Last Thursday night I was at Aqua Books on Garry Street in downtown Winnipeg with a friend to attend an evening named Cree Stories featuring Aboriginal authors, poets, and songwriters. Upon entering the book store, we found there too be a great selection of books to peruse before we made our way towards the back of the building to EAT!bistro for our supper. After we’d finished eating, we moved on to the upstairs of Aqua Books where they have a small stage where they receive all sorts of people such as musicians, artists, authors, poets, and storytellers. It was in this small setting, highlighting the building’s heritage, where our evening’s main ambition was to take place.
The evening was a great chance to witness samples of work crafted by First Nations and Métis writers, as well as their creative processes. Inspiration comes from many places it seems and each speaker that night kindly shared their sources of their inspiration, though all came from rather personal memories and experiences.
Neal McLeod started the evening by reading from a recent project, a book where the protagonist, himself First Nations, experiences suburbia when he moves to a city to work for the Department of Indian Affairs. Afterwards, Duncan Mercredi, who is a poet and storyteller, told us a mysteriously crafted and engaging story his grandmother used to tell him and his relatives as a child. Roseanna Deerchild, journalist and author, read from her new book of poetry, and shared with us her mother’s experiences in the residential school system which has also inspired her to write more poetry. Emma Larocque followed and read some of her own poetry, which was inspired by reflections on identity and living away from one’s childhood home. The evening closed with celebrated author, poet, playwright, musician, and composer Tomson Highway who had most of the audience laughing until they cried with his thoughts and anecdotes, before reading from his play The Rez Sisters in Cree. With three singers on hand and himself at the piano, Highway presented a piece of music from his play Rose, which is now also being presented entirely in Cree.
The great variety of thought conveyed by these people through different modes of expression was truly inspiring. Some work drew tears due to laughter, while some work drew tears due to sadness. All the work featured that night were considerable reflections on one’s surroundings, on the frameworks of personal identity, and life experience.