Audio interview (34min) and accompanying article. Article first published in Anishinabek News, www.anishinabeknews.ca. Interview includes reading of two poems:
- how granny braids
intro starts 21m37s, poem at 24m14s until 25m17s, postscript until 25m50s
- coyotes in the city
intro starts 26m22s, poem at 28m00s until 32m23s
By Greg Macdougall
OTTAWA – Vera Wabegijig’s first book, “wild rice dreams”, comes after 20 years of writing poetry.
The mother of two was born in Sudbury to a mother from Mississauga First Nation and a father from Wikwemikong, and says her upbringing in Blind River and Iron Bridge was missing any cultural context.
“We never smudged when I was a kid, or there was no sweat lodges, or there were not those kind of ceremonies. Nobody had Indian names.”
After graduating high school and moving to Ottawa she started to spend time with the elders there.
“They were talking about more traditional or spiritual things,” she recalls, which helped her to sense the importance of storytelling – and to start living that through writing and sharing stories in poetic form.
Discovering Aboriginal writers such as Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie and Joy Harjo helped Vera connect with literature and poetry, finding a different form of narrative that she could relate to and understand. Before that, she had trouble with the European-style writing presented in her schooling.
“It’s coming from a different voice, and it’s coming from a different perspective and a different history,” she says. “It didn’t fit with me, it didn’t fit with my voice that I had.”
While living out west, she began to tell stories through video and film, as well as continuing to write, entering the Canadian Council for the Arts Aboriginal Writer’s Residency program at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Wabegijig entered the program to work on short story writing, but credits Metis writer-poet Marilyn Dumont with suggesting that poetry might be a better focus.
Her mentor helped get her started on the work of collecting, editing and revising already-written poems, and Ojibway-French poet David Groulx connected her with Bookland Press, which published “wild rice dreams” two years later.
The book divides the poems into four sections : “this native land”; “look around us”; “tending dreams and memories”; and “all in the family,” with a mix of light and more difficult subjects.
Wabegijig says her goal “was always to write so people could understand, especially my people – I thought it was really important for that to happen.”
She says she hopes readers “can see themselves in the poems,” that her stories “give them hope that things can change.”
Her website is verawaabegeeshig.wordpress.com