The Xaverian Weekly's Article Published in Atlantis

 
 

Mount Saint Vincent University’s Atlantis gets rights to second publication

A creative work written by Katherina Hirschfeld and Rhea Ashley Hoskin originally published in The Xaverian Weekly gets a second round of exposure in Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture, & Social Justice, a Mount Saint Vincent University journal. 

Hirschfeld discusses the writing process of this edition “Rhea just completed her PhD, so she has been involved in research and writing longer than I have. As an undergraduate student with no published works whatsoever, I was fairly intimidated. But writing a manifesto was a great way to start collaborating together. As an English major, I am more familiar with the mechanics of poetry than Rhea. As a seasoned academic, Rhea has a breadth of knowledge about theory and the publication process. We both brought our own assets to the table and it resulted in a very balanced undertaking. Plus, we’re friends who often talk about our own research together. So, hanging out and writing a femme call-to-arms together was so much fun!”

Pursuing a Master of Arts degree at Acadia university after graduating from a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours, Hirschfeld said “My undergraduate degree from StFX really prepared me for the rigor of a master’s program. I did my BA English Honours degree at StFX, which required me to write a thesis paper. Not all universities offer a thesis option in an undergrad, and because of that opportunity I learned a lot about how to conduct more significant research and literary analysis than any term paper would require. As a result, I feel very confident and well-equipped for my master’s degree.

Not only did my time at StFX prepare me for the significant amounts of writing and research involved in a master’s degree, but it also prepared me for an academic career by supporting and offering conference experiences. I presented my thesis at Student Research Day as well as at the English Colloquium during my graduating year. Both were followed with a Q&A period, which I have never experienced before. Writing is one thing, but answering questions about your own research on the spot is a crucial skillset for academia as well as a legal career (which I hope to pursue after my master’s degree). That same summer, I also had the unique opportunity to present a poster about my thesis at the annual Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) conference with the assistance of the Jules Léger Endowment. All of these opportunities have allowed me to grow more as an academic, and I do not think I would have had the same chances to do so at a larger institution.”

 Photo: Madeleine Killacky

Photo: Madeleine Killacky

Hoskin is an instructor at the StFX Student Success Centre and a doctoral student at Queen’s University in the Department of Sociology. She notes that “This creative piece was inspired primarily by our own experiences as queer femmes – who like to eat, love to lift, and feel empowered by our femininity – something that, for many people, seems contradictory. We wanted to expand on our own experiences of being femme and how we navigate some of the complexities and intersections of our own femininity, to also consider the varied embodiments of femininity, and what it means to re-value femininity in a world that seems to fairly consistently (and pervasively) tell us that femininity isn’t something to be valued.” 

 Photo: Dr. Karen Blair

Photo: Dr. Karen Blair

The abstract of their work emphasizes the piece’s intention of encouraging the “reader to think beyond femininity’s articulation as a source of oppression to, instead, consider how it can be reframed as a form of resistance.” Readers who ponder this piece rethink “femininity” critically. 

Hoskin says “resistance comes in many forms, of course. In this particular context, we use resistance as something that pushes back against oppressive norms – norms that systematically divide and subordinate individuals.  Resistance offers ways to re-imagine, to uproot reductive or determinist views of oneself and each other. 

Think about it this way – in order to resist, we need to be able to imagine the possibilities that exist outside of an oppressive structure. Femme, to us and to many others, offers such a re-imagining – whether it’s to re-imagine the beauty of fat bodies, the worth of queerness, the strength in vulnerability, or to re-imagine the boundless gender possibilities that exist outside the gender binary.” 

Hirschfeld remarks “society can put a lot of pressure on us to perform in certain ways. Identities are put in boxes, and each box carries expectations with respect to appearance, behavior, mannerisms, and so on. To me, resistance happens when you refuse to comply with those societal conventions. Resistance against heteronormative assumptions can occur in various ways. Writing ‘A Femme Manifesto’ is a form of resistance. Rhea and I have both recognized and experienced certain societal pressures to present ourselves a certain way, and often feel the weight of feminine assumptions, so creating a piece about refusing the standards placed on us is empowering. It gave us a voice and helped us to claim a visibility that’s often denied to femme-identifying individuals.”

Hirschfeld is writing a thesis on representations of time within queer narratives at Acadia. She mentions, “much like our published creative piece, though, my master’s thesis also focuses on forms of resistance. I am investigating the relationship between subject and temporality within queer narratives. Our understanding of time, much like our understanding of identities and sexualities, is often based on normative assumptions and conventions. My research investigates how time is treated differently within several queer narratives and what those differences signify. I’m hoping to submit one of my chapters to Rhea’s Call for Papers on Femme Theory.”

Hoskin is busy as well, having already published two research collaborations “Transgender exclusion from the world of dating: Patterns of acceptance and rejection of hypothetical trans dating partners as a function of sexual and gender identity” and “Ameliorating transnegativity: assessing the immediate and extended efficacy of a pedagogic prejudice reduction intervention” this year. 

“‘Beyond Aesthetics’ is actually my first creative piece, Katerina’s too I think. I am first and foremost a researcher, so this was entirely a new venture for me. It has, however, opened some interesting venues or opportunities that I hadn’t previously considered. Katerina and I are definitely going to collaborate in the future, but it will likely take the form of a critical essay.

I do have some exciting non-creative projects coming up! Well, I’m sure all projects require some degree of creativity. I’m currently guest-editing two special issues for international LGBT+ journals. The first issue is for the Journal of Lesbian Studies and will focus on the application of Femme Theory. The second will be co-edited with Dr. Blair, and will be a special issue on Critical Femininities for the journal of Psychology & Sexuality. We’ve heard some really great feedback and have already started receiving submissions. 

My upcoming research project examines how anti-femininity drives much of the violence we’ve seen in Canada over the past 40 years; for example, the Montreal Massacre, the alleged Incel Rebellion, missing and murdered Indigenous women, the rates at which trans women and trans women of colour are murdered, or even serial killers Bruce McArthur and Russel Williams. These acts of violence all share a commonality, which I argue is how we, as a society, see and devalue femininity.” 

Hirschfeld and Hoskin will likely work together again in the future. Hoskin comments “While I imagine plenty of collaborations with Rhea in the future – or should I say, Dr. Hoskin – I’m currently focusing on my masters and in the process of applying to law school.” Both researchers continue to make notable contributions to Femme, queer and transgender theories. 

“Katerina and I make a great team. We actually met as group fitness instructors at Goodlife, where we would frequently teach classes together. Even in that capacity, we really fed off of each other in very creative ways. I think Katerina and I have a really unique synergistic and creative chemistry.”

 

Felix Cartal Interview

 
 

EDM maestro visits Charles V. Keating Centre

Yanik Gallie and Bowen Assman interviewed musician Felix Cartal after his concert at X-Fest. Cartal’s new album Next Season is available for purchase on iTunes. 

Cartal is the DJ who headlined the Friday night EDM event. FDM (Matt McGlashan) and Babz (Thomas Shelby) opened for WAVES and Goliath. FDM and Babz are StFX students in Business Administration and Psychology respectively. 

The event scheduled from 9 to 12:30 took place at the Charles V. Keating Centre. No ambulances were dispatched to the event this year!

***

YG: What is your first impression of university?

FC: It felt like an old-school American campus. It feels like we’re in Boston. I forget that schools look this way in Canada. I went to UBC and that campus is quite the opposite. StFX is a beautiful school. 

YG: Talking about UBC, how did your studying there and abroad in Scotland help you in your professional life? 

FC: When I was living in Scotland, that’s when I started to DJ. That was in 2007. I think DJ culture wasn’t popular in North America yet so to do a semester abroad there. People there were used to DJ culture already. I came back and felt uncertain in North America still. I gained confidence that it would take over North America soon. All of the artists I was following at that time were all European, they were from the UK. The classics like The Chemical Brothers, but then also the new guys like Justice and the French dudes who are a part of Ed Banger Records. I think it was the right time for me to live in Europe and I’m grateful for that.

YG: What are some differences in audience when you’re playing at a university versus playing at a more traditional venue?

FC: To me this crowd is going to be more mainstream. People will go out and party versus at a club people are more focused on the actual event. University crowds are more energetic. I played in Halifax last night and they were great gigs.

YG: How’s your experience working with a talented artist like Ofelia K?

FC: She’s awesome. I’ve worked with her now on three tracks. We did a song called New Scene, and then we did Drifting Away and Fakin it. Personally, I love writing with people who are sort of a little bit disconnected to the dance scene. She’s very much a person who’s not involved in EDM culture, then we have the ability to make music that’s more unique. We’re fans of each other’s stuff, but in a way that we know what goes on in each other’s scenes. I think that has served our tracks well. I’m stoked to collaborate with people who are not typical to my own scene. I love indie and folk, but sometimes those people are not aware of what I’m doing and that’s when sometimes magic happens. I want to break down genre walls. 

 YG: Can you tell me about your future shows?

FC: I’m doing Western University tomorrow. I’m doing Calgary next week. Pheonix and my hometown in Vancouver next weekend. Then I’m doing Groove Cruise which is San Diego to Cabo. As always, I keep on writing music.

 Photo : Sean Hopkins

Photo : Sean Hopkins

 

Change in Ontario's Sexual Education Curriculum

 
 

Abandoning the 2015 curriculum could be detrimental to Ontario students

The Progressive Conservative government in Ontario announced it would repeal the 2015 sexual education curriculum early this summer, on July 11. The province is using an interim curriculum instead, while consultations take place to produce a new “age-appropriate” curriculum.

The interim curriculum being used within the province for grades 1-8 is an updated version of the 1998 sex-ed curriculum, while grades 9-12 will continue to use the 2015 curriculum. Since the changes to the curriculum were announced, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have turned to the courts to challenge the changes, and there has been a public backlash.

However, the worry about returning to the old curriculum is what won’t be taught to students, or what subjects will be limited in scope. Unlike the comprehensive 2015 sex ed curriculum, the 1998 curriculum only teaches about “common” STDs, possible consequences of “risky (sexual) behaviors,” and encourages abstinence as a “positive choice.” It also lags behind in addressing sexting and potential dangers online such as sexual harassment.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are also among the subjects that are excluded from the interim curriculum being taught. The 2015 curriculum included information on gender identities including transgender, intersex, and two-spirit, along with discussions about sexual orientations. Now, only students in grade 7 will learn that using homophobic put-downs are harmful. Exclusion of gender identity and sexual orientations from the curriculum could be harmful, since it could encourage bullying or further marginalization of students that identify as LGBTQA+ or have LBTQA+ family members. It also removes a way for students to have access to credible information when they might be undergoing the confusing process of determining their sexuality or gender identity. Furthermore, parents of LGBTQA+ students have already launched a Human Rights Tribunal Council, and the ETFO has commented that the interim curriculum may conflict with the constitutional rights of students.

Hairspray Audition Poster jpeg (1).jpg

Another worrying aspect of the interim curriculum is the complete lack of education about consent. The 2015 sex-ed curriculum included discussions about what constitutes a yes or no for consent, and that consent to one sexual activity doesn’t mean consent to all sexual activities. If Ontario students have no concept of what consent is and how to communicate consent with any future partners, it could contribute to an increase in sexual violence in the long term.

In conjunction with the exclusion of consent in the interim sexual education curriculum, an Ontario judge recently ruled that extreme intoxication can be used in defense of a sexual assault. Since cases of sexual assaults that occur when individuals are intoxicated usually hinge on if consent can be       given, it’s especially worrying that the interim sexual education avoids discussing those topics. There is a possibility that there could be more sexual assaults perpetrated by young adults that go through the interim curriculum, due to lack of education and the potential of fewer consequences in the legal system.

Lastly, the scrapping of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was accompanied by a warning from Premier Doug Ford about potential consequences to educators for not following the interim curriculum. The province set up a hotline for parents to report any teachers deviating from the new curriculum, which has worried some educators and the ETFO. The interim curriculum is therefore not only potentially harmful to students but also to the educators that may try to teach more up to date sexual education.

