Pride and the pen: Two bestselling B.C. authors reflect on success and Indigenous identity

After emerging in 2018 with bestselling, critically acclaimed memoirs, Darrel McLeod and Terese Mailhot reflect on the limitations of being labelled part of a new “native American literary renaissance.” Although their books are rooted in personal experience, their storytelling transcends the particular to express the experience of loss and trauma with artistic integrity and profound universality.

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Nehiyaw: Darrel McLeod on being proud

When Darrel McLeod set out for Yekooche, an isolated community 75 kilometres north of Fort St. James, to interview for a job, he was also on a quest to find himself. It was 1989.

McLeod, raised in Smith, Alta., in a large Cree family, was teaching French immersion in an affluent Vancouver neighbourhood.

But the loss of his sister Debbie to suicide and the death of his mother, Bertha, had changed everything.

“I was desperate. My mother was my connection to my culture. I was losing my culture.”

McLeod sent resumes “to every Indian reservation I could.”

Darrel McLeod, the Cree author of an upcoming memoir, Mamaskatch. Photo courtsy of Ilja Herb. For Denise Ryan feature slugged 0701 Canada 150 indigenous. [PNG Merlin Archive]

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Cree author Darrel McLeod at work. (Photo: Courtesy Ilja Herb)

He landed the job in Yekooche where, during an orientation meeting led by the school superintendent, he met Dakelh elder Catherine Bird.

“Catherine turned to me and said, ‘So, you’re Cree. You’re our traditional enemy. You Cree men used to steal our horses and our women. For centuries. You’re our enemy. I don’t know what you’re doing here.’ ”

The school superintendent froze. “She turned white, trying to figure out how to deal with the situation.”

Suddenly, said McLeod, Bird slapped her knee and burst into laughter.

McLeod and Bird became fast friends, and shared many stories: McLeod’s childhood growing up “nehiyaw,” or Cree, in the Lesser Slave Lake area of Alberta, and Bird’s reflections on raising 11 children on her own, hunting, trapping and later working to preserve traditional languages.

It was Bird who told McLeod to preserve his own stories by writing them down. “They will help people,” she said.

Cree author Darrel McLeod’s mother Bertha at age 17. (Photo: Courtesy Darrel McLeod)

Among authors he admires who happen to be Indigenous, McLeod cites Eden Robinson, Joshua Whitehead, Billy Rae Belcourt, Cherie Demaline, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Katherena

Source:: Vancouver Sun – Entertainment


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