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New anthology celebrates Aboriginal writers from Manitoba
Posted Wednesday, February 8, 2012 12:31 PM
By Toby Cygman
For The Bulletin

Manitowapow: Aboriginal Stories From the Land of Water is not your average anthology. Flipping through its pages, you may find a recipe for bannock, an excerpt from a graphic novel or an essay by Louis Riel.

Assembled by Warren Cariou and Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, this collection of Aboriginal writing from Manitoba was launched at a celebration event at The Forks in Winnipeg on Friday, February 4. The editors largely stepped aside to allow the writers to take centre stage. Beatrice Mosionier, perhaps best known for her best-selling novel In Search of April Raintree, was there to introduce the evening and the anthology, for which she wrote a foward. Manitowapow features a wide variety of expected and unexpected materials from stories, poetry and plays to historical documents, songs and recollections.

“We wanted to try and represent, as much as we could, the diversity of the cultural communities in Manitoba,” says Cariou, an assistant professor in the department of English, film and theatre and a Canada Research Chair in narrative, community and Indigenous cultures.

Alongside co-editor Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, a professor in the departments of English and Native studies who is in the final stages of completing his PhD in Anishinaabeg literatures and traditional expression, the two had to question the definition of writing and literature in order to put together the anthology. How could an oral culture, like much of Aboriginal culture, be represented on the page? How could systems of communication before writing be shown?

Recognizing these aspects of Aboriginal culture, Cariou and Sinclair include written down versions of oral stories in the anthology as well as a section at the beginning that shows and discusses traditional systems of writing such as petroforms (human made shapes and patterns made by lining up rocks on the ground), rock paintings, tapestry and shapes carved into the hide of clothes. As well, some of the pieces appear in their original language.

In fact, Cariou says, it is the relatively healthy state of Indigenous languages in Manitoba that contributes to the wealth of Aboriginal literature in the province. Add to that the support of the Aboriginal Writers’ Collective in Winnipeg and how 1960’s Manitoba was one of the places where Aboriginal activism was the strongest, and you get a robust community of writers.

“In general,” Cariou says, “Manitoba is a great place for writing of all kinds, no matter what cultural community you’re from. Writing isn’t about competing with each other, it’s about creating something together.”

Though they are both experts in the field of Aboriginal literature in Canada, Cariou and Sinclair made new discoveries while researching material for the anthology. New to Cariou were some traditional stories by a Cree woman named Kuskapatchees. Little is known about her, but it is likely she was born sometime in the mid-nineteenth century around Nelson House, Manitoba. Her stories are “vivid and feel so contemporary” Cariou says, there is a “real sense of immediacy” to them.

Cariou hopes that the anthology will inspire other scholars in other areas to create something similar and bring more of this type of literature back into circulation. It would be great “to have a whole series” of anthologies, one for each region, he said.

In the foreword of Manitowapow, Mosionier writes that she hopes “[this anthology] will be a few more steps in a long and storied path of creativity in our Aboriginal communities.”

The anthology is sure to inspire and with its proceeds going to create writing workshops for Aboriginal youth, the next generation of Aboriginal writers in Manitoba will be well-prepared to add their voices to a future edition.
For more information, contact:
Mariianne Mays Wiebe
Editor, The Bulletin
Marketing Communications Office
Phone: (204) 474-8111
Fax: (204) 474-7631