Canada puts Indigenous women last, says poet Lee Maracle

Acclaimed author, poet and activist Lee Maracle of the Stó:lō Nation delivers the Margaret Laurence Lecture, an annual event commissioned by the Writers' Trust of Canada. This episode features excerpts from her lecture, and Maracle in conversation with award-winning author, and former Massey Lecturer, Tanya Talaga.

'Although I am grateful for an opportunity to speak, I am still aware of how irrelevant you have made us.'

Lee Maracle, a member of the Stó:lō Nation, is an award-winning writer, poet and teacher. She delivered the 2020 Margaret Laurence Lecture, commissioned by the Writers' Trust of Canada. (Jason D'Souza/CBC)

"I do not ever create story alone," said Lee Maracle in her 2020 Margaret Laurence Lecture. 

"It is not a lonely enterprise. When I call on my ancestors to help me create this next story they come. When I am finished and I reread it, I sometimes am amused by identifying who helped me create this fiction."

Started in 1987 by the Writers' Trust of Canada, the Laurence Lecture Series invites a prominent Canadian writer to deliver a lecture on the topic "a writer's life." 

An award-winning author, poet, and teacher, Lee Maracle, a member of the Stó:lō Nation, has published such acclaimed books as Bobbi Lee: Indian RebelRavensong, I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism, Celia's Song and My Conversations with Canadians.

In the lecture, Maracle honours 2012 Margaret Laurence lecturer Dionne Brand, though she laments what she sees as a reluctance to celebrate Indigenous women writers.

"In general, Canada puts Indigenous writers, particularly, Indigenous women, last," Maracle said.

"Conquest is understandable, but not acceptable. I get it because if you accept that we are here first, then you would lose your place here and all this conquest would be for naught.  Although I am grateful for an opportunity to speak, I am still aware of how irrelevant you have made us in order to believe in your  'pursuit of religious freedom' raison d'être that masks colonialism.  I am invited into your space in an honouring way, despite the continued murder of Indigenous women, some of whom are my relations. I am always grateful to be honoured."

In honour of her lecture, Maracle spoke with friend and award-winning Ojibwe writer Tanya Talaga, author of All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward and Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City.

In the film, Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar, documentary filmmaker Tanya Talaga revisits what has happened in Thunder Bay since the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations teens between 2000 to 2011. (CBC / Spirit to Soar)

Talaga said much of Maracle's lecture resonated with her. The two authors emphasized the importance of work by Indigenous women, specifically.

"We need the voices of our people, but we also need the voices of our women... Listen to Indigenous women, the water carriers, the life carriers," Talaga said in conversation with Maracle.

"Now, I'm not saying don't listen to the men," said Maracle, "because the men, when they gather in the circle and they talk, they're talking about nation-to-nation relations...But they are the outside world. We're keepers of the inside world, and the inside world is our very souls." 

Following this thread, Maracle ended her lecture with a call to action, a challenge to listeners. 

"Have you asked the [bookstore] owners, your family, your friends, the libraries, the book reviewers, scholars, and schools if their libraries are balanced? Are you afraid to know about us? 

"Is it necessary to put Indigenous women last?  Will this ensure the longevity of colonialism, this holding up patriarchy? "said Maracle.

"You live on Turtle Island, where is your familiarity with the voice of its women?"

Listen to Lee Maracle's 2020 Margaret Laurence Lecture


*This episode was produced by Mary Lynk and Melissa Gismondi.

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