Ontario’s interim sexual education curriculum could be detrimental in many respects, so it’s no wonder that there has been an outcry over the changes. However, hopefully, the findings from the consultation process will create a new sexual education curriculum that addresses some of the concerns arising from the renewed use of the 1998 curriculum, to keep Ontario students educated and healthy.

 

Antigonight - A Night with the Stars

 
 

Nova Scotian arts community takes over the night scene in Antigonish

It’s been a long second week of classes, profs have now moved from going over the syllabus to diving head first into the material. 

For first year students, and those who are returning, it can be a stressful first few weeks trying to get back into the swing of it. 

Thankfully the weekend is almost here, which means you can unwind and take your mind away from the million things you must do for classes.

For this weekend there is something very special happening that will help you open your mind to something else other than class work and the pub, it’s Antigonight this Saturday September 15! 

What is Antigonight: Art After Dark Festival? It’s an event that is in partnership with Antigonish Culture Alive and ASAP Artist-Run Centre. It’s a celebration of music, visual arts, interpretive art from the flourishing arts community in Eastern Nova Scotia. 

St. FX Ad 2018.jpg

This year’s festival lineup is pumped full of amazing local artists who will be sure to bring energy to the night. Over the course of the evening there are going to be many talented artists featured, there are a few artists that I know I’m looking forward to in particular. 

Alan Syliboy and the Thundermakers take to the street Saturday night to perform. The members of the group include Hubert Francis who is the lead vocalist and plays guitar, Evan Syliboy who plays lead guitar, Lukas Pearse on Bass, and of course Alan Syliboy on percussion. 

Together the four men are a powerful group - ‘the show consists of songs, stories (narrative about The Thundermaker) accompanied by multi-media art film and live performance.’  Their performance will be showcasing some of the band members indigenous heritage, it’s a powerful show not to be missed. 

Another group that is going to be showcasing their art this Saturday night that is very dear to all of Antigonish, is L’Arche Hearts & Hands. 

This group of individuals can create light even in the darkest of nights. Together this group make embodies what it means to have an inclusive community, “At Hearts & Hands, we do visual arts and crafts, performance art, and community outreach, both individually and collaboratively”. 

Their arts performance is entitled, “Canada’s Wildlife”, be sure to catch them at Upper Chisholm Park. 

Another artist group to be on the lookout for is StFX’s very own art department. The StFX art department will be displaying some of the works that are made by students and faculty on this campus. The arts on this campus are often overlooked even though there are talented students thriving with their work. 

This festival gives the students the platform to show their works on a much larger scale. 

These are only three of the artists that are going to be on exhibition, there are several other local artists from various different artistic backgrounds at the festival. 

Festivals like Antigonight are so important for communities. Not only does it bring together people to celebrate one another but it also sends a very important message that everyone’s art is valid. 

Whether you are just starting off or have been established for many years, Antigonight creates a safe space for everyone. It’s a night that does not want to be missed. 

So, come out and enjoy one of the last summer nights before the cooler autumn weather sets in. You may find yourself feeling inspired in many more ways than you thought. 



 

Lawrence Hill speaks at StFX on October 19

 
 

Get your shorts to Schwartz Auditorium for an evening with a great Canadian novelist

 Photo: Lisa Sakulensky

Photo: Lisa Sakulensky

Lawrence Hill will speak at Schwartz Auditorium Friday October 19th, 2018. Thanks to the StFX event sponsors Committee for Aboriginal and Black Student Success, African Descent Affairs and the Department of English, the Canadian novelist and professor of creative writing at Guelph University is scheduled for a first public speaking event in Antigonish this Fall.

Lawrence is the grandson and son of African-American soldiers who served with the American Army during WW I and WW II, respectively, and is working on a new novel about the African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in northern BC and Yukon in 1942-43. He is a Member of the Order of Canada, and lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland. 

Earlier this year, Lawrence was interviewed by Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School senior students who had completed a novel study of The Book of Negroes. Lawrence’s critically-acclaimed novel won various awards including The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and two-time winner of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. The Book of Negroes was made into a TV mini-series in 2015. 

 Photo: Jenn Priddle

Photo: Jenn Priddle

The questions crafted by senior students deconstruct some key elements of Lawrence’s literary devices like imagery. Senior student Timothy Matthews asked, “How did you come up with imagery for all the different settings?” 

Lawrence replied, “It’s really hard to write about a place, isn’t it? Let’s think about the ways you might write about a place and the kind of images you might use. It might be the image of a tree or nature. It might be the image of sound. What is Aminata hearing? What kind of language is being used around her? It might be the image of history, the social or historical setting of the place.” 

The evening with Lawrence at Schwartz is some four hundred kilometers away from where the novelist did his research in Shelburne, Nova Scotia when writing The Book of Negroes. Shelburne is an important place in Lawrence’s novel, especially since the book fictionalizes the 1784 riots that depicts a fragment of the Black Loyalist experience and resiliency. 

Senior Lauren Breen asked, “How much did you fictionalize the narrative when representing historical events like the Shelburne riots?”

Lawrence responded, “I gave myself every liberty to play with or exaggerate or contort minor details for the purposes of dramatic effect. I didn’t make what I would consider to be any major deviations from my understanding of the grand lines of the transatlantic slave trade.”

The full interview with Lawrence, published on May 31st, is available on The Xaverian Weekly’s website under the Arts and Community section.

Lawrence is author of novels Any Known Blood, Black berry: sweet juice and The Illegal and essays “Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book”, “Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden?” and “Act of love: The life and death of Donna Mae Hill”. 

The later essay, published this year, is a heartfelt personal story that calls for Canada to reform its assisted suicide policies. 

Kalista Desmond and a drum group led by Morgan Gero will perform as opening acts for Lawrence on October 19th. Kalista has performed powerful spoken word poetry as an opening act at last year’s Youth Activism Conference headlining event with Desmond Cole. Morgan’s drum group also performed wonderfully as opening act for special guest Cole during his visit to campus last year. 

The title of Lawrence’s speaking event “Faction: Merging history and fiction in The Book of Negroes and The Illegal” hints that the author will dissect the intersection where fact meets fiction in his literature. Arrive at the October 19th event early to get the best seats in the Auditorium for an evening with special guest Lawrence Hill.

 

Megan Strong Works with Elephants and Marine Life

 
 

Senior at StFX majoring in Biology travels to Thailand

This summer, Megan Strong, 21, of Toronto, Canada, spent three weeks in Thailand helping animals, studying conservation, and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Traveling with study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Megan was selected as part of a small team that volunteered giving care at a dog shelter, worked directly with rescued elephants at an elephant sanctuary, and volunteered in marine conservation on the island of Koh Tao.

The Veterinary Service program brings students to Thailand to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the US and Thailand. For one week, Megan and her team volunteered at an elephant sanctuary outside Chiang Mai, Thailand to work with the giant animals and learn about animal rescue and conservation on a larger scale.

The sanctuary is home to elephants who have been rescued from trekking, logging, or forced breeding programs. Many of them had been abused and suffer from chronic injuries or blindness. At the elephant sanctuary, they are cared for by volunteers from all over the world. Megan helped to feed and care for elephants, as well as learn about their diagnoses alongside an elephant vet. The sanctuary is also home to over 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, water buffalo, horses, and cows, and is sustained in huge part by the work of weekly volunteers like Megan.

 Photo: © 2018 Loop Abroad

Photo: © 2018 Loop Abroad

Megan also spent a week volunteering at a dog rescue in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The shelter is home to dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten, or abused. While the dogs can be adopted, any who aren’t will be cared for by one of the local shelters for their whole lives.

While she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Megan and her team made a difference in the lives of these dogs. By providing check-ups and cleanings, diagnosing and treating ear and eye problems, taking and testing blood, administering vaccines, cleaning and treating wounds, and helping with sterilization surgeries, the students were able to help support the health and well-being of these dogs.

Megan then spent a week on the island of Koh Tao in the South of Thailand, working through Loop Abroad with the New Heaven Marine Conservation project. She helped to do marine surveys via SCUBA diving, worked on creating artificial reefs to help rebuild the coral reefs of Thailand, and studied marine conservation.

With plastic consumption and marine pollution in the news daily, projects like New Heaven and Loop Abroad’s marine conservation projects aim to help educate students like Megan while allowing them to be part of making a tangible difference in protecting biodiversity in the world’s oceans. From cleaning beach trash to tracking ocean animal populations, this work focuses on empowering local organizations to make a daily impact and help increase education about the importance of marine biodiversity and the health of our oceans and sea life.

Loop Abroad has animal science and veterinary programs for students and young adults age 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Interested participants can inquire or apply at www.LoopAbroad.com. Admission to veterinary and marine programs is selective and Megan was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay, and professional references.

By following a study abroad model instead of a voluntourism model, Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare and conservation organizations so that students contribute to long-term improvement on the ground in the countries they visit. With programs in Thailand, South Africa, Australia, and the Amazon and Galapagos, Loop Abroad is able to support animal welfare and conservation around the world because of its students and their dedication to helping animals in need.

 Photo: © 2018 Loop Abroad

Photo: © 2018 Loop Abroad

The program’s Managing Director Jane Stine says, “Our students are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They are kind, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have big goals and want to make a big impact. It’s amazing to see how eager they are to learn and challenge themselves. Over the last nine years, we’ve seen them go on to do some wonderful things.”

Of her trip, Megan says, “This trip has been an extremely rewarding and fun experience. I was able to work with animals I probably would not have otherwise had the opportunity to work with, as well as learn a lot of things I can use in the future.”

 

In Search of Time to Lose on the North Shore

 
 

Spot some of the amazing fauna of Nova Scotia

This year is the first year that my fiancée and I are going to be in Antigonish. Last year, we lived in, and commuted from, New Glasgow. Although we lived in New Glasgow, we’re not from there either. Together we’re both from the southern Ontario/Greater Toronto area, but we’re not really city people. We lived in Northern Québec for a year teaching high school and elementary students in the Cree Nation of Wemindji, on the James Bay. We were frequent outdoorsy people, happy to go blueberry picking in the fall, fishing and canoeing in the spring and summer, and excited to have real snowfall to go on long snowshoe hikes through thick subarctic evergreen forests up and down rocky hills.

Ever since we’ve arrived in Nova Scotia about a year ago, we’ve been doing our best to root out some of the great spots to enjoy the great outdoors and in between digging in gardens and flowerbeds for our summer jobs, we discovered (or were directed to, rather).

Melmerby Beach in Pictou County, where the beach is a long sandy strip and the water is cool and clear, bordered on one end by tall cliffs. It’s a 40-minute drive out of Antigonish, but well worth the trip if you’re looking for cool reprieve from the hot, humid weather.

Sugar Moon Farm, west of New Glasgow and north of Truro in Earltown, where they can show you the passage of the season in the colour and flavour of maple syrup, as well as a really great crash course in the history and science of maple syrup and production. As well, all around the farm are publicly accessible trails ranging from quick one-hour hikes to longer, multi-hour treks.

Mahoney’s Beach, just a quick drive north of Antigonish is this rocky and windy beach. The shape of this beach is that you can be on either side of the natural dune; in the warmer, calmer waters behind the sandbank, perfect for laying in the warm sun, or on the rocky shore facing St. George’s Bay. A quick and easy getaway along the picturesque Sunrise Trail.

Arisaig Provincial Park, on the western edge of Cape George, lets you take a short hike through some very mossy forest, and stop for a picnic, if need be. If the park isn’t big enough for your trek, you can always continue along the Cape for some stunning vistas of old farms, fishing spots, and lighthouses that let you feel like you’re on the edge of the world.

Nova Scotia even has what’s called a “Passport” that gives the location of one of more than 60 distilleries, breweries, and vineyards in the province. Travelling to any one of these is half the fun, collecting the stamps upon arrival and imbibing in the potables, is the other. Many of the best of what Nova Scotia has to offer in terms of tipple is packed away and hidden from the main roads and finding these curiosities after travelling through some of the most beautiful hidden gems of towns in the province is well worth the price of a pint. Pick up a passport at the Townhouse and earn your first stamp.

