January is the time to tell stories. Taking a page from the national traditions of Cree and Anishinaabe culture, the local Indigenous Writers Collective (IWC), in participation with the Winnipeg Public Library and the department of native studies at the University of Manitoba, presents Manidoo-Giizis/Kinepisim Manitoba Indigenous Writers Festival 2014. The title of the event is composed of the Anishinaabe and Cree words for Big Spirit Moon, referring to the annual storytelling time that occurs during January’s full moon.
Katherena Vermette of the Indigenous Writers Collective is one of the main organizers for the event, though she works alongside other members of the group. She identifies some of the strengths in this region for indigenous writers.
“What we have here in Manitoba is an incredibly indigenous province. Winnipeg is a beautiful artistic community, we’re also a close-knit community; we support and promote each other whenever we can.”
The event boasts three days of readings, panels, workshops, film screenings, a comedic writers’ cage match, and much more. Attention will be given to children’s literature, graphic novels, emerging authors, and other written works.
The vast literatures by indigenous peoples were largely ignored by the public until a few decades ago, explains Renate Eigenbrod, professor in the department of native studies at the University of Manitoba.
When she presented the possibility of teaching an indigenous literature course at Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University in the early 1980s, she encountered resistance. “It was a hard sell; people didn’t believe me that there was indigenous literature.”
Eigenbrod refers to a select few works by indigenous writers in Canada that had been published when she was trying to start teaching in the field. “At that time, Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed had come out in 1973 [ . . . ] it was noticed, but not in a major way, not as it should have been noticed. Beatrice Culleton Mosionier’s In Search of April Raintree [came out] in 1983, and [in 1986] Tomson Highway’s Rez Sisters was another milestone.”
She explains that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the public at large and academics began to admit and accept that there was a vast field of indigenous literature.
One of the organizers, who will host the opening show as well as the panel discussion on indigenous graphic novels, is University of Manitoba assistant professor Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair.
He discusses the millennia-old written work of indigenous people, stating that poems, graphic novels, novels, and other modern forms of literature are continuations of older forms.
“The fastest growing form of indigenous literatures is graphic novels,” says Sinclair. “There is also a lot more social media—non-fiction—work by indigenous writers which is coming out at the same pace as graphic novels.” He also mentioned a large book coming out soon based on social media writings created as part of Idle No More.
He highlights the writers’ cage match between Cree and Anishinaabe writers at the last festival as one of the most fun and funniest events he has ever attended. Last time it was packed, and he encourages people to check it out.
Vermette emphasizes the accessibility of the event: “Everything is free.”
“This event offers a chance to get the widest array of indigenous writing in Manitoba,” says Sinclair. It is one of the most creative events I’ve ever been a part of. There is some of the best comedy, stuff that will make you cry [ . . . ] Things that will change your life.”
Come witness amazing storytelling: 7 p.m. at Neechi Commons (865 Main Street) on Thursday, Jan. 16, Friday, Jan. 17, and Saturday, Jan. 18; and a full day of panels and readings at the Millennium Library on Saturday, Jan. 18, from 10 a.m. until the last event at 4 p.m.