Writing is a deeply personal craft, and exploring one’s self for the purpose of expression can be a difficult journey. In this piece, writer Stephanie Wesley describes the process behind her Aboriginal Arts & Stories-winning piece, Jonas. Read more about finding identity through art here and here.
My whole life I always wanted to be a writer. It was in my blood, my spirit. I had to make my dream a reality, and I had to take the steps towards my goal. So it was no big surprise that once I learned of the Aboriginal Arts & Stories contest I wanted to enter it.
The only challenge I faced was coming up with an idea, a story to tell. Given our history as Anishinaabe people in Canada, there were a lot of ideas to choose from. It was a little difficult to settle for just one, and most of the ideas I came up with seemed forced; my heart wasn’t in it as much as it should be. Stories shouldn’t be forced, they should occur naturally. I didn’t want to enter for the sake of entering; I wanted my story to mean something. I just didn’t know what.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after learning of the contest, and relocating from an isolated community to an urban setting, that I finally wrote a story to submit. I found inspiration in events that took place in my new city (Thunder Bay) and the school I had attended. I wanted to be able to help draw attention to the plight of some students who come to urban settings from remote communities, and the challenges they face.
When I started writing the story, it just flowed so naturally that I was finished in a couple of days. It really felt like it was meant to be, that it was a story that needed to be told. There was nothing forced about it. I was glad to be able to shine a light on aspects of the city I live in and the youth who come here for school.
It’s important to remember that there are youth out there who are third/fourth/fifth generation residential school survivors, and the trauma felt first-hand by their relatives still touches the lives of those kids today. These kids are real, they are here, they are living that experience. I’m not sure how many Canadians actually realize the whole residential school experience isn’t something that just happened in the far off past. It’s still happening today. It is still impacting young kids today. And until healing occurs in each person, it is an ongoing issue. That story is not finished yet, not until each person’s heart is healed and his or her identity/culture is reclaimed.
It is important to tell that story, to tell a story about youth in modern times and to give our Anishinaabe youth characters that are experiencing the same issues they are. I hoped to give them something to identify with and hopefully encourage them to keep pressing forward regardless of their situation.
Image: Derelict pilings, Thunder Bay. Jeremiah John McBride, flickr/cc.