Writer in Residence

We've always been here

By Waubgeshig Rice

My time here is drawing to a close and I’d like to express great thanks to the Open Book team for inviting me to this space for the past month. It’s been a real pleasure and an immense honour to have the opportunity to share my thoughts, experiences, and insights related to all things writing. I had a lot of fun writing these posts, and I hope you readers found them enjoyable and worthwhile.

The timing was perfect; my stint here began just as my new novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was being released into the world. My usual work and home schedules likely wouldn’t have left me with as much time as I ended up having this month to post regularly as Open Book’s Writer In Residence. 

I ended up travelling a lot in October to share my book at festivals across the country. All that time in airports and on planes allowed me to devote the necessary time to contribute to this site in a meaningful way. While the days away from my family were tough, I was able to get a lot more writing done that usual, and that’s inspired me to improve the upkeep at my own blog.

By keeping my head in the literary realm for extended periods of time over the past month, I was also able to reflect on the general literary environment, my place in it, and the continuing contributions of Indigenous storytellers. It’s a great privilege to have enjoyed these recent opportunities. Mainstream Canadian literature is making more proper space for Indigenous authors on the shelves, in the press, and at festivals. I’m extremely thankful to have been offered some of this space.

But it’s about time. Indigenous authors have been toiling in the margins for decades, fighting for space and recognition. Their powerful truths that had been shared and cemented in culture for countless generations were already immortal in the spoken word despite the horrors and brutality of colonialism. The elements of these crucial oral stories were then further immortalized on written pages bound together. The only validation they needed was from their communities and each other.

And the truth is, most of the mainstream never really paid much attention. When it did, it was often to check boxes or diversify its programming or output for the sake of a seemingly-tolerant veneer. Still, these Indigenous authors persevered for culture and posterity. Their output continued, and their influence grew exponentially as younger generations picked up their books and felt inspired to write creatively themselves. Those younger writers are today earning critical acclaim, winning national and international awards, and changing the discourse and direction of an entire literary industry.

People often describe what’s happening now in the Canadian literary realm as an Indigenous “renaissance”. But to describe it as such is to suggest everything that came before now was, at best, the dark ages, or at worst, nearly dead. Indigenous literatures have always been thriving. Revolutionary literary works about Indigenous communities and experiences have existed for generations. They’re what helped keep culture and history alive. The mainstream is only now paying these writers the attention they and their ancestors deserve. 

And the respect and recognition should go back farther than that. We need to remember the children who whispered language and stories to each other at residential schools because they knew it was important to keep them alive at all costs, despite the terrible abuse they’d endure if caught. We need to honour the people who held ceremonies in secret, whether under the darkness of night or tucked away in basements, far from the cruel gaze of the Indian Agent and his violent rule. The list of these vital acts of resistance goes on. Without them, we wouldn’t be writing and sharing our stories in these spaces today.

The path ahead is wider than it’s ever been. It’s only going to get clearer, heading to something much brighter than ever before.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist from Wasauksing First Nation on Georgian Bay. He has written three fiction titles, and his short stories and essays have been published in numerous anthologies. His most recent novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was published in 2018 and became a national bestseller. He graduated from Ryerson University’s journalism program in 2002, and spent the bulk of his journalism career at CBC, most recently as host of Up North, the afternoon radio program for northern Ontario. He lives in Sudbury, Ontario with his wife and two sons.