The Next Chapter

How David A. Robertson's father helped him reconnect with his Indigenous identity and culture

The Winnipeg author spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing his memoir, Black Water.
David A. Robertson with The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers. (Shelagh Rogers)

David A. Robertson is a Winnipeg author and graphic novelist and a member of Norway House Cree Nation.

The multi-talented writer has published 25 books across a variety of genres. In 2020, he released three books: the first book of a new middle-grade series titled The Barren Grounds, his first memoir Black Water and the graphic novel Breakdown, which was illustrated by Scott B. Henderson.

Robertson grew up not knowing much about his Indigenous heritage. His memoir Black Water is framed around a journey that David and his father Don took to the family trapline in northeast Manitoba. There, David and his father reclaimed their Indigenous identity and connection to the land. 

Robertson spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Black Water.

Who my father was

"He was a wise man. He was a counselor. He was a teacher. He was kind. He looked at everybody with respect. He was exactly who he was in public. He was just genuinely a good human. He taught us to be the same way. I try to emulate that in myself. Sometimes I don't quite get there as much as Dad did.

He was a wise man. He was a counselor. He was a teacher. He was kind. He looked at everybody with respect.

"But it's a lifelong process. I value everything that he taught me and gave to me.

"He was just a good person." 

Traveling to the trapline

"He missed the trapline. He missed that connection. He missed the land. He missed his childhood in that way. I also think that he missed the water. He missed that more than anything. 

"We used to go to Clear Lake, as adults and as kids. He loved Clear Lake so much because he sat by the water all the time. He loved the water. He loved the peace of it. He loved how it spoke to him.

"As he got older, he started to think about his life and reclaiming knowledge that he had lost. That also had a part in why he wanted to go back as well. 

"I also think he wanted to bring me there. He wanted to show me where he lived and to foster that connection in me.

"It was a completely selfless act for him, but also an act of reclamation.

He loved the water. He loved the peace of it. He loved how it spoke to him.

"I'll forever be grateful for going there with him. I think he knew that his time was short. Maybe he knew more than we did, but it turned out to be the last time I could have gone with him." 

Blood memory

"Blood memory means a connection to identity, a connection to our lives and our families — it's a connection to the past. It's the people that came before us that helped shape who we are before we were ever born. 

"I remember twice feeling it very powerfully. Once was when I went to Norway House for the first time. I remember stepping out and feeling like I arrived home. It was a very powerful feeling. 

Blood memory means a connection to identity, a connection to our lives and our families — and it's a connection to the past.

"I felt it even more so when I went to Black Water with my dad. As soon as I got off the boat and put my foot on the rocks — I tried my best to describe it — it was this feeling that I had arrived where I always needed to go.

"Even though I had never been there before, it felt like I'd been there. My ancestors were welcoming me home. And that's what I think blood memory is."

David A. Robertson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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