Laurie Robinson, IAESC chairwoman and executive director, right, interviews author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice, centre, with Mair Greenfield, of the Rumie Initiative, in North Bay March 4.
Author’s journey started with community support
Community support and an early foundation of cultural identity helped Waubgeshig Rice navigate key moments of his life journey as an Indigenous story teller.
The Indigenous Advanced Education and Skills Council hosted the author recently to discuss his new book, Moon of the Crusted Snow. As it turns out, the roots of his career have more connections to his Wasauksing First Nation home.
Rice had told local Nipissing First Nation and North Bay fans gathered to meet him that his book is more than a post-apocalyptic thriller. He said the idea for the story was first born in 1993, when there was a major electricity blackout across large swaths of eastern North America. Rice was visiting family on Parry Island at the time when he realized the safest place to survive a social meltdown is Wasauksing, which is home to so many who are equipped to live off the land and have strong cultural roots.
The host of CBC Sudbury’s Up North said Indigenous Nations have overcome waves of apocalyptic upheaval and setback since the settlement of Europeans and creation of Canada began.
Rice chose a passage to read that highlighted one of the important points mixed within the pages of the novel.
“We’ve had that over and over. But we always survived. We’re still here,” said Auntie Aileen, a traditional knowledge keeper in the story, as she spoke to the main character, Ethan.
Rice said his elementary school in the community often had Elders drop in and share with the students, although that stopped when he went to Parry Sound for high school.
The new book brought him across Canada last fall as he promoted it at literary festivals and events, with his official home-city launch in Sudbury Saturday, March 16, at 854 Notre Dame Avenue from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Rice credits the Anishinabek News for his first taste of getting paid for writing in 1996 as he took part in a Rotary student exchange in Germany while a 17-year-old high school student.
What he didn’t know was the direct connection to the Anishinabek Educational Institute, created through the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) – Anishinabek Nation just a couple years earlier.
Waubgeshig Rice, host of CBC Radio’s Up North show, reads from his latest novel Moon of the Crusted Snow during an event hosted by IAESC at its North Bay satellite office March. 4.
Mike Couchie, of Nipissing First Nation, was among the local fans of author Waubgeshig Rice to attend his book promotion event March 4.
It was the director of education at the UOI, the late Merle Pegahmagabow, also of Wasauksing, who ensured the Anishinabek News had a freelance budget for student writers. And one of the regional Elders of the Anishinabek Nation was Flora Tabobondung, a former chief of Wasauskaing.
Rice went on to graduate from Ryerson University’s journalism program in 2002 and much of his working career has been with the CBC, earning the Anishinabek Nation’s Debwewin Award for Excellence in First Nation’s Storytelling in 2014.
In an interview after selling and autographing books, Rice said it’s been a great honour to be an Indigenous author.
“I was mentored by many very helpful and resourceful people,” Rice said. The acknowledgements at the back of his novel mention many, including his late Aunt Elaine Kelly, a teacher, who opened his eyes to Indigenous authors and their literature. “I think, most importantly, though I’ve been supported by a very loving and supportive family and community of Wasauksing.”
Reflecting on his mainstream education, Rice said it would have been tougher had he not had early cultural and community upbringing.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting any sort of Anishinabek perspective … at almost any point, really,” he said, describing a very small Indigenous student community at Ryerson when he attended almost 20 years ago.
While there was an aboriginal student services department to support them, Rice said he knows what it feels like to be the only Indigenous person in a classroom. The spotlight hit whenever the topic of Indigenous people came up.
“So, that, I think could have easily worn me down and could have driven me out of that environment if I wasn’t as maybe grounded in my culture and my own self-esteem and self-confidence,” he said, adding why he can see why some students would want to get out of these situations.
“They are hostile toward Indigenous people, especially if you’re a young person and you don’t feel that support amongst your peers in those learning moments.”
More of the interview will be published in a video capturing the event at IAESC’s North Bay office at coworking176.space.
If you’re interested in seeing the video, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get an alert when it’s posted to IAESC’s YouTube and Vimeo channels.