Keppoch Mountain is an all too brief 20-minute car ride south of Antigonish. You’ve probably seen it looking south while driving the highway out of town. Don’t pay too close attention to Siri or Alexa for directions, they’ll send you past the entrance. When my fiancée and I went we ran into someone exceptionally friendly and helpful, who guided us onto a short, winding hike that took about an hour and a half to go all the way to the top of the mount, from which we could see the taller buildings of Antigonish, especially the greened copper steeples of the cathedral. If you go in the fall, you’ll have one considerable benefit that we lacked; the berries all along the trail will be ripe and ready for picking.

 Photo: Yanik Gallie

Photo: Yanik Gallie

Remember that any time you’re out and about in the wilderness to keep your eyes open and try to spot some of the amazing fauna of Nova Scotia. Just digging in gardens we ran into a number of salamanders (from eggs to juveniles to adults spotted, and bright orange), snakes (red ones barely longer than my pinky finger and big ones coiled up under decks, baby porcupines napping in an apple tree, washed up jellyfish, the awkward scuttling of hermit crabs, on the beach, any number of clams, oysters, and mussels, all manner of fish, and the wide variety of birds. Remember to leave only footprints and take only pictures. Don’t disturb the wildlife but enjoy the view and have fun.

 

Women of Antigonish: Meet Your Resources

 
 

How the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre is here to help StFX women

For such a small town, Antigonish is jammed packed with some awesome amenities. From waffle grilled cheeses and the farmer’s market and the Christmas parade, there is never a shortage of places to go in the Nish. And let’s not forget that we’re only a quick drive to the ocean! As far as a university town goes, Antigonish may be small, but she is mighty when it comes to everything the town has to offer.

One of the lesser known amenities of Antigonish is the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre. This organization is designed to specifically cater the needs of any and all women in the Antigonish community, including StFX students. Not only do they offer crisis support, advocacy, and counselling, but the often initiate and stand up for local issues affecting women. The goal of the AWRC is to promote self-awareness, independence, and individual decision making for women in the community.

 Photo: Yanik Gallie

Photo: Yanik Gallie

The Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre offers support for women in a variety of ways. The AWRC runs programs throughout the year that vary from weekly craft circles to emotional eating and anxiety seminars. There is also one on one support in the form of counselling available through the AWRC with highly trained professionals. Specifically, there are counsellors for issues such as: sexual assault, domestic violence, childhood trauma, anxiety, depression, poverty, stress management, and addictions. There is also assistance in finding employment, academic upgrading and training, as well as parenting courses. The Centre can also provide women in difficult situations with advocates to help them navigate the legal, medical or other confusing fields following trauma.

A large part of what the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre does is provide sexual assault resources for survivors. The AWRC offers three forms of sexual assault services in addition to counselling. The first is the Antigonish Sexual Assault Response Team, which works to help survivors who choose to press charges proceed through the criminal justice system. ASART works in partnership with the Antigonish Crown Attorney’s Office, Nova Scotia Department of Justice Provincial Victim Services Program, RCMP – Antigonish Detachment, St. Francis Xavier University Health and Counseling Centre, and St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Emergency Department by outlining each specific member’s role to ensure that the utmost care is given to the survivor. AWRC also offers a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to conduct a forensic examination of a victim of sexual assault. Finally, there are also support groups for adult survivors of sexual trauma that come in two phases: those just beginning the healing process and those further along in their recovery.

The Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre is located at 219 Main Street, and is open between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday. The first AWRC event this school year is the Take Back the Night March, a walk through Antigonish in protest of sexualized violence and advocating for safer streets. The walk begins at 7 pm outside of the Angus L. MacDonald Library, on Thursday, September 27th, 2018.

 

Coady International Institute: An Often Forgotten Gem

 
 

Let's remember the global impact inspired by Coady

Welcome to your new home, or welcome back for those returning students! It’s hard to believe that the humid hazy days and the sweet summer nights and have come and gone, it’s now back to student life.  

But student life is not a bad thing, new classes, new profs, my inner academia nerd is coming out. Student life isn’t just about endless assignments, the late-night cramming for exams or the last-minute submission for the term paper which should have been started weeks ago. 

It’s also about growing as a person through the education you receive and hopefully wanting to make a positive difference in others' lives. 

Speaking of making a positive difference in others’ lives, there’s an institute right here on this campus that works day in and day out to make this possible. The Coady International Institute tucked away behind Cameron Hall, sits a place that is blooming with life and endless possibilities. 

 Photo: Kenneth Doiron

Photo: Kenneth Doiron

For first year students you might not have any idea what I'm talking about, and the same goes for upper year students. Don’t worry, I’m not here to shame anyone from being uninformed, quite the opposite. 

Over the past four months I’ve been privileged enough to have an internship there working in the women’s center. In those four months I’ve been able to get a glimpse of all the dedicated hard work that its staff members pour their energy into.   

The Coady’s mission is to instill leadership, “In collaboration with partners in Canada and the global south, the Institute is committed to reducing poverty and transforming societies by strengthening local economies, by building resilient communities, and by promoting social accountability and good governance.”

I don’t have the words to properly express just how astonishing the staff members of the Coady are. I was amazed every day at the work they put into making sure that the students they work with have the best experience possible, both on campus and off campus. 

I encourage more students to seek out the people that work there to find out all the work that they do. Who knows, it might be along the lines of what you’d like to do someday. 

In last the four months I have watched 5 cohorts of both women and men come from vastly different countries and walks of life. But, everyone had the same like-minded goals of building their own leadership skills for each of the different sectors that they work in and making positive impacts within their own communities. 

 Photo: Kenneth Doiron

Photo: Kenneth Doiron

From July- December there are 41 students at Coady from 19 different countries, who will be here studying and working towards receiving a diploma in Development Leadership. 

All of this happening, and it’s happening right here on campus. It’s a shame that not enough work goes into telling the new students about the Coady during frosh week, and the weeks after, once you’ve settled in. 

The students who are currently studying at the institute are some of the smartest, kindest, and loving individuals that I have met in my life thus far. They have so much to offer, with every word they have to say to you, you will find yourself in awe of their brilliance. 

 I want to put this to every student at X, which is asking a lot, to make more of an effort of making the Coady apart of their undergrad experience. 
Whether that be, walking through the halls of the building, researching more in depth to find out about the work that goes on, or by saying hello to some of the students who will be studying with us until December. 
By doing this, you will find yourself realizing how special this little community is. We may be little, but we’re making a huge impact in the world, in many more ways than you think. 
 

 

Sarah Mian Interview

 
 

Staff Writer Addy Strickland and Co-Editor-In-Chief Yanik Gallie interviewed novelist Sarah Mian at Trellis Cafe on Tuesday 24th of July. Sarah is writing the script for a film adaptation of When The Saints. Sarah is also in the process of writing her second novel, The World in Awful Sleep.

 Photographer: Shaun Simpson

Photographer: Shaun Simpson

Sarah Mian's debut novel, When the Saints, won the Jim Connors Book Award, the Margaret & John Savage First Book Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. The book has just been optioned for a feature film and she is writing the screenplay.  

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AS: You recently left your day job with the RCMP to become a full-time writer. What does a typical day of work look like for you now?


SM: I wish I could say that I had a routine that I stick to everyday. It’s more random than that, because I never know what project is inspiring me on a particular day. I am working simultaneously on my second novel, the screenplay for When The Saints, and a few other freelance projects. I try to get the tight deadlines out of the way first. Generally speaking, I write better at night, and now that I don’t have to get up everyday and go to a day job, I can write all night. I find that I think much more clearly in the evening, so I usually start writing on the heavy stuff after 7pm, go till about 2am or so, and then I wake when I wake. I try to get some exercise in there. I find that when I do something repetitive like running, walking or paddling, a different part of my consciousness can come forward and I’m better able to work out all of the plot points that weren’t coming to me when I was typing. 

AS: When The Saints is your first novel, correct?


SM: I wrote what I call a starter novel in my 20s, and I highly recommend it because it taught me how to be a better writer. When I read it back, not only is it a capsule of the way that I thought in my 20s – my gosh, I’d be mortified if it would ever be published because it’s so saccharine, idealistic, naïve --but when I read it back, it I can see that the writing gets better halfway through. All that consistent writing really paid off. The beginning is weak, and the ending is so strong, I can see the transformation of myself as a writer through that manuscript. It was absolutely worth doing. 

I teach writing classes now at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and I always tell students, “never throw anything away.” If I had thrown that manuscript in the wood stove once I realized it wasn’t going to get published, I would have lost some really poetic descriptions of weather, landscapes and the ocean. I’m pulling those out and using them now in my second novel. It’s like a gift from my former self.

AS: What was the process of writing When The Saints like compared to your first novel?


SM: It started out as a flash fiction exercise I was doing with my writing group. I just kept adding to it, and it became a short story. Then, it was longer than a short story and I was still working on it. I had no intention to write a novel based on it – but the voice was so compelling and urgent. So, I wrote the whole thing from start to finish. Then, I went back to the beginning and made every line lead up to that ending. It felt like with this particular story, like it wanted to exist, or it already existed, and it chose me to take it down like a scribe which makes it sounds easier than it is. My second novel is not going down that path at all. It’s a completely different beast. I really value the fact that When The Saints came to me so fully formed.

AS: When the Saints took home the notable Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award and Margaret and John Savage First Book Award in 2016. As a debut author, how were these awards significant to you?

SM: Because those awards are judged by other writers in the Maritimes it felt really good to be recognized by my peers. It meant a lot to me while I was writing the book, and after I wrote the book, that people here embraced the book. It is such a Nova Scotia story. It was also shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and there were only three finalists - the other two well established with many novels under their belts and had been shortlisted or won the thing before, and me. And, this is a big event where it’s black tie and they sing the national anthem. That was kind of surreal for a kid who grew up in the hood in Dartmouth on social assistance.  

YG: What did you take away from working with the major publisher, HarperCollins?

SM: I had no idea there were so many layers to the editing process. There’s an editor, and there’s a copywriter, and then there’s a proof-reader. I was getting emails like, “hey, you have someone drinking a pineapple cooler, and the book takes place roughly around 1996. I don’t think those were invented yet, here’s a list of coolers that you can choose from.” So, I think I changed it to Calypso Berry. I was thrilled that somebody is actually like, “hey if they drive to the stop sign and turn left, wouldn’t they be going the wrong way?” They’re actually paying attention to my imaginary town. 

Then there’s a jacket designer. I sent them a photo of something that I had in mind, and then they had their artist create this cover. I’m so happy with what she did. When it was published, HarperCollins gave me a publicist. It felt like I had a whole team. Through it all, I had a say in everything. My contract stated that I am the top authority over my creation, and HarperCollins stuck by that.

YG: It sounds like you had a lot of creative liberty to make the book’s aesthetic and content exactly to your liking, which is awesome.

SM: Yes, but when it comes to the screenplay, it’s going to be completely opposite. Having had this experience, I really need to brace myself for the fact that I’ll have little control over the decisions. But hey, Hemingway famously said that if anyone ever options your book, you should drive to Hollywood, throw your manuscript over the fence, wait for the bag of money to come back and then drive away as fast as you can. It’s just a totally different medium and the book will be completely unrecognizable. It will be a good challenge for me to think through how we can lose the flashbacks or condense characters or eliminate scenes and still retain the information that those scenes conveyed. I’m excited about that, and not excited about that at the same time. Hopefully it will still retain its flavor, tone, and characters. If they find really good actors and nothing else – even if the budget is small and the set is tiny – I think they can pull it off. 

YG: The title When the Saints alludes to the familiar lyric, “when the saints go marching in.” An acute reader could anticipate the reuniting of the Saint family. Was this planned foreshadowing?

SM: I can’t recall at what stage of writing the novel the title came into play. The name Saint came from the RCMP. There had been a woman in a small town who had committed countless petty crimes with the last name Saint. I felt there was great irony. In other police files, there were whole families who were the shit disturbers in the town. So, I put those two together and formed the Saint family. It seemed to me the most logical title because it works in that your mind automatically connects with the rest of the sentence. As soon as you start reading or even read the back you’re going to see that they’re the kind of people who take no prisoners.

 Photographer: Darren Schrader

Photographer: Darren Schrader

YG: Many reviewers on Goodreads mention that they connect with Tabby on a deep level. How did this brave character come to be?

