AUNDECK OMNI KANING—Award winning author Joseph Boyden was the keynote speaker at the Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute’s Miigwewin 2016 educators conference last Friday.
“This is a bit of a homecoming for me,” said Mr. Boyden, noting that his Anishinaabe mother was from Beaver Lake. “It is a huge honour to be here.”
Mr. Boyden explained that he was going to share three stories or acts, playing the harmonica or jaw harp in between.
“When I sit down to write I’m often scared, but then the character starts speaking to me,” he shared. “I’m lucky enough to be a writer and be encouraged to hear voices. Characters come to me, sometimes in full form, to tell me their stories.”
He explained how this happened with the character Bird in his novel ‘The Orenda,’ reading an excerpt from the book.
“I had to let her go where she demanded to go,” said Mr. Boyden. “The things she did shocked me, but in the end, the way she understood the world was violence begets violence.”
In his second part, Mr. Boyden spoke about indigenous youth, intergenerational trauma and how Attawapiskat is a microcosm of the intergenerational trauma that affects all of Canada’s indigenous people. He read an article he wrote for MacLean’s Magazine on the topic and spoke directly about how ensuring equal education for all of Canada’s youth is important for the country’s future.
In his third and final act, Mr. Boyden talked about the late Basil Johnston.
“He was a special man who was driven by the idea that we must speak the language to see the richness of the world,” said Mr. Boyden.
He shared a story Mr. Johnston told him about the difference between the Christian God and the Creator when he asked him why he whispered thank you before eating a meal. Mr. Johnston said that according to Christianity, God created everything on the earth for man to rule, while the Creator made a physical world where humans need everything from the trees, rocks, animals to survive, but they don’t need humans. Mr. Johnston said a simple thank you was the least he could do to thank the animal that had given its life for him to eat.
“Other than parents, no one else will have the impact you do on children,” concluded Mr. Boyden. “You have a sacred responsibility.”