Michelle Sylliboy reclaims Indigenous culture and identity with award-winning book Kiskajeyi — I Am Ready
This interview originally aired on Sept. 21, 2019.
Michelle Sylliboy is a Mi'kmaw interdisciplinary artist, poet and author. Raised on unceded territory in We'koqma'q, Cape Breton, her work is about exploring history, culture and identity.
Her book Kiskajeyi — I Am Ready is an insightful collection of photography and hieroglyphic poetry. Kiskajeyi — I Am Ready was a co-winner of the 2020 Indigenous Voices Award (IVAs) in the category of published poetry, alongside Halifax-based poet and sex educator Arielle Twist's poetry collection Disintegrate/Dissociate.
Sylliboy spoke with Shelagh Rogers about how her photography, poetry and life experience shaped the book.
"Most of my knowledge about the hieroglyphics were through Catholic prayers. When I was growing up, my parents had a scroll of the Lord's Prayer hanging on the wall. Because my father was on the Grand Council, I would see these prayer books brought out by the elders.
"I was somewhat of a curious child, so I often wondered why I didn't know these symbols and why I couldn't read these symbols."
A loss of culture
"When residential schools took over our communities, our education was interrupted by the system. The government took over what we should learn and how we should learn through residential schools.
That's how and why my people need to reclaim the historical narrative. Because it was taken away from us.
"Schools literally stopped the continuation and the knowledge of the hieroglyphics. Because of this occurring, the last fluent readers have since passed away."
"When I started to research the history about the hieroglyphics and how it was used, I learned it was used to convert the Mi'kmaq, my people. But the narrative got stolen and that's the part that I wanted to reclaim.
"That's how and why my people need to reclaim the historical narrative. Because it was taken away from us."
Michelle Sylliboy's comments have been edited for length and clarity.