficult and very dark periods and experiences of my life, but then I move to that learning and that growth and that healing.- Tunchai Redvers
The collection starts in a place of devastation and hurt, then moves through growth to healing — "that finding of self-love, finding community finding identity" — said Redvers.
"From there, the fireweed blows its seeds and it starts to signal to others that it's also time to renew and to grow," she said, adding the book ends on a hopeful note.
Hopes for readers
Redvers expects Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers will experience Fireweed differently.
She hopes it broadens non-Indigenous readers' understanding of the complexity of life as a young Indigenous person, and particularly of owning their identity when they didn't grow up immersed in their culture.
She hopes Indigenous readers will come away feeling that healing is possible.
"I talk about those very difficult and very dark periods and experiences of my life, but then I move to that learning and that growth and that healing," said Redvers.
"I want them to be able to go back to this book and pull it off their shelf on a hard day or a good day and flip to a page and hear something that they need to hear that day.
Fireweed is set to be published this summer.
Written by Sidney Cohen based on an interview by Alyssa Mosher