Saskatoon poetry collective safe haven for Indigenous voices

The Indigenous Poets Society is a collective of like-minded Plains Cree writers who have banded together to tell their stories in a safe environment.

'We are one of a kind … I am really proud of that,' says founder of Saskatoon's Indigenous Poets Society

Kevin Wesaquate says he worries about the safety of his own children, and will keep working to patrol the parks to ward off potential abusers. (CBC)

There is a group in Saskatoon that wholeheartedly believes in the power of poetry.

"It builds community and understanding," said Kevin Wesaquate.

I remember doing my first B&E when I was six years old.- Excerpt from Kevin Wesaquate's spoken-word poem Humility

Wesaquate is the founder of the Indigenous Poets Society, a collective of like-minded Plains Cree writers who have banded together to tell their stories.   

"There is a strong oral tradition among the Plains Prairie people and I think that needs to be revitalized, and spoken word and poetry kind of helps that," said Wesaquate.  

"We are performing our anger, we are performing our rage and we are performing our sadness," added society member Tala Tootoosis.

The Indigenous Poets Society may be the only writers' collective of its kind in Canada. (Indigenous Poets Society )

A lone voice

The Indigenous Poets Society, Wesaquate explains, was born of necessity. As a writer, he found himself searching for collaborators — people who shared a similar vision and life experiences.

I guess I was my own Robin Hood.-  Excerpt from Wesaquate's spoken word poem Humility

"For a while there was nothing. It was really quiet," Wesaquate said.

But slowly, the Indigenous Poets Society came together, and has been performing spoken-word poetry around the city for years now.

Tootoosis said the society is much more than just a performance collective — it is also a safe place where Indigenous writers can explore what the rest of society might consider taboo.

"We are not those Hollywood Indians with headbands and feathers and painted red stripes on our faces. We are going to work, we are going to school, we are dealing with death, we are dealing with residential school trauma, and we just need to be able to talk about it," she said.

"We are not supposed to talk about it. There is a big silence."

Collective is 'one of a kind'

As the founder, Wesaquate appreciates the description of the Indigenous Poets Society as a safe place for people to express themselves.

They don't judge you and they love you unconditionally.- Excerpt from Wesaquate's spoken word poem Humility

"We are one of a kind. We are the only ones who are doing it, and so I am really proud of that," he said.

"When I share with non-Indigenous people, it's nice because then they go, 'Oh wow, we had no idea you felt that way.' But when you share with Indigenous people they go, 'Right?' and it's just like a confirmation that you are not alone," added Tootoosis.

The group is coming off a successful performance at Saskatoon's Nuit Blanche outdoor art and culture festival, and is back on the stage Thursday night at The Two Twenty. 

Teachable moments by Tala Tootoosis

I'm so tired of being called Pocahontas.

Sometimes it's hard to be a strong Indian woman, when the world laughs at the possibility of your rape and death because of your skin color.

I would never blame anyone except my own mind for believing their lies of my demise because I was raised to be a solid woman by a Okinawa Nehiyaw Iskwew my mother.

The deepest pain I feel on a daily basis is knowing everyday someone could try kidnap, rape and murder me because someone taught them that was my purpose.

Somehow in history someone drew a picture of Pocahontas with a short skirt, Tiger Lily in a submissive image and said Indian women's lives meant less.

However ...

If you push someone enough eventually they will learn get sick and tired of the abuse and learn to fight back, I have taken off my floral printed ribbon skirt, my quilled earrings, taken out my braids and changed to dress in all black. 

So if you try to take me I will be ready to fight back. 

I have put my hair in a ponytail, taken off my makeup, put on some running shoes and taken a book bag filled with books, guns and traps. 

I promise you that if you come for me I will be ready trained and waiting because I am done laying down and taking it for the purpose that you don't understand basic respect.

So when you look at me and see my skin is covered in tattoos and sometimes I'm not always that traditional looking quiet, gentle ribbon skirt wearing girl...

it's because I've decided I can't trust you and let you see that side of me.

I'm not here for your entertainment I'm not a f--kin Hollywood image of a squaw sexy and waiting and sure ...

So before you try to take a chance and ask me to make you something from my hands that have raised fists, my hands that have held 22's shot straight scope rifles probably target practice better than you, before you try to see if I'll walk behind you like a f--kin sister wife you probably thought I was at one time, think twice I've written more bars and more poems than this about men who don't know what rape culture is and why.

About the Author

Danny Kerslake

Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.