Five unforgettable conversations with Aboriginal authors

Shelagh Rogers highlights five conversations from The Next Chapter, all with aboriginal writers and artists, that have kept going in her head over the past year.

The host of The Next Chapter recalls memorable interviews of 2013

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King provides an overall arc of North American native history over the past few centuries. (Writers' Trust of Canada)

Here are five conversations from The Next Chapter, all with aboriginal writers and artists, that have kept going in my head over the past year.

They are, in no particular order, interviews that have lead me reflect on not only our collective story as a country, but also my own as an individual and as a citizen. In a couple of cases, these encounters have made me laugh my, ahem, “ask” off.

Here are those conversations, unvarnished by editing. I hope you enjoy them, and in the spirit of this brand new aboriginal website, that they keep the conversation going.

Thomas King

Shelagh Rogers with Thomas King, the author of The Inconvenient Indian. (CBC)
One year ago, as I write, the Idle No More movement was in its exciting nascent phase. Just a few weeks before the first round dance in a mall, The Inconvenient Indian was published.

Now, Thomas King couldn’t have foreseen Idle No More, of course. But it didn’t surprise him. He saw it as something that “popped up” from centuries of Canada “running roughshod over the treaties that it signed with Native people."

He also talked about how North America has become a kind of coyote character — “a figure of enormous appetites for money, for power, for anything he can get his little paws on.”

The book, like Tom, is by times humourous, by times devastating and always opinionated. I didn’t want the book or our conversation to end.

Joseph Boyden and Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese's book Indian Horse was a best-seller in 2013. (Debra Powell)
Both these writers have had best-selling books this past year: The
Orenda and Indian Horse, respectively. Both books help to fill in the chasms in the teaching of Canadian history when I was young.  

Today, books by Richard Wagamese and Joseph Boyden are being taught in school. Case in point: Royal St. George’s School in Toronto. This is a private boys’ school and Joseph’s Three Day Road and Richard's Indian Horse are on the curriculum.

In March, I was invited to do a public interview for the boys, their teachers, and their parents with a few other members of the public. The event was billed as An Evening of Storytelling and Redemption.

It took place in the school’s chapel and at the beginning, both Richard and Joseph read from their works at a microphone in the pulpit. Richard made a cowering gesture up there, as though lightning was going to strike him. He and the students broke into laughter.

I know Joseph and Richard well. But what happened that evening was something I could never have foreseen, in two ways. The first was that I didn’t know that Richard and Joseph had agreed to play a trick on me and only give me one-word answers until they couldn’t bear it anymore.

The second ... well, it was the climax of the conversation and it said it all. You’ll know it when you hear it.

Graham Greene

Graham Greene gave Shelagh Rogers the scoop on what's on his e-reader. (CBC)
I travel a lot across the country and occasionally someone will recognize my voice. 
But most of the time, people don’t recognize my face.

I always wonder what it’s like for someone who is really well known. How do you hide in plain view?

I ran into the actor Graham Greene at Pearson International Airport. And here’s the answer: you keep your nose deep in your e-reader, like he did.

Still, I had to ask him what he was reading. It was such an interesting list and there was so much CanCon, that I invited him to visit our studio to talk about what’s on his e-reader.

Eden Robinson 

Eden Robinson is "a fearless observer of contemporary life in Haisla territory." - Shelagh Rogers (University of Alberta Press)
For the next conversation, I would ask that you put tape across your windows in case the glass cracks.

On The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour (which was, as you’ll recall, 15 minutes) Tom King used to use my laugh as a sound effect to shatter glass. Yes, it’s not a quiet laugh. But years ago, I met someone who has a laugh that makes mine sound like a whimper.

Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She is a fearless observer of contemporary life in Haisla territory.

I’ve known her since her first book Trap Lines came out in the mid '90s. And I’ve loved that laugh.

This time around, Eden and I were talking about her extended essay The Sasquatch at home. It’s about the tension between contemporary storytelling conventions (write anything and everything) and traditional protocols about what can be shared with the outside world and what’s private. 

Guarding stories, not revealing them, can be a way to protect culture — culture which over the years has faced many attempts to extinguish it. No matter what, Eden's desire is to share the Haisla stories and culture that so fully capture her imagination, while at the same time, respecting the wishes of her elders.

I’m delighted that Eden is working on another novel. She says it started out as a "trashy band council romance" but has taken a more serious turn. 

Richard van Camp

Richard Van Camp's most recent short story collection is called Godless But Loyal to Heaven. (CBC)
The Tlicho writer Richard van Camp has had a wonderful 2013.

His novel The Lesser Blessed came out as a must-see movie. His short story I Count Myself Among Them was adapted by Reneltta Arluk and performed as a live radio play featuring an all Indigenous cast.

His most recent short story collection Godless But Loyal to Heaven won best fiction of the year at the Alberta Literary Awards.

This is his 10th book. And like all his stories, modern life in the north melds with ancient legends and traditions. There may even be a zombie or two.

Richard van Camp truly is my energy drink. And I love his stories. He’s got me reading zombie fiction now and he was the first person to turn me on to graphic novels.

Upcoming interviews

Just before I sign off, I want to alert you to a couple of conversations with aboriginal writers coming up on The Next Chapter early in the new year.

I just recorded an interview with Monique Hope Gray about her novel Tilly. It’s a story of hope and about finding healing through culture and ceremony.

The Winter We Danced is a collection of writing about the Idle No More movement. (ARP Books)
I’m looking forward to talking with Chief Bev Sellars. I met her after she spoke at the Vancouver gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She has written a searing narrative of her time at St. Joseph’s Mission School at Williams Lake BC. Her memoir is called They Called Me Number One.

I’m also excited about a collection of pieces honouring the movement called The Winter We Danced edited by The Kino-nda-niimi Collective.

Let’s dance this winter, too, eh? Happy Holidays and a magnificent and loud New Year.

As always, thank you for listening.


Shelagh Rogers

Host of The Next Chapter

Shelagh Rogers is a longtime broadcast journalist and currently the host of CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. She is also the chancellor of the University of Victoria. She first worked with Stuart McLean in the late 1980s on Morningside with Peter Gzowski.


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