Two Devon Middle School students were awarded the first Indigenous Youth Writing Award on Friday, June 9, 2017, in Fredericton.
The Indigenous Youth Writing Award was created by the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs (CCWWP/PPCCL) as a way to give back to the communities where they come together in the wake of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and of the recent scandals that have rocked the Canadian literary establishment.
Devon Middle School students Kayla Paul and Kyler Paul and their teacher received the foundational award at the opening ceremony of the CCWWP/PPCCL Conference, in the presence of the conference attendees as well as distinguished guest writers El Jones and Herménégilde Chiasson, the featured speakers that night.
The Devon Middle School students, representatives of their entire class, received recognition for their classwork in learning about Canada’s notorious Residential Schools. The project was conceived by Ginger Carson, a First Nations Literacy Teacher, and Perry Constantine, a Social Studies teacher. Students read books by two Residential School survivors, Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton: Fatty Legs and When I Was Eight.
After reading the novels, the Grade 8 students from St. Mary’s First Nation were curious to know more about the outcomes of the characters’ lives: “They were left wondering how Olemaun’s [the main character’s] life unfolded with her siblings, her parents and friends and if there would be a third book. At this point students were inspired to write Margaret Pokiak-Fenton letters to ask her questions that their teachers could not answer.”
Chair of the Board of Directors of the CCWWP/PPCCL, Robert Budde, said of this student-driven initiative that the association: “loves what the class did and felt they should be recognized.”
The students accepted a cheque for the establishment of an indigenous student writing prize, something Budde called: “a collaborative effort by CCWWP and Tracey Lindberg and a growing number of donors.” From the Kelly Lake Cree Nation in BC, Lindberg is a renowned author of Birdie and an indigenous rights activist. She was also a keynote speaker at the CCWWP conference.
Spoken word poet and social justice activist, El Jones, is based in Halifax where she was the 2013-15 Halifax Regional Municipality’s Poet Laureate. At the event she declaimed poems denouncing the hypocrisy of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the treatment of prison inmates, and against racism and sexism. Former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick and noted Acadian intellectual, Herménégilde Chiasson, gave a formal bilingual speech entitled “Contraintes/Constraints,” a retrospective look at the self-imposed obstructions and difficulties he inflicts on himself as a writer and artists.
The CCWWP/PPCCL gathered at the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus for their annual meeting. Included in the CCWWP’s mandates is “to advance and discuss the social practice of creative writing and its role in social justice.” The Fredericton CCWWP/PPCCL Conference was organized by Dr. Sue Sinclair, of the UNB Department of English’s Creative Writing Program and Associate Editor of The Fiddlehead literary journal.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op.