Monday evening was devoted to Up Ghost River, Edmund Metatawabin’s memoir of surviving St. Anne’s Residential School, coping with alcoholism and PTSD, and becoming Chief of Fort Albany First Nation.
Up Ghost River won the Ontario Legislative Assembly Speaker’s Book Award. The ceremony was held at Queen’s Park, the Ontario Legislature. Edmund and his wife, Joan, were able to attend the ceremony—no small feat, as they came about 1200 km. They travelled for two days from Fort Albany to Toronto, driving on an ice road to Timmins and flying the rest of the way. The Honourable Dave Levac, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, presented the award to Edmund and his collaborator on the book, Alexandra Shimo.
The Speaker’s Book Award, launched by Speaker Levac in 2012, brings awareness to books written by Ontarians covering historical, regional, cultural, or parliamentary aspects of the province. Special consideration is given to works focusing on Ontario’s parliamentary heritage and on provincial political discourse.
Steve Paikin, journalist and host of TVO’s The Agenda, is a fan of the book, which he called “astonishingly powerful.” He was at the award ceremony, and will be interviewing Edmund next week.
At the same time, I was speaking about the book with the Massey College Quadrangle Society. Up Ghost River was the February book club pick. I spoke for twenty minutes about the experience of editing the book, focusing on the issues of memory and truth that came up in the process. I then engaged in a discussion with Mary Ladky, organizer for the evening, and a lively Q&A with the audience. Several people expressed concerns about “what they could do,” so we spoke about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the concept and practice of reconciliation, and how we can all be involved in the issues. Thanks to Massey Junior Fellow Milan Ilnyckyj for attending the talk and taking photos.
The next day Edmund came to the Penguin Random House Canada office and we celebrated him and the book. Over coffee, Edmund told me what he’s up to next, including the claims case against the federal government that has recently been reopened to ensure better settlements—and justice—for Survivors of St. Anne’s and other residential schools. See here and here for background on the case.
In my research into residential schools and reconciliation, I have read all of the TRC reports and I am always on the lookout for related events. On March 22nd I will be attending the Walter Gordon Symposium on Public Policy, also at Massey College. The topic is “Restoring Respectful Relationships: Designing a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation,” and the two-day symposium will feature panels, talks, roundtables, and a sharing circle with Survivors from St. Anne’s. Speakers include Lee Maracle, Hayden King, Pam Palmater, and Bob Rae. The symposium is free.