SM: She, I would say, is a composite of people I grew up with in a rough neighbourhood, in Dartmouth. There are elements of family members, elements of myself, but then some of her was always her own person who kept talking to me and I kept listening. I also feel quite an affinity for her. I don’t know how we met, but I’m glad we did.

YG: Literary critic Laura Eggertson from The Star praised your exceptionally-developed characters. What is your process for developing characters?

SM: I think with the Saint family, they are all very strong personalities, and their motivations are overt. They’re very outspoken, which kind of made them easier to know. Once they knew who they were, and what their motivations were, all of the plot lines evolved very organically out of themselves. They drove the whole thing, just being who they are. They are all sort of characters from my upbringing. They’re all mish-mashes of many different people. 

I spend a lot of time musing about characters when I’m not writing. Like if I’m watching a concert, I would try to put myself into that person’s body and mind, and think to myself how would Jackie react to this right now? Would he be patient? Would he be secretly really moved by it? I try to inhabit them outside of the writing process on occasion and sometimes that leads to some really cool insights. 

I take a minute to check in with them. Even if I’m just camping with friends, I kind of go off in my head, often, and my friends are used to that - where I’m thinking about the people who don’t exist while hanging out with people who do exist.

YG: I would argue that it’s a reason why your fictional world comes to life so much. 

SM: I think it’s important not to treat them like your Barbie dolls where you just tell them what to say. If they start to live and breathe on their own, they’ll resist that anyway. You tell them they want to go this way and they won’t. So, you trust them, and you follow them. You don’t steer them to places where they wouldn’t go. 

YG: You wrote the book in 1st person narration and present tense, which are interesting choices for style - why did you choose this style of narration?

SM: I think because it’s all filtered through Tabby and she’s just come back to this world, she’s the outsider now. Like us, the reader, she knows nothing. I wanted us to learn things as she learned them. I wanted to be inside her head, hearing only her thoughts and feelings the entire story, because it really is her journey. When the Saints is the story of Tabby's transformation from rejecting her family to accepting her family. 

AS: Would you ever consider writing a sequel, or will you leave the story as is?

SM: I never want to write anything twice. As much as I’ve been asked that a lot, I’m always trying to express myself in new ways. I kind of like the idea of people who read my second novel for the first time, never in a million years would they think that it’s the same writer. I want to lose myself in each new story so completely that I don’t have a consistent voice because the story is the voice. I wouldn’t want to revisit because I’m excited to see what I’m capable of next.

YG: In what ways do your Nova Scotian roots manifest themselves in your writing and vocabulary?

SM: There’s been a lot of mention in reviews about the language, because it is rather extreme, however that’s the way people talk here, especially in the world I grew in, and especially in Nova Scotia. When I tried to tone the language down in certain places, I couldn’t and still feel true to the characters. I let the characters express themselves according to their upbringing. There’s a certain poetry to it, I think it wasn’t peppering it with expletives for shock value, it was very controlled. It’s just the way that people talk around here. I eavesdrop on conversations all the time and make notes in my writing journal if a turn of phrase catches my ear.

YG: Did Jim Lahey inspire your use of the word “shitstorm”? 

SM: No, but after the book was published , John Dunsworth, the actor who played him, gave me his Dicshitnary. I said, “man, I wish I had this as one of my reference books when I was writing the book When The Saints.” The book has been described as Winter’s Bone meets Trailer Park Boys, which I’m not against. I’m hoping the movie version will be more like Winter’s Bone because while it is a funny novel, it’s also a very serious story and a very heartfelt story. I don’t want it to end up a parody. It’s important to me that this screenplay is not just entertainment. It has to show that these people aren’t to be taken lightly. This is a real true experience. This same cast of characters in another neighbourhood would probably flourish. We don’t always get to transcend our upbringing, not everybody does. When your soil has no nutrients, it’s hard to grow. I think that was the big question I was trying to answer when I wrote this book: Can we do better than our parents? I taught adults in a program designed for people who had been out of the workforce for a very long time or never had a job either because they had addiction issues, some had been prostitutes, some of them had been incarcerated. The historical damage within those bloodlines – they didn’t stand a chance. We all are presented with similar opportunities in a way but if you have no self-esteem left, you’re not going to pursue them. I wrote this book to honor that experience. 

YG: You mention Alistair MacLeod’s short stories as a source of inspiration in your interview with Shannon Webb-Campbell. How did Alistair influence your style of storytelling?

SM: I remember the curriculum in junior high, elementary, even high school, there were very few Nova Scotian writers. So, it was exciting to read one whose writing was so nuanced, had a tinge of darkness.  It was our experience reflected back. I was very moved by his work, I still am, and I am now a fan of his son’s, Alexander MacLeod, works. 

Alistair did a lot for the literary community in Nova Scotia. I feel like he’s one of the last of the old-school writers who wrote by hand. I like the idea of being on a windswept, rocky coast someday writing by candlelight, by hand. It’s hard to reconcile what I thought a novelist’s experience would be with the reality in 2018 where with social media, it’s hard to be mysterious. I always liked being mysterious. You always secretly want the author of our favorite book to be their character, then we’re disappointed when they’re not. It’s better to just keep the shade down. It was really hard for me when the book came out. My publicist at HarperCollins sent me a social media audit in which he had taken screenshots of everything I was not doing, or doing wrong, or could do better. It was like, you should have a Facebook page, and you should have a website, look these people are commenting on Goodreads so you should talk to them. I didn’t want to do it, and I still don’t want to do any of that. I joined Twitter for five minutes and was like, “I can’t, I’m out.” I’m a luddite who listens to only vinyl records and just got a cellphone at forty. I don’t like the idea of being that connected, but because the book industry is not as lucrative as it once was, there’s an expectation that you fulfil some of the marketing requirements yourself. I do have an author Facebook page, but I don’t think I’ve updated it in a year. I do have a website, and I’ll say, “post to come!” 

I do love reading to people, but I don’t love talking about myself as a writer. I’ve done acting and I perform music sometimes, and that’s different because I’m being somebody else when I do that. When I’m me, at my most authentic self as a writer, I feel so naked. That’s been a learning curve about how to get used to the spotlight on me personally and not me as a character. I’ve had other writers recommend that I create Sarah the writer as a character but that feels wrong because I don’t want to separate myself from my writing life in that way. 

AS: Are there any other books or authors that are always on your reading list, or that you’ve enjoyed recently?

SM: I don’t know that I have authors that I revisit again and again, because I’m always trying to learn from new voices. I’ve been reading a lot of ghost stories because my new novel is a bit of a scary suspense story, and I’m trying to deconstruct what works and what doesn’t. Everything from the classics like The Haunting of Hill House or Edgar Allan Poe. I’m reading Elizabeth de Miriaffi’s Hysteria right now. A lot of what I read in fiction is in service to my own fiction, depending on what it is I’m trying to get better at myself. For pure love of reading, I love short stories. I appreciate that art-form and would love to get to the point where people would want to read my short stories, which usually happens after you’ve developed a following. I just read a collection called I am, I am, I am by a writer named Maggie O’Farrell, an Irish writer, and each of the stories details a time she almost died. Within those stories, she kind of gives us a whole narrative of their life and I thought they were perfect. 

AS: You’re working on a new book, The World in Awful Sleep. Can you tell us about where you’re hoping to go with this new project?

SM: The first draft of this book is not coming as easily as When the Saints did. It’s a very complex story with characters who don’t reveal themselves easily. It’s like starting over and learning from scratch how to be a writer. I tried to write it the same way as I did with When the Saints from beginning to end and it would not comply so I’m building it very slowly from the ground up.  It’s a lot more fleshed out, but slower moving. I’m hoping to have a full first draft ready to show my editor by next spring. 

AS: Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring writer who wants to write a novel?

SM: There is so much advice that I wish someone had told me fifteen years ago. I’ll narrow it down to my top 5. Number one: Start a writing group. That feedback is invaluable, and that support system is invaluable. It’s a really lonely and difficult job. Your family or partner, they don’t always necessarily understand that part of you, so to connect with other people who do, and people that you trust and give you knowledge and feedback, you start to become this family in which success for one of you is a success for all of you.

We used to workshop each other’s work. If it were your turn you would email or send us what they’re working on in advance. We all will have read it and have feedback prepared and would discuss it at length. We’d have a short little exercise at the start and then we just drink and gossip. It’s now at the point where we’ll meet up on a long weekend and go to a cabin and spend three days together. It’s motivating because if you know you’re going to meet up with your writing group, you need something to show. It gives you a deadline. So, start a writing group, or join an existing writing group. Sometimes you don’t gel, you have to find the right people, but I feel like when it’s fate, the wrong people will fall away and the ones who are supposed to be there will find you. Number two: Keep learning. I still take writing workshops. I read books about writing all the time. I tap other writers for advice. I would never presume to think that I know anything about writing. Having written one novel, I discovered that all of the techniques I used in the first one are not working in the second one. It’s like I’m starting from scratch. I’ve been talking to a lot of writers about second novel syndrome. Number three: Keep a journal and never throw anything away. You may use it later. It’s really hard to cut passages from your writing that are so eloquent, or a really precise thought that you had in your head, and you’re proud to have put on paper, but if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has to go. To temper that loss, put it in a safe place and keep it., I have used many things that I have thrown away. Number four: Keep your rejection letters. Send things out all the time. Keep a spreadsheet of where you sent them, and when you get feedback write down what it was. Was it a personal note? Was it a form letter? Write the dates down and send it everywhere often. It’s so hard not to get lost in the shuffle. Send your work everywhere, often, and keep your rejection letters to tell the story of how you made it. I read that in Stephen King’s On Writing autobiography and I started doing that. Now when I go talk to kids who want to be writers in schools, I bring this giant binder and say, “this is what it takes to be a writer.” I never doubted that I would become a novelist. I knew I would and I knew I would because I knew I would never give up. That’s the only difference between a non-successful writer and a successful writer. Number five: Get an agent. It’s almost as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher, but it’s well worth it. I highly recommend finding out what the agencies are in Canada, find out who the agents are and which writers they represent. Find one that you think would be a good fit for you. When you have something to show them, write them a letter about why you’d be a good match. Include why you’ve written this book, why only you could write this book, and why it has to be written now in your letter. Try to give them a sense of your writing voice so they’re intrigued enough to want to read more. Don’t send them a book in the mail. Ask them if they would be interested; make them interested. The agents have all their editors in their pockets that they can call, and then that agent is almost guaranteed to read it as opposed to you mailing it to Penguin or Random House where it sits in a slush pile for who knows how long. 

What happened with me is that I sort of blindly applied for my first grant to go and I got it and went to the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts. One of the writing mentors I was paired with loved my book so much, she offered to work together long distance after the program had ended - which is rare, and so generous. After I had finished the next draft, she gave me a little more feedback and said, “when you’re done with those few things, send it to my agent.” The agent loved it and signed me right away, and a month later, I had a book deal with HarperCollins. It felt like a complete fairy-tale and a fluke, except I had thirty-year apprenticeship of writing behind that. Since I was a little kid I’ve been honing, and honing, and honing my craft. I would never have wanted to be published anything that I didn’t feel was necessary to other people.I want what I write to be important so I must dedicate my life to mastering my craft. Taking this step and quitting my day job to do this even more deliberately, I feel that I will get better and that I will learn more.

 

Alan Syliboy Interview

 
 

Arts and Community editor Salome Barker and Co-Editor-in-Chief Yanik Gallie of The Xaverian Weekly did an interview with Alan Syliboy on June 24th, 2018 at NovelTea Bookstore Cafe in Truro, Nova Scotia. Alan is the artist of Mi’kmaw Animals, released on May 30th by Nimbus Publishing. The baby board book is now available for purchase at Chapters and select bookshops across Canada. 

alan_K2A0123.jpg

Alan Syliboy grew up believing that native art was generic.  “As a youth, I found painting difficult and painful, because I was unsure of my identity.”  But his confidence grew in 1972 when he studied privately with Shirley Bear.  He then attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where 25 years later, he was invited to sit on the Board of Governors.  Syliboy looks to the indigenous Mi’kmaq petroglyph tradition for inspiration and develops his own artistic vocabulary out of those forms.  His popularization of these symbolic icons has conferred on them a mainstream legitimacy that restores community pride in its Mi’kmaq heritage.

