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First Nations youth inspired after attending writer’s festival

Friday January 24, 2014
Stephanie Wesley/Wawatay News

A group of First Nations youth travelled to Winnipeg in mid-January to participate in the 2014 Manitoba Indigenous Writer’s Festival.

Six First Nations youth from northwestern Ontario were invited to attend the 2014 Manitoba Indigenous Writer’s Festival (MIWF) held in Winnipeg from Jan.16 to 18.

The festival, hosted by the Indigenous Writers Collective of Manitoba, included panels on Indigenous Children’s Literature and Indigenous Graphic Novels, as well as readings by emerging voices, including the northwestern Ontario youth.

The festival also featured a showing of the Zoe Hopkin’s film Mohawk Midnight Runners, which is based on a short story by Richard Van Camp, who introduced the film.

Kassidy Armstrong, Theodore Syrette, Matt Goodchild, Cheryl Suggashie, and Amy Boyer were some of the youth who had previously been invited to a creative writing workshop for third and fourth generation residential school survivors. The workshop was held in Manitoba in April of 2013.

After the workshop one of the organizers Renate Eigenbrod, professor and head of the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, asked the youth to submit pieces of their work to be published in an anthology of writing.

The opening night of the MIWF also served as the launch of the book Writing for Change, which features work from Armstrong, Syrette, Goodchild, Suggashie, and Boyer, which was unexpected for some of the contributors.

“I wasn’t really expecting that,” Syrette said of the book launch. “I knew we submitted work to be put into a chapbook and I thought that would be interesting to see, but to be given an actual anthology book. It was really exciting.”

“I was overwhelmed,” Syrette said. He explained that he turned to Boyer to express his disbelief at the festival after the book was launched.

“I looked at Amy and said I can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “I texted my mom and I told her that my story was in a book, I am published now. She texted me back saying she was crying.”

Goodchild called the book “surprising” and said that he is already hearing feedback from people who have read it.

“A woman teared up reading it,” Goodchild said. “I have trouble finding words to explain the festival, and about being published in a book. But it was truly an honour to take part in the festival and being published.”

“Definitely motivation to do more writing,” he added.

Suggashie, who was unable to attend the festival, said that she did keep in touch with her fellow writers who were at the festival and who were sharing photos via social media.

“When I saw the (photos of the) actual book, I was ecstatic!” Suggashie said. “It was another goal reached. Now that I know that it’s possible, I’d like to write a book some day.”

Syrette, like Suggashie and Goodchild, is also inspired to write more after the launch of the book.

“It inspired me to put more of my work out there and share my work with other people in other indigenous communities,” Syrette said.

Suggashie hopes that her accomplishment will serve as inspiration for the youth from and around her community of Pikangikum First Nation.

“I was honoured because I have a lot of younger cousins in Pikangikum and Sandy Lake. I see myself as role model to them,” Suggashie said.

The book, Writing For Change, also features stories from members of the Indigenous Writers Collective of Manitoba, Nina Wilson, and Beatrice Mosionier, and can be ordered through Renate Eigenbrod from the University of Manitoba.

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