Why Joseph Dandurand wanted to tell his story of survival through poetry
Joseph A. Dandurand is a poet and playwright from Kwantlen First Nation in British Columbia. Dandurand was Vancouver Public Library's 2019 Indigenous storyteller in residence and is currently the artistic director of the Vancouver Poetry House.
He has published four collections of poetry, most recently 2019's SH:LAM (The Doctor), which tells the story of Dandurand's people, Kwantlen First Nation, and describes the ways they have survived the brutalities of colonialism.
Nearly wiped out
"The Kwantlen people used to number in the thousands up and down the Fraser River. But 80 per cent of the communities were wiped out by a smallpox epidemic in the 1800s. There are just over 200 Kwantlen people today.
The Kwantlen people used to number in the thousands up and down the Fraser River.- Joseph A. Dandurand
"A lot of our elders, like my mom, were put on a train and sent to Kuper Island residential school. They lost a lot of their oral traditions and I don't have a lot that I can gather from.
"But I have friends upriver that, when they were young, had listened to the stories their elders told them. They told them to me and I usually pick out characters that I can use from their stories to recreate Kwantlen stories."
Keeping traditions alive
"A lot of our oral traditions talk about SH:LAMS or doctors. They're people that could heal others. They could also do things like eat fire. I thought about this character, this SH:LAM who lives in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and he could heal people. He could also take away people that were bad. Unfortunately, he's a heroin addict as well and suffering from addiction.
A lot of our oral traditions talk about SH:LAMS or doctors. They're people that could heal others.- Joseph A. Dandurand
"And in SH:LAM (The Doctor), I think I very much am the doctor. That comes out in the emotions and the energy that that he goes through in his journey to trying to help people — and trying to save himself."
Joseph Dandurand's comment have been edited for length and clarity.