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
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.
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
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.