It’s been a phenomenal week for Indigenous literacy across our territories. Twice in the past few days, storytelling about First Nations have dominated the Canadian literacy headlines winning two hotly contested prizes.
First, Onegaming Anishinaabe-inini Wab Kinew, Bizhew dodemun, successfully debated his choice, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden to claim the title in CBC’s annual Canadian Reads contest. The theme for this year was quiet fitting: What is the one novel that can change Canada? Wab started his oratory in fine form, with the so-called “epic spoken word” introduction of Boyden’s indigenous historical work. For those who don’t know, Wab Kinew came to fame as an indigenous hiphop artist and musician so his rhymes and rhythms are no stranger to us.
Joseph Boyden, a longtime friend of the Wasauksing First Nation community and proud indigenous supporter is no stranger to Canadian literary recognition. His first novel Three Day Road, about Anishinaabe sniper Francis Pegahmagabow has won numerous awards. His next novel, Black Spruce (that I admit I haven’t read – yet), won the 2008 Giller Prize. His third novel, The Orenda, takes place in the 1700s and details the story of a Huron-Wendat warrior Bird, a young Haudenasaunee girl named Snow Falls and a Jesuit priest Christophe.
The interaction between each Nation and the missionaries is written honesty, sometimes brutally. The violence described among these warriors seeking vengeance has caused some consternation among critics, and was debated hotly between Wab Kinew and fellow Canada Reads panelist Stephen Lewis.
Another indigenous work, The Inconvenient Indian by Tom King, has just been announced as the winner of the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction. King, one of my personal favourite “Indians” of all time, beat out four other finalists for the Taylor Prize and the cash. I’m a big fan of Tom King’s CBC work, including the cult favourite “Dead Dog Cafe” and his amazing delivery of the 2003 Massey Lectures.
Congratulations to both Joseph Boyden and Tom King. And a special thanks to Wab Kinew for representin’. Nishin, brother. We agree with Boyden’s suggestion: Wab Kinew should be our next Prime Minister.