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YG: Two years ago, you held the Coady Chair at StFX. What did you gain from that experience?

AS: I think the hardest part at the very first was, exactly what is that position? What do they expect? Trying to define what is was, that question, came up a lot early on. I didn’t worry about it too much and I just kind of let it happen and that’s generally how I do things. I do a diagnosis of it as it’s going on. I found a good number of indigenous students there who were very thrilled that I was there. In my being there, they felt supported. They got noticed too because I was there. Every time I would be invited somewhere, they were there. It was a mutual, beneficial, thing and I felt that I was already benefiting from the position. Also, there was an indigenous student who was in a wheelchair, and her husband who was sort of the manager in some way, sort of directed me how to be an ombudsman in a way. That’s how I saw the role.

The first day I was there I was on FOX campus radio. Well, I'll come and watch the show. I thought that was the plan all along. Right away, I’m running against the establishment in my very first day. There couldn’t be a better cause. I found out how difficult it is to make change in that structure, because it’s nuts and bolts, it’s money. If you wanna change a building, it’s a big effort. These buildings are from different ages. One student in a wheelchair had to crawl through the snow to get to class a couple times. It was just so difficult. When this woman got to StFX, she was so happy to have finally made it. And, it took her an extra year to graduate, because she had to drop classes as she couldn’t physically do them. She wanted to go to lunch and she had a lunch voucher but couldn’t make it there a lot of the times because she had to get the key to the elevator. You got to find that person with the key to get access. All of those things were against her. It’s amazing.

When we had the president’s colloquium, that was probably the highlight of everything I did there because I had panelists and they never did panelists that way before. I said, “It would have an effect, if I do it. But it would be a stronger effect, if I had 3 other opinions on the same subject.” That’s what I did, and it was a phenomenal success. That was addressed there, the issue of a person in a wheelchair. Very uncomfortable, I think, for the establishment who sat there. I was surprised that they sat there, and they listened. I felt that was one of my main achievements there. I didn’t do it alone, I had the right people. I listened to them who directed me too because I had no idea. I had Senator Murray Sinclair there and we had the flag issue came up at the time, the Mi’kmaw flag. It’s up, it’s down. Murray was told about this problem with the flag. He said, “I went to the Senate. They gave me two flag poles and it was Canada and my Nation. He wanted another flag for his community. They said, “No. We only have two poles.” So, he said, “Ok.” He opened the window and he put his flag up and you could see it. That’s how we dealt with that. Next day, he had a pole haha.

There were a lot of grad students’ voice grievances, it was very touching. It’s very isolating when you come from a small community and you’re in this university. They’re not really equipped. Some of the indigenous personnel weren’t indigenous. They took the job because no one else was taking it. It’s getting better, of course. It shone light on issues like that which should have been addressed. They are being addressed now. It was good for me in the sense that I had all of these classes. I did more talking than I had ever done before. I was talking for three or four hours a day. Then you’re in big demand, so they’re trying not to wear me out.

I took classes voluntarily on my own. So, I couldn’t blame them for all the workload. I even had a daycare come into my studio on-campus. They came twice. I wasn’t there on the first day, but they watched my animation. The next day they came in, I read them a story. Some of them were three years old. I felt really connected in doing these things. It was very positive. I wouldn’t want to do that every day, I couldn’t do that every day. But, I’m glad of the experience.

Also, I had to talk and tell my story so many times it refined my story. It made me a better public speaker. It improved my message to a large extent as well. I felt that. Basically, you’re telling the same story over and over, so you refine it. You also find the keys that turn in the right direction at the right time. It was a very good and rewarding experience.

SB: You’ve had many accomplishments as an artist such as creating the first Indigenous coin for the Royal Canadian Mint. Reflecting on your career, what other big accomplishments stand out the greatest for you?

AS: The Queen’s Jubilee medal, I also got to meet the queen as well. I have a campaign to do more public art. In this area, we are almost invisible. Whereas if you go to B. C., indigenous art is everywhere. You do not see that here at all. To increase the visual profile of us. And, it’s working. I have a mural at the airport that is permanent, and I just put a piece in the Commons. I have a piece there and it’s up for Masterworks Arts Award as well. I should hear within a month about whether I’m on the shortlist or not for that. All kinds of things have sort of come up every day.

Pat Power and I have a meeting every day in the morning for two, sometimes three hours, just going through emails. Answering emails and everything. I have a sense that Pat’s good at filling out forms and taking care of the little details. He was a finance guy so that’s the kind of stuff he likes a lot which is a perfect partnership because details are not my area. It could take me an hour to write a paragraph, I’m almost illiterate that way. As far as a spell check and all that, they’re catching up to me. I’m starting to speed up because of that. On my own, my education was very poor that way.

Social media too was one of my major accomplishments. As Native and indigenous communities we are pretty isolated as a rule when I was young. Now, I have 5000 friends on Facebook. A great number of my friends are indigenous. It’s a daily thing. I like the intimate interactions. For us, community-wise, you have a living Mi’kmaw dictionary. If you ask a question, you’re gonna have a half a dozen people come to help you out. You feel like you’re talking to the whole community, even beyond Mi’kma’ki. Even out West, I used to do shows out there, so I know lots of people out there. I find that is the biggest. Like first when we started the Morning Drum featured on my Facebook. That was just a temporary one-off thing that we did, but people refused to let us quit that. They would not let us, they just demanded. That was by accident. It’s a thread that finds its way everywhere. I go to places and people tell me about the Morning Drum and a lot of them have been shown by their friends. I realized the power of that. You’re always in an age when you’re relying on a gallery to promote you to make you a star. But that couldn’t happen, you couldn’t get the critical mass on your own, or you’ll get it for a little while and it’ll fade. My approach is brick by brick and day by day. That’s how I’ve done everything. Sometimes you don’t look back and see what you’ve built, because you’re too busy in the middle of building the next brick. You have to come back, or somebody will remind you that you did things. A doctorate too is up there. Unexpected. A doctorate was one of the biggest. There’s a list but I don’t think about it very much. There’s a few on the top of the list for sure.

SB: How does art help you to express your own heritage?

AS: When I was young, just starting out, there was no indigenous art. Art was your view of yourself as what you saw on TV. I had to discover that I am a Mi’kmaw which is aside from other tribes, but no one teaches you that. When I was about to go to school, and I remember this clearly, we spoke Mi’kmaw all the time as kids. Then a letter came out from the church, it was catholic school, and they said, “You’re not allowed to speak Mi’kmaw anymore. If you go to school, it’s gonna hold you back so no more Mi’kmaw.” My parents bought into that because they were very, very fluent. Everything was fine up until that point. That’s why I stalled in school that much because it was not only emotional trauma of going to school. But, it was going to school and not understanding what they’re telling you. TV came on at the same time and the language went out fast. It was gone really fast. I never recovered. I never was a very good student. I excelled at making images under the table in whatever way I could make them. My art was sort of an underground movement. That’s what I did daily.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn any of the grammar rules or arithmetic. I was very poor at that. The nuns when they finally limped me into grade 7, there were 3 years of failure already in that time. I was diagnosed as “borderline retarded” by them. That was who they saw in their school. You couldn’t disagree with that because I had very little to say. I was actually afraid to talk. You go into the classroom, and you try to stay in the back to not cause any weight. You’d be singled out every now and then for entertainment purposes. They’d ask you a question they know darn well you don’t know the answer. Some of it was just for survival. I would say that school was residential-like. We’d head home every night. It wasn’t residential schools, but it was a version of it.

YG: Your artworks are often used in schools to teach principles of design such as balance, depth, and contrast. When students are introduced to art, they often ask “What’s art?” How do you respond to that question?

AS: I try to diagnose what level they are at artistically. For instance, I went to an inner-city school in Halifax which was primarily African. All of my classes before then were indigenous or rural, which is quite different. The first thing I saw was that the teacher had told them about me. They had got them prepared. They had already done artwork upon meeting. The first thing I did is I went place from place to place and individually looked at the work and gave them some critique and some advice. It was a one-on-one thing, and from then on it was just golden. I was in, we were pals. They were a generic group, killing time or something. Individually, you see where they are at. Some of them are quite advanced. You determine that and ask them what they want to know or how to do something. That connection is easily fixed with a one-on-one thing.

I do DAREarts, it’s an art program from Ontario originally. Look for DAREarts Atlantic. I started the program with them when they were down here, but they’re all over. I was impressed with them because they are like an art SWAT team. They come into schools and teach painting, music, theatre in one week. They have several teachers who have different strengths. Their program is free for schools. They finish a project and do a show at the end of the week.

I’ve heard a story that one group went out North. They were waiting for students to come and nobody came to their program. They decided to go knocking door to door and explaining what they’re doing. First thing we’ll do is feed your kids and then we’ll teach them art and take care of them. A handful came when it started. I think there was a dozen the first year. Next year there were almost three dozen. The year after was over a hundred and then on. Had they not knocked on doors, nothing would have happened. They might have said, “Well nobody wanted to come.” They didn’t take no for an answer. I like that because they’re aggressive. They work very hard. They select their people well.

I’m a painter, we’re doing The Thundermaker that is a vehicle for education in the arts. They also have people in the theatre, and somebody in music. All of these elements are touched at once and the fort of focus. We’re working with three schools, working on the same material. It’s all over Canada and it’s privately funded. I think McCain’s is one of our funders down here in the Atlantic Provinces. If you go onto DAREarts Atlantic, you’ll see all that information. That’s one of the ways I can be in the schools. I can focus in that way. I can go there for a whole week and affect quite a few students. I get asked almost every day by a class to come speak and it’s not possible. I’m a professional artist and that’s priority for me. I want to do work with students and do my part with students as much as I can.

There are exceptions for somethings like Québec. I’d never been there. I said I couldn’t get there because I needed to fly over. But, they were so determined to get me there. They covered travel expenses for me. They wouldn’t take no for answer. So I said, “I’ll go.” I feel that what I do is seen as important. This is not the political thing. I’m not talking about the band council or whatever. They are what they always were, they ignore everything. It’s business as usual for politics on reserves mostly. I wouldn’t say that as a whole. Very few politicians look at the arts that much. That’s changing, and you don’t wait around. That was one of my main things. If support wasn’t coming, you just worked around it. I always felt that way. I always felt that there’s a big world. When I went to the Art Project with Shirley Bear in the 70s, she made my world a big world from then on. We were being taught by world-class artists. We were going to the best universities and museums, and we were taught so well. The world was that, we never regressed. It was always looking ahead toward an extra horizon. I give thanks to Shirley Bear for changing everything for me that way. The main idea for Tribe Incorporated was that we did workshops on reserves. That was leading edge for indigenous people teaching indigenous people. Even now you don’t see that much. I did an art program in Wagmatcook. It was the first time they had an indigenous artist critiquing or judging their art.  That’s kind of amazing, but it shouldn’t be. The quality of work that was there was so astounding.

YG: What is the most valuable lesson Shirley Bear taught you?

AS: Shirley’s always been there all my life, and still is. I think she was very radical. She’d never ask any permission from anywhere. She was part of AIM and she knew Anna Mae Aquash. I met Anna through Shirley at a radical time. She was from Tobique which is sort of a radical place. I think that’s a sort of breeding ground for radical women. They take over the band hall every year few years and you hear of them all the time. That’s where she comes from and she was never afraid to speak up.

Indigenous people don’t like to rock the boat. It’s really hard for them to confront. It’s not easy to do. Shirley and Peter are the exception of that. And, that’s not always appreciated in the larger indigenous community. We’re taught by the Catholics very well to not say anything. However, that is changing more and more every day, things like Idle No More. Shirley and Peter J. Clair would do protests in the early 70s around here which is unheard of. When the Warrior’s Society took over, which was a bad approach, you’re in the red zone on the first day. You got a gun. Nothing got resolved over a long time. It was intimidation back and forth. No one wanted to support Warrior’s Society. That was a bit too radical too fast. It didn’t get the results that it had planned too. They were loosely structured and that didn’t help as well. Some of them had charges on them for domestic abuse and that didn’t help. When Idle No More came, that was completely revolutionary in the sense that their approach was superb. You know they’re working when the chief and band council are being asked questions they never been asked by anyone before. They’re not used to that, it never happened before. It’s in a better state than it was. I’m glad I’m around to see this.

YG: Nature comes alive in many of your pieces, especially in the cover artwork of Mi’kmaw Animals. Talk us through your creation process for your artwork.

AS: Shirley was giving me my first painting lessons, and I was doing landscapes, portraits and the typical kind of things. We decided we didn’t want to be just another landscape painter. Shirley is the one who discovered the petroglyphs book. That radically changed everything. We looked through that and decided that was what we wanted to do. We were teaching ourselves, but ultimately, we were teaching everyone. Mi’kmaw people didn’t know about petroglyphs at all. It’s way different now. We didn’t have anyone to follow at the time in the 70s.

The animal motifs, I learned about them. In the beginning, artists are very isolated in their studio. That’s changed for me. I have archaeologists, who are Mi’kmaw people now, and all kinds of support people that I can get better information. I can increase my knowledge and then convey that in art. Roger Lewis for instance, he was an RCMP and became an archaeologist. Now, he’s head of the Archaeology Museum in Nova Scotia. We’re the same age, we grew up together. He’s one of my best sources for information. I’ve asked him about anything and he’ll come up with some research and give me something. I prefer to do that. I prefer to base it on factual knowledge, but I’m bringing an artistic element to it too. It feeds a couple of things. It has the beauty.

Art can be beautiful. For instance, I’m doing a burial show now. It’ll be out in a couple of years. It’s not burial rights, it’s on burial practices and it’s never been done before. It’s been a few years since I’ve been researching this at Saint Mary’s University. Robin Metcalfe is my curator. It’s gonna happen there and I’ve got a grant for it too, it’s being supported by the province. All of this is coming together. Now I have animation that I use, we’re gonna have some hologram effects. We’re going to have some music that I do. All of these things that I’ve incorporated, we’ve flipped them for another use. This should be interesting. No one ever done a burial show.

One thing that bothered me when I was young was that it was a Christian burial. It was like one size fits all motif. That’s the way it was, they didn’t really speak about who was being buried. It was the word of God only and that kind of thing. To me, that was disrespectful in my opinion. I started looking around because you go to a lot of funerals when you’re an indigenous person. Going to funerals is a regular thing. Some of them start to change over time. You can see very subtle changes. Some of it like being buried with tobacco and sweetgrass. When my grandmother was buried, I was part of a sweat lodge group. We did a song in the graveyard which has never been done like that. We didn’t ask anybody to do it, we just did it. My grandmother supported us. She always told me all her life, “You should go back to the church.” She lived to be in the eighties. She saw what the ceremony was doing for me and then she said, “as long as you believe in something.” She stopped the "church" thing. She was supporting us. She was a forward thinker. She was always open-minded. I give a lot of credit to her for making me because we had a good relationship. We could talk about anything at anytime. She was radical in her own way too. She made some people nervous. Especially the priests. If she would disapprove of them, she would say something. They all had to pass the test to go see her, of course they had to go see Rachel Marshall.  

 From left to right: Salome Barker, Alan Syliboy and Yanik Gallie

From left to right: Salome Barker, Alan Syliboy and Yanik Gallie

SB: How did you select the 9 animals represented in the baby board book?

AS: I compiled a list of animals, but I was never thinking about a list when I made them. See the petroglyphs to me, there were so many varieties of them. 10 years ago, I started doing caribou. I never did one before. I had never done one before, so I started doing them from then on. Then, I started to draw eels. It’s just like I took turns finding them. Each one has a turn. The turtles have been there a long time. Whales are fairly recent. They’re already part of who we are, and petroglyphs give us that. That’s what I’m using as my source. These are the images that were available right now. None of them are new for this book, they already existed. The butterfly’s been around for a while, it took me about ten minutes to make the first one.

SB: I found myself really connecting to your “Qalipu” painting.  Interestingly enough, I come from the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nations band in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I was wondering if you intended for aboriginal people from different nations to connect to your artwork?

AS: I know that it would, the caribou were all over the place. Over half of Canada at least. It was in the petroglyphs book. The reason I picked that at that time was that I did some research and found out that in Truro was where one of the last place they were shot and extinct. The last groups were shot here, so I said, “this was very close physically to where I was”. To me, it evokes the memory of what they meant. It’s also a teaching tool. Like Debert for instance, it’s an 11 000 or 12 000-year-old campsite there. You can imagine how long we’ve been here. There are two sites there that are really old. I’m talking to the new people who are working there and they’re telling me new things that they are finding, I’m up on that currently.

YG: Mi’kmaw Animals is an excellent educational resource for children to develop literacy skills. What is the connection between polylingualism at a young age and literacy?

AS: We were told that Mi’kmaw was gonna hold us back. People in the community, like our neighbor, believed that it was gonna hold us back. I said, “Well if that’s the case, why do Europeans speak six languages? It doesn’t hold them back” He didn’t have an answer to that, but that’s how I thought. To me, the more information that is brought forth the better. Now you have Mi’kmaw aritsts who are going to NSCAD, and their working on their own too. It’s opening up much faster intensity to different points of view and different ways to do things. To me, I feel that it’s a really great time.

Also, artists have never been considered important. I think if you’re learning about yourself, artists can bring you more than anyone else because it’s emotional too. It’s not just the text or the hard-raw information. It’s more than that. There’s an attachment that they can bring to make you feel something. Artists can do that. When I’m on Facebook, I see lots of excellent artists doing excellent things. I’m feeling pretty good about where we are right now.

SB: Can you share your vision of indigenous art for upcoming generations?

AS: Mark Sark. He’s in his fifties. He was in the Marines. He used to be in our sweat lodge. He was always connected to us all the time. He’s decided to go to NSCAD and become an artist. It’s amazing because of everything he’s done. All of that raw energy and knowledge with other things he did, he’s putting it into making art now. He’s popping out all over the place. He does animals, but he’ll cut them out and put them together and paint them. Like a 3D thing. Everything I’ve done, he’s made into 3D. That’s pretty cool.  I said, “That’s alright.” Next year, he’s going to carve. It’s not like he started when he was seventeen. He’s fifty-seven and doing this. There’s more and more people like Natalie Sappier-Samaqani Cocahqup in Tobique. I met her a few years ago. She’s doing terrific. There’s lots of new ones.

I went to Caraquet too. I’m working with the French in Caraquet. There is the biggest French community there. They really support their festival, it’s sophisticated. They all have careers as artists. It’s good for our artists because they can see what it’s like to be an everyday artist because we don’t have that facility. We don’t have that support. They were very welcoming, so it’s a good place and it’s mutual. We’re doing a show in Montreal at the Peoples' festival. I’m going to Montreal with Caraquet’s group in mid-August so I’m pretty happy about that. I’ve also got a new gallery of world-wide fine art in Toronto, we sold a painting yesterday. The gallery’s been around for twenty-five years. I think they are originally from Cape Breton so there’s a home attachment.

SB: The conversation of reconciliation has been happening for years now. It’s been three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. How do you see reconciliation moving forward?

AS: I’ve been approached by people to do events. The events were stirred by this reconciliation. It’s almost like they wanted to do something and now they have a blueprint to go by and I’ve seen that lots of times. That’s a step forward definitely. We have a lot more connection. I’ve also joined boards, and so on, because they just didn’t have indigenous representation. Like the ECMAs, I went there on the board of directors. A very daunting work to that position, however I did the best I could. Now they’re not going backwards. They are having visions and they’re moving forward. If they were sleeping, they would have stayed asleep. You have to go there and say, “here I am” so they can’t go to sleep again like I’ve done that in several boards. I’m more concerned about the next one.

Like the Coady Chair in 2017, Dorine Bernard was just amazing. I know her, but I didn’t know how much she did. How much effort she puts in everything. She is like steel, it’s amazing. She told me too about things, that is was real hard for her to do it, but she got it done. The focus once it happens, there’s a good chance it’ll be another indigenous person again. I see that as breaking a few trails. I see my role as a senior artist as something that will live on and contribute in a long-term and meaningful way.

YG: I’d love to get your interpretation of this quote by Black Elk, a medicine man of the Oglala Lakota, he said “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

AS: I totally agree with Black Elk. There was an indigenous Akwesasne Notes from New York, we got it every month. It had all sorts of indigenous ads, like tobacco and wild rice. We ordered all the posters, my brother and I, with the sayings of chief Joseph. We had them all. We got music from there too for years. It eventually stopped but it was a nice ride for a while to have that coming out. I miss it.

It’s been a long time, since the 70s, that I read the quote. Absolutely, his words are tremendous. I see that more and more. Years ago, there wasn’t much going on. People are appearing and doing things. You can feel the energy and see it. I’ve been here long enough to see it happening and I’m grateful for that. I see that the younger are the ones who are more dedicated. Their motives are better. That’s why you see people who go to sweat lodges and do things like that. Their motives are much more clear and pure. Some people just say words. It’s not just saying words, it’s actions. That’s always been my scale. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. If you’re not doing anything, then it doesn’t matter what you say.

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Lawrence Hill Interview

 
 

The senior English class of 2017-2018 at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Jenn Priddle and Yanik Gallie interviewed Lawrence Hill during the afternoon of May 10th, 2018. Seniors of the English class are Gabby Abaunza, Samuel Anthony, Lauren Breen, Bobby Burke, Ruby Cameron, Kara Christensen, Colton Coughlin, Danielle Elliott, Lucas Fabijancic, Peter Kopf, Emily MacEachern, Breanna MacInnis, Mya Mackenzie, Calum MacPherson, Timothy Matthews, Robbie Miller, Kendra Myatt, Jack Pittman, Michael Stevanovic, Kaitlyn Teasdale, Rory Teasdale, Carter van de Wiel, Emily and Laura Walker. 

 Photographer: Lisa Sakulensky

Photographer: Lisa Sakulensky

Lawrence Hill, a professor of creative writing at the University of Guelph, is the author of ten books, including The Illegal, The Book of Negroes, Any Known Blood, and Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada. He is the winner of various awards including The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and two-time winner of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. Hill delivered the 2013 Massey Lectures, based on his non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life. He co-wrote the adaptation for the six-part television miniseries The Book of Negroes, which attracted millions of viewers in the United States and Canada and won eleven Canadian Screen Awards. The recipient of seven honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, as well as the 2017 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, Hill served as chair of the jury of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is a volunteer with Book Clubs for Inmates and the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he has volunteered for more than 35 years and with which he has travelled to the African nations of Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Swaziland. He is the grandson and son of African-American soldiers who served with the American Army during WW I and WW II, respectively, and is working on a new novel about the African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in northern BC and Yukon in 1942-43. He is a Member of the Order of Canada, and lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland. 

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CW: Having written your first story with your mother’s C. Smith typewriter at the age of 14, can you speak on how your mother influenced your style of storytelling?


LH: My mother was as much an influence as my father, they just had different influences. My mother was a very sharp, astute, editorial-type person who would leap in and say, “That sentence is slack.” Or, “that sentence is weak.” Or, “it’s ungrammatical and not clearly expressed.” So, she pushed me towards clarity of expression. She also encouraged me to imagine playfulness with language. If you don’t like to play with language, there’s no hope for you as a writer. My mother read to us, us being my brother and sister and me, regularly. She read non-sense poetry, very funny poems that played with language in silly and absurd ways. The kind of ways that children love to see language turned inside out and upside down. My mother was very influential to push me towards critical thinking. She pushed me towards editing my own work more sharply and towards imagining the playful use of language. 


SA: Referring to The Book of Negroes, what sources did you consult to inform your writing about Nova Scotia?


LH: If you combine the A word about history, For further reading, and Acknowledgements sections, you get a sense of the art of the research. In short, the research had several components. One was to re-read or to read for the first time in some cases, the major books describing the overall arc of the transatlantic slave trade. Just to make sure that I had the fundamentals of how the trade worked when it happened, where it took place, and who was involved. Where were the key places in Africa from which humans were stolen? Where were they taken in the Americas and Canada? Then, of course, I started drilling down at much more specific things. Looking at letters, diaries and first-person accounts by men and women, African and European, that describe their interactions with the slave trade or slavery. I read slave narratives and documents such as the Book of Negroes ledger. Some of the research was looking at primary materials, not just published books and articles. And then, research involved interviewing experts who knew more about specific things than I can ever know. Another part of the research, a fourth part, involved going to the places where the novel is set, that would include Shelburne and Halifax. I did many trips to Shelburne and Halifax to visualize the story and where it would unfold. Research relating specifically to Nova Scotia involved going to the Black Loyalist Heritage Society many times to look at their documents. In fact, it was at the Black Loyalist Heritage Society that I first saw a copy of the Book of Negroes. That’s in Birchtown, Nova Scotia near Shelburne. Interviewing people who knew about it, meeting members of that Society, looking at their documentation, walking the streets of Shelburne and Halifax trying to reimagine the story that I was creating. Those were some of the forms of research that I conducted in Nova Scotia.


LB: How much did you fictionalize the narrative when representing historical events like the Shelburne riots?


LH: I fictionalized them a lot. It’s first and foremost a novel. I gave myself every liberty to play with or exaggerate or contort minor details for the purposes of dramatic effect. I didn’t make what I would consider to be any major deviations from my understanding of the grand lines of the transatlantic slave trade. But I was happy to make all sorts of little changes to improve the drama of the story. For example, no woman, no African woman, no woman at all helped to write the Book of Negroes. The ledger was written by an assistant to the Deputy Quartermaster in the British Navy. I had Aminata write the document because it made for a great story. I was happy to change that little bit of history because it improved the quality of the story. As for Nova Scotia, I moved the date of the Shelburne riots slightly because it was more convenient for me to move them. I think I changed the date by a year. I don’t think that’s very significant in the overall scheme of things to move the riots by a year or so to suit the purposes of the novel. I had some people killed in the Shelburne riots, also for dramatic effect. I don’t know personally, factually, I don’t know 100% that anybody was killed in the Shelburne riots. I took the liberty of writing that into the story without knowing that it actually happened. There are lots of little details that I changed, but nothing that I would consider to be profoundly significant.

Every novelist has their own notion of how closely they want to stick to historical accuracy. Not every book has the same answer. Some books may require you to stick very, very close to the truth and not even change the weather on a certain date in 1783; Other books allow you some latitude. I thought that my reader would go with me if I made small adjustments as long as I acknowledged them in the back of the book. For a keen reader, a reader can see where I’ve bent history a little bit to suit the novel. As long as I was clear about what I was doing and saying when I changed things a little bit, I felt free to use my role as a novelist to make the best story I could. Let’s face it, the facts are supposed to serve the story. So, you use the facts, and play with them, and maybe modify them a bit in order to create a good story. 

 Photographer: Jenn Priddle

Photographer: Jenn Priddle

CC: During your research, what did you discover about the Mi’kmaq people and their relations with the Black Loyalists?


LH: I didn’t discover much. I know the Mi’kmaq people were around. For example, this is outside the scope of the novel, but I know that the first black person to be documented in Canada was a guy named Mathieu de Costa. Mathieu de Costa was employed by Samuel de Champlain to act as an interpreter between the French and the Mi’kmaq people in Nouvelle France, New France, which is now, of course, Nova Scotia. We know factually that this first black person in Canada was free and working as an interpreter between the French and the Mi’kmaq. The Mi’kmaq, as you know, don’t enter merely into the story. I don’t want to claim anything that goes beyond the reach of the story. It was already a huge stretch for me to write the novel, and the novel doesn’t really explore the experiences of the Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia or their interactions with the Black Loyalists. That would be a great story, and perhaps you or somebody else should write that one.

 
CM: Few Canadian authors, one of them being Alistair MacLeod, have a clear sense of the story’s conclusion before they put pen to paper. Did you know how your story would end before you wrote it?


LH: I thought I knew how my story would end before I wrote it. I like to think I know how things are going to end when I start to write. I like to think that I’m sort of standing on the mountain top and looking at another mountain top in the distance. My job is to walk from the mountain I’m standing on to the mountain top I see in the far distance. But the distance between the two is in a valley covered by fog and mist. I have no idea how I’m going to walk through that valley, but I’m heading to that other mountain top. I don’t quite know how I’m going to get there, but that’s where I’m heading. That’s how I like to feel when I start. It’s a bit of an illusion. It’s a bit of self-deception to make me feel comfortable because really, I don’t know what I’m doing. The proof is that you see huge changes between my first drafts and my tenth draft. I like to think I know what I’m doing. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I write to find out. Yes, I try to have an idea of where I’m going, and I write towards that imagined ending, but it always changes.


RT: Is there historical or fictional content you wanted to include in the book but did not end up publishing?


LH: Oh, yeah! There’s tons of stuff. Usually I come up with a very messy, very long, first draft which might be twice as long as the finished product. Part of the process of rewriting and editing myself is to strip out everything that’s not essential to what I think is the core of the story. Part of being a good writer, an experienced writer, is to cut fat, and cut fat, and cut fat until you get to the very bone of your story without any fat around it. You really want to focus on the core of your story, and not get too loused with other things. There are other things that I didn’t write about that I might have liked to write about or that I did have written about and have them cut out. For example, there is reference to Aminata and other people working on an indigo plantation in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Those references to indigo and to working in the indigo plantations were probably five times longer with five times more information in the first draft. I decided that it was too laborious, too much detail that sort of killed the momentum of the story. So, I reduced the amount of details massively. I cut it down by 80% in terms of how much I write. I wrote much more about New York City, what happened between George Washington and Sir Guy Carleton, and the movement of the loyalists out of New York City into Nova Scotia. I wrote much more about historical details than I ended up using. Again, because I was concerned that I was providing so much detail that it was going to kill the momentum of the story.

Every time I write, I end up hacking out things that I decide I just can’t use because they’re in the way of the story. That is what writers do. Part of the discipline of being an artist is to have the courage and vision to say no. Even though I love this page or chapter, if it doesn’t really serve its purpose, it’s got to go. We have an expression it’s kind or rude and violent, but writers like to talk about this hacking out as “Killing your babies” because we love those pieces so much that we don’t want to get rid of them. It feels like we’re “killing our babies” and I know it’s an awful expression, but that’s a term writers use so you might hear that again someday. 
 

RC: Which part of the novel did you find most difficult to write?


LH: I’m going to interpret difficult as most emotionally painful. There are different kinds of difficulty. There’s creative, technical, and emotional difficulty. I’m going to focus on the issue of emotional difficulty, and say the hardest part was the first hundred pages when Aminata’s life ends as she knows it in West Africa. She is stolen from her village and sees her parents die. She is stripped of her clothes and made to walk to the ocean. That was by far the hardest, most difficult part for me to write. That, and of course what happened on the slave vessel. It was very hard. But let’s face it, it’s not a happy story. I didn’t want to sugarcoat history. I didn’t want to make an incredibly awful and violent, harmful segment of history seem like some sweet happy story. To me, that would be an insult to humanity and what we’ve been through. I wanted to write about it honestly, without sugarcoating it or making it look all happy. But at the same time, I couldn’t make it so painful that people would stop reading. I couldn’t make it such a bitter pill that nobody would want to open the book. When you’re writing about very sad or tragic things, you have to find ways to let shine some light on the story. You have to find something to give the reader some hope. We need hope to get up in the morning. We also need hope to turn the pages of a book. We hope that our lives will be better one day, if our lives are not so good now. We hope that whatever awful things are happening to a character on page 10 maybe will be better by page 50. You need to give the reader hope if you’re writing a very sad story, which I was doing. What was the hardest part for you to read?

 
RC: The hardest part for me to read was her encounter with Robinson Appleby.


LH: The encounter with Robinson Appleby was very hard. There’s something interesting about when Robinson Appleby shaves her head to punish her. I feel that in that moment she gained some emotional power over him. He thinks he’s going to destroy her by shaving her head to humiliate her, but he doesn’t destroy her. She walks away and basically, it’s just hair. Her attitude is you can’t destroy me, it’s just hair. I feel that in some subtle way, that moment of silence and of oppression actually allows Aminata to rise above him. Maybe not in sheer physical power, but she rises above him in their relationship. She transcends that moment. I didn’t write that scene in order to discourage the reader. I wrote that scene to show Aminata in a subtle way gaining power over Robinson Appleby. That scene gave me some hope about her own courage and resilience. That was my favorite scene in the mini-series, but I had to fight really hard to have it kept. It almost got pulled out of the mini-series. I was very partial to that scene so I’m glad it stayed in. 
 

LW: Who or what inspired the mood of the conclusion?


LH: I’ve never been asked who or what influenced the development of the conclusion. I guess it was my own personal longing. Basically, Aminata’s been to hell and back about five times and she keeps surviving. She’s lost just about everything one can lose in this life short of being murdered herself. I wanted to give her something beautiful. I wanted to give her a happy moment. I wanted to reunite her with her daughter, and I felt like she deserved that after everything she’s been through. Some people I’ve met don’t like that ending, they find it a little too sweet for their liking. I felt that it was realistic historically. If her daughter was stolen from her and ended up in London, they would probably meet again because London had a small black community. Everybody knew everybody in the black community in London. If they ended up there together, I believe they would find each other. They did end up there together, as did many Black Loyalists. I guess I was motivated by a desire mostly within myself, not by a certain person, to give her a moment of happiness. Also, there is a slave narrative by Olaudah Equiano. He wrote a slave narrative which was published in London around the time Aminata is going to parliament. I was influenced a little bit by his resilience and his movements all around the world. The slave narrative he wrote was one of the first and most famous slave narratives of all, that influenced my ideas for her ending too. 


EW: Was there a specific reason why you decided not to mention who May’s husband was at the end?


LH: Yes, he wasn’t important. One of the things that novelists have to do over and over is ask themselves: What am I going to write about? What am I not going to write about? I was focused on Aminata and her reunion with May at the end. I was focused on Aminata’s life and the things that happen to her. May’s husband wasn’t really in any way central or important to the story. I wanted to show that May had a husband and was probably going to have a child. I wanted to show the notion of continuity in the life of Aminata after she dies. It wasn’t really important to that story who her husband was. That would be a very concrete example of a pretty hard decision on my part about what I would and what I would not write about. Already, it’s a very long novel. I wouldn’t have had my editor too happy if I kept going on. I’m being a bit playful, but my editor would not have been too happy, and I wouldn’t have been too happy either, if I kept going on tangents that were removed from the core of the story. 


PK: Did you face adversity growing up? 


LH: Sure, I did. Few people in this world get to grow up and live and die without adversity. At the very least, they’re going to die. I think, to be clear because I don’t want to sing the blues and complain, I had a very fortunate and privileged life. My parents loved me. I loved my parents. I was raised with enough food and shelter. I had a good education. Most of all, I have the incredible fortune to do what I love to do in life. Not everybody gets to do what they love to do. Not everybody even finds what they love to do. I’m not going to sit here and complain about what a hard life I’ve had because I need to answer your question with the beginning part which is that I’ve had a very, very fortunate life. Have I met with adversity? Of course. Who hasn’t? I was called racial slurs from time to time when I was a child. I certainly knew that I faced moments of racial hostility or discrimination here and there in various encounters of my early life especially. For sure I’ve met with some moments of adversity. Also, it was very, very hard to start getting published and to begin my career as a published writer. It’s not easy to get going in the arts and make a life at it. You're going to meet with a lot of rejection and sometimes downright hostility. People will often say no. One of the things that is important is not to take somebody else’s no as a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of them. If someone is being hateful towards you, whether it’s sexism, racism, any other form of hostility or oppression, it’s not a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of them and their character flaws. You have to dig down and find the strength to keep going and not to be destroyed by other people’s negativity. Artists and others have to be resilient and need a thick skin not to be discouraged when people say no, when people don’t like who they are or what they’re doing. Have I faced moments of adversity in my life? Yes, I have. I don’t think I have faced any more adversity than any of you will face or than any other average person faces. 


PK: What kept you going forward in your profession as an author? 


LH: What kept me going is passion. You don’t become an author unless you’re just passionate about it. There’s so much insecurity. Will you be paid? Will you make any money? Will you be published? Will anybody read you? You have to labor for years with great insecurity about the outcome of your work. So, the only thing that keeps you going is passion. You have to want it so bad that you’re willing to deal with and put up with all that insecurity. Any normal person would have the brains to say, "Forget that. I’m going to be a dentist, stock broker, bus driver or a teacher. At least I know I’ll get a salary and I’ll be able to take care of myself." Most ordinary people wouldn’t put up with the insecurity of being an artist. The thing that carries you through those years of insecurity is passion. You have to really be burning with desire to be a painter, dancer, violinist, film maker or a novelist. Without that desire, it just won’t happen. Frankly, you shouldn’t do it unless you’re burning with desire. 


JP&KT: What challenges did you encounter and overcome in writing a character from childhood to womanhood?


LH: It was a big challenge because I was writing in the voice of a woman and I was writing a whole life. I wasn’t just writing about a year in somebody’s life, but I was trying to cover her whole life from earliest childhood to deathbed. In the course of her life, as you know, she moves in six key locations: West Africa, rural and urban places in South Carolina, New York City, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, and London. There are a lot of places in which to locate our novel and a lot of sections of life to write about. It’s not easy to create a life on the page and to imagine a whole life. My biggest challenge was trying to understand a woman’s whole life and then finding a way to represent that in just under five hundred pages. 
 

MS: The narrator begins sentences with conjunctions and writes one-word sentences. What is the function of this narration style?


LH: You sound like a grade five teacher, that’s funny. That’s a good question. When you are in grade three, four, or five, you learn all the rules about how you are supposed to write. You’re not supposed to start a sentence with the word “and” or “but”. You’re not supposed to write a one-word sentence. You’re supposed to use lots of adverbs and adjectives and be all hyperbolic or fancy with your language and prove that you have a big vocabulary. You learn all of this stuff when you’re going to school and they’re good things to learn because you’re learning how to use the English language on paper. Then when you start to write fiction, you have to unlearn every rule. Throw them out. There are rules that don’t apply to the creation of fiction, at least they don’t apply very fully. And then you have to learn to bend and use language in ways that suit the purposes of your story. One of the things that novelists do is to approximate human speech. Human speech isn’t always perfect or clear. Sometimes people do start sentences with conjunctions. Sometimes people do utter one-word sentences. I’m not too worried about the rules of grammar as long as the grammar that I employ suits the purposes of the novel. If I use an unclear sentence and the grammar was confusing the reader, of course I’d want to fix that, or my editor would tell me to fix it. If I’m bending the rules of grammar intentionally in order to capture a voice and the sound of a voice that moves with a kind of lyricism and character, then I’m happy to bend any rule of grammar as long as it suits the novel. That’s probably not what grade five teachers would want to hear when they’re teaching you how to write.

Every novelist must learn to throw out all of the teachings and learn to write all over again. For example, when you go to school and you’re little, you’re told that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. That’s complete nonsense. First of all, it’s not true that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. Some stories end at the beginning or conclude somewhere else. Not every story moves chronologically. Not every story works in that way. As you noticed, I began my story at the ending of her life. I also end the story at the ending of her life. I didn’t follow the rule that every story has a beginning, middle and end because it’s too basic for what the novelist is trying to accomplish. You have to create your own set of rules and be clear. Communicate effectively with the reader. Use grammar to do that, and then bend the rules of grammar when you need to bend them. 


TM: How did you come up with imagery for all the different settings?

 Photographer: Jenn Priddle

Photographer: Jenn Priddle

LH: It’s really hard to write about a place, isn’t it? Let’s think about the ways you might write about a place and the kind of images you might use. It might be the image of a tree or nature. It might be the image of sound. What is Aminata hearing? What kind of language is being used around her? It might be the image of history, the social or historical setting of the place. There are so many ways to construct a scene. Every time I set a scene or had a place where Aminata was going to be, I had to find a way to make that place seem real to the reader. Some of it might be how Aminata thinks and feels. When she’s stuck on Sullivan’s Island off the coast of South Carolina waiting to be sold into slavery she sees her breath and she thinks her face is on fire. She’s never seen her breath before since she’s never been to a place where the air is that cold. She thinks that she’s on fire, but she’s not. She’s just seeing her breath because it’s so cold. That’s a kind of imagery. I didn’t try to describe Sullivan’s Island by describing the kind of trees there were. I was more interested in describing the way she sees her own breath. To me, that was more interesting than describing an oak tree. Part of the decision about creating setting is what kind of detail will be most interesting. You know you can’t use five thousand details or the reader will be bored and fall asleep. Pick a few details for each place. Details that you hope will capture the imagination in the eye of the reader. It’s very hard to create a scene. You have to use a few details. Not too many, but not too few. Not too detailed, but enough detail that you give the reader something to hang on to. Preferably something surprising and unexpected. One of the hardest challenges in writing is to create a memorable scene in a place that seems real, and decide what ingredients you will use to make that place real. Will it be sound? Will it be nature? Will it be politics? Will it be blood? What do you use to make a place come off the page and seem real? That’s one of the hardest challenges in writing. Of course, not every scene has the same answer. Not every scene should have the same answer. If you took the same approach with every scene, the novel would soon be very boring and seem formulaic. It has to feel natural and it has to be evolving. You can’t just be doing the same thing. You need to have a lot of tools in your bag and you have to keep pulling out different tools in order to create those scenes.


LF&MM: Who inspired you to write the hilarious and strong character Georgia?


LH: Aminata is going to have a lot of problems in her life. She’s going to have a lot of suffering. She also needs a little love. She needs some people in her corner. Some people who will prop her up, help her and take care of her. She lost one mother while she is still very young. She is barely pubescent when she arrives as a girl almost dead in South Carolina. She needs somebody to take care of her. Basically, she needs a second mother. Georgia fills that role. Aminata is going to meet terrible people like Robinson Appleby, but she also needs to meet loving people to balance off her story and keep her alive. I have to be very careful to add enough beauty and hope in support of the novel that the reader would keep reading and Aminata would keep wanting to live. I imagine some of my own African American women in my own family, their voices and how strong they were. They didn’t put up with nonsense. They were determined, focused and fiercely loyal to the people they loved. Georgia treats Aminata like her own daughter. I think she’s a really great character because Aminata needs some good people in her corner. 


KT: What role do you think literature plays in activism for racial inclusion and human rights? 


LH: Not every book has to do the same thing. Some books will have nothing whatsoever to do with those issues and that’s okay. There’s room in this world for every book imaginable just like there’s room in this world for every person imaginable. Not every person is going to do the same thing in their life. Not every book should be asked to do the same either. I guess I would play with the question a little bit and rephrase it so that I can answer it because I don’t think there’s a uniform answer for every book. What am I trying to do in these areas with my literature? What I am trying to do is ask my readers to stop and think about the humanity of people whose humanity is often neglected, forgotten, denied or swept under the rug. We have forgotten, denied or ignored the plight of African peoples in the diaspora, including Canada. Unfortunately, Canadians still don’t know very much about black history. They know more about African American history than they do about African Canadian history, and that’s a problem for me. I guess I want to illuminate forgotten corners of Canadian history. I want to get people to think about people whose humanity might have been denied or forgotten such as people who were enslaved or people who became refugees. I want to give readers cause to rethink unexamined assumptions and to imagine their own history and their own people more deeply. 


EM: What social change do you envision in Canada and the rest of the world for the year 2020?

LH: Your guess is as good as mine. Unfortunately, two years before Donald Trump was elected, if you had said on national television that Donald Trump would be the next president in the United States, you would have been laughed at out of the room. Also, two years before Barrack Obama was elected president, no one would have believed you either if you said that Barrack Obama would have been the first black president of the United States. Nobody would have believed you because everybody assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the next president or that she would be the democratic candidate for the presidential elections. I’m only saying that because honestly, I do not know what is going to happen in 2020. It’s so hard to tell. Are we going to shift towards hatred? Are we going to shift towards being a more inclusive, loving and generous society that believes in equality of all human beings? I hope that we’re going to move towards a place of more generosity of spirit. We have much abundance of evil and hatred in the world today and I worry about that. It could be that hatred is on the rise for a little while before evil is vanquished and love gets the better hand. I don’t know where we’ll be in two years, I really don’t. I worry about the rise of intolerance towards undocumented refugees and other refugees in the world. I worry about people wanting to solidify their own wealth to the exclusion of others who are poor. I worry about nations becoming entrenched in their enmity, hatred and violence towards each other. I’m just not sure where we’re going. 


I encourage every one of you and myself to do everything we can in our lives to be just and kind, to insist on fairness and equality for all, to stand up against and oppose injustice, and to fight in our own ways. In our own backyards, in our schools, in our neighborhoods and our places of worship, to fight for what we know is right wherever we can. That really is the best we can do. We cannot let up. We are at risk of seeing democracy perverted. We are at risk of letting hatred ascend as it did in Nazi Germany. It is important to remember that Hitler was a democratically elected leader of Germany and we see what became of Hitler. We have to go to the poles and vote. Exercise our values and insist on a political leadership in Canada, in our cities, our provinces, our country, and around the world that reflects our own values. If we let up, then we will let others dominate and assert values inimical to ours. I do have faith in humanity, and I do believe that we will rise up against hatred. But, it seems to swing around over time and right now is a pretty dark time if you look at the world. 


There are many people who are doing fantastic things. People who are taking sometimes great risk around the world and in Canada to assert their freedom and human justice on the treatment and respect for all, across lines of gender, race, orientation, ableism and everything. There are people who show incredible vision in encouraging young people and older people. Without them and that kind of effort, we would be lost. Also, our politically elected leaders are sometimes influenced from the margins and when the margins become loud, vocal and insistent, when history is on their side, eventually leaders will listen. We need people jumping up and down, causing commotion and fighting for what they believe and what they know is right. Eventually, the rightness of their cause will seep through and affect decisions made by political leaders of Canada and the world. 
 

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A Review: All in the Timing

 
 

Theatre Antigonish presented All in the Timing at Bauer from March 6-10, 2018. All in the Timing is a drop-dead laughing anthology written by David Ives. David is a graduate from the Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1971 and from the Yale School of Drama with a Master of Fine Arts in 1984.

The anthology originated from six one-acts that received the Outer Critics Circle Playwriting Award. A total of seven comedies and one tragedy made up the production directed by Andrea Boyd.

A call bell often reset and reoriented the dialogue between a couple of strangers in act one. It became a savior of the dead-end conversation. The call bell reminded me of absurdity in Samuel Beckett’s Ping. The technique is a critique of small-talk conversational conventions.

The appearance by Justin Gregg, 2017-2018 Board of Director at Theater Antigonish, as Don was a delightful surprise in act two. Justin did some freelance writing for The Huffington Post, BBC Earth and The Wall Street Journal. Justin also did some voice acting for The Ugly Duckling and Me! and Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer.

Justin is a graduate with a PhD from the School of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin in 2008. Having studied dolphin social cognition in-depth, the science writer is author of books Twenty-Two Fantastical Facts about Dolphins and Are Dolphins Really Smart?.

Beloved Antigonish resident,  Majd Al Zhouri was one of six talented actors to animate three characters in the play. These actors ought to be praised for their skill in bringing 18 states of mind to life; each persona with a distinguishable costume, voice and mannerism.

The small cast of 12 indicates a need for aspiring actors to audition for Theatre Antigonish productions. In fact, All in the Timing replaced the highly anticipated Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman. Metamorphoses was postponed due to a shortage of people who auditioned for the production.

One of All in the Timing’s qualities was its minimalist stage props. As much as a costume, a table and a beer sustained the audience’s suspension of disbelief during the entire act five.

Act six involved three monkeys named Milton, Kafka and Swift trying to write Hamlet on typewriters. The act satirizes a study of animal language acquisition (Codename 6.001) at Columbia University led by Herbert S. Terrace. This act and others were riddled with allusions to literary works and authors of them.

One consistent allusion was to the epic hero, Don Juan. Pre-intermission, a universal linguist charmer named Don predictably got the girl at the end of the act. Post-intermission, three direct references to “Don Juan” flooded the dialogue.

David wrote a full-length play titled Don Juan in Chicago. Safe to say the playwright was inspired by the satirical work of Lord