Meet Indigenous authors and poets at Toronto's 2018 Word on the Street

A designated stage for Indigenous voices will host a full day of programming at Canada's largest free outdoor book and magazine festival in Toronto on Sunday.

Indigenous Voices stage will host readings and Indigenous language classes

Lindsay Nixon, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Gwen Benaway are three of the Indigenous authors who will be at Word on the Street 2018 this weekend. (Word on the Street/PETF/Jon Elliott)

A designated stage for Indigenous voices will host a full day of programming at Canada's largest free outdoor book and magazine festival in Toronto on Sunday.

Toronto's Word on the Street Festival will host 10 Indigenous authors among 200 other writers from across Canada in and around Harbourfront Centre.

Seven of them will be featured on the Indigenous Voices stage at the west end of the site. In between sessions, there will also be opportunities for people to take a 30 minute introductory class in either Anishinaabemowin or Cree.

This is an expansion of a workshop last year that saw language instructors paired with the books Stolen Words by Melanie Florence and The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson.

Wastasecoot is a Cree writer, poet and storyteller, and an assistant professor at the Centre for Indigenous Studies at the University of Toronto. (Facebook )

"Most people have learned the history of what happened to Native people," said Brenda Wastasecoot, a Cree writer, poet and storyteller who will be offering a lesson in the Swampy Cree dialect.

"They realize it's important to support us to stay alive and stay culturally vibrant. I think language is key."

Where to find them

Daniel Heath Justice and Lee Maracle will participate in a discussion Saturday as part of the Conversations+ programming at noon at the Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre.

My Conversation with Canadians is Lee Maracle's latest book. (Columpa Bobb/BookThug)

Maracle is an award-winning Sto:lo nation writer and teacher. Her co​llection of essays My Conversations with Canadians has been shortlisted for the First Nation Communities READ 2018-19 Award (Y/A/Adult Category), shortlisted for the 2018 Toronto Book Award and is the recipient of the $10,000 Harbourfront Festival Prize.

Heath Justice, a Colorado-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a scholar and a writer. His most recent book, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter considers the connection between literature and lived experience. 

He is also the co-host of the Indigenous Voices stage on Sunday.

Anishinaabe/Mé​tis poet Gwen Benaway will appear Saturday afternoon at the Vibrant Voices of Ontario stage. Her third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, explores the complexities of being an Indigenous trans woman, seeing the bod as a site of struggle, liberation and beauty.

Authors appearing on the Indigenous Voices stage include:

Jenny Kay Dupuis's I Am Not a Number tackles the history of residential schools and is based on her grandmother's experiences. (Dan Robb, Second Story Press)

J. K. Dupuis — I Am Not A Number

Based on the true life story of Jenny Kay Dupuis' grandmother, I Am Not a Number brings the story of the residential school system in Canada to a level accessible to children. The book is co-written with award-winning author Kathy Kacer.

Dupuis is a member of Nipissing First Nation and is an educator, researcher, artist and motivational speaker.

Waubgeshig Rice — Moon of the Crusted Snow

A composite photo of a book cover, featuring a snowed in car in a field, and the book's author, a 40something man with two long braids.
Waubgeshig Rice is a novelist and host of CBC Sudbury's radio show Up North. (ECW Press)

Waubgeshig Rice is from Wasauksing First Nation and in 2014, he received the Anishinabek Nation's Debwewin Citation for excellence in First Nations storytelling.

Moon of the Crusted Snow is Rice's latest novel. Set in a northern Anishinaabe community as they face the end of the world, it's about far more than the destruction of the world as we know it. Resilience, self-discovery and renewal shine through the story of how a group of Anishinaabe people fight to stay alive.

Billy-Ray Belcourt — This Wound is a World

Winner of the 2018 Griffin Award for Poetry, Billy-Ray Belcourt's collection of poems is part manifesto and part memoir. In his poems he looks at love and sex as a means to understand how Indigenous people deal with sadness and pain without giving up.

Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is a PhD student and 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar at the University of Alberta. This Wound is a World is his first book.

Adam Garnet Jones —  Fire Song

A main character deals with the guilt following the suicide of his young sister. In the face of tragedy, characters on a small reserve must look to the past for guidance in their struggle as situations go from bad to worse and no easy answers are found.

Adam Garnet Jones is a Cree/Mé​tis/Danish writer and director. His work includes more than 20 short films.

David A. Robertson — Monsters

Monsters is the second novel the Reckoner trilogy.

David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and lives in Winnipeg. His is known for When We Were Alone (Governor General's Literary Award winner, McNally Robinson Best Book For Young People winner, TD Canadian Children's Literature Award finalist) and Will I See? (winner Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award Graphic Novel Category).

Lindsay Nixon — nîtisânak

Nîtisânak is a memoir spanning nations, Prairie punk scenes, and queer love stories. It explores despair and healing through community and family, and being torn apart by the same.

Lindsay Nixon is a Cree/Mé​tis/Saulteaux writer, curator and McGill PhD student.

Angela Hovak Johnston — Reawakening Our Ancestors' Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing

When Angela Hovak Johnston heard that the last Inuk woman tattooed in the traditional way had died, she set out to tattoo herself and learn how to tattoo others. What was at first a personal quest became a project to bring the art of traditional tattooing back to Inuit women across Nunavut, starting in the community of Kugluktuk.

Johnston's journey is collected in Reawakening Our Ancestors' Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing with photos and stories of more than two dozen women.


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.