We Were Here First - We Never Thought You (White People) Would Stay


RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction Spotlight: We Were Here First  with Thomas KingLee MaracleSamual Watson and Waubgeshig Rice.
"We weren't concerned because we never thought you (white people) would stay ..." laughed  First Nation's author Lee Maracle at  last night's RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction Spotlight: We Were Here First.  Well-known CBC Host (not that one - it was CBC videographer Waubgeshig Rice) had asked Maracle and three other celebrated indigenous writers from Canada and Australia to comment on the evening's theme  - We Were Here First.

The Friday evening book event was an integral part of the closing weekend of Harbourfront's International Festival of Authors.  The festival, now in its 35th year, brings the world's biggest names in literature to a number of Harbourfront stages  along Toronto's waterfront.

The  Friday night panel had two famed two Canadian First Nation writers - RBC Taylor Prize 2014 winner Thomas King (The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America) and West Coast writer  Lee Maracle (Celia’s Song) sharing notes with two Australian Indigenous writers - Samuel Wagan Watson (Smoke Encrypted Whispers) and Ellen van Neerven (Heat and Light, winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award).

Thomas King signs his book, His wife Helen Hoy watches on
For Thomas King, We Were Here First is not as an important question as Who Owns The Land Anyway? "It all begins and ends with our land.  We can settle most differences (between the First Nations' people and the Canadian Government) but we have lost so much land we now have to draw that line in the sand."

The two Australian authors have roots in the community of the native indigenous people of Beaudesert in the Queensland region on Australia.  Both agreed with King that it is the stories of their people's  land that inspires and motivates indigenous writers.

The onstage IFOA conversation, presented by the Taylor Prize, was also part of Planet IndigenUS  --  a programme that gives prominence to the voices, stories and cultures of Indigenous people. This project is assisted by the Australian Government.

We Never Thought You (White People) Would Stay - explained Lee Maracle (below left).
Lee Maracle has been published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide, and is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels and works of non-fiction. She was born in North Vancouver and is a member of the Stó:lō Nation. Maracle's latest novel, Celia’s Song, chronicles one Native family’s harrowing experiences over several generations, after the brutality, interference and neglect resulting from contact with Europeans.

Samual Wagan Watson (middle) is an award-winning raconteur from the southside of Brisbane who hails from an honourable ancestry of Birri, Munanjali, Gaelicand Germanic peoples. His poetry collection Smoke Encrypted Whispers won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the New South Wales Premier’s Book of the Year. He latest work is a collection of poetry, Love Poems and Death Threats. He is now writing a cookbook!
The moderator at the IFOA event was CBC’s Waubgeshig Rice (right), video journalist in Ottawa. An Anishinaabe from Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, Waub believes that staying true to his roots has been key in his success as a journalist and published autho

"It is all about the land," explained author Thomas King.Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter and photographer of Cherokee and Greek descent. For 50 years, he has worked as an activist for Native causes and has taught Native literature and history at universities across North America. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004. King presents both his RBC Taylor Prize-winning book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, and his first literary novel in 15 years, the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction finalist The Back of the Turtle at the IFOA Friday night in Toronto.
Ellen van Neerven is a writer of Aboriginal and Dutch descent whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Best of McSweeney’s, Voiceworks and Review of Australian Fiction. 
She currently lives in Brisbane where she works as an editor for the black&write! project at the State Library of Queensland. Van Neerven presents her debut novel and the winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award, Heat and Light. Divided into three sections, it is inspired by the intersection of familial history, location and identity, and takes readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real.

After the lecture ... Friends, authors, sponsors and audience members gathered in the Harbourfront book selling lounge. 
From the left to right: RBC Taylor Prize Founder Noreen Taylor, 2007 Taylor Prize winner Rudy Wiebe ( Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest), RBC 2014 Taylor Prize Shortlisted author and the Toronto Book Prize winner Charlotte Gray (Massey Murder) and Vijay Parmar, President, PH&N Investment Counsel and RBC Taylor Prize trustee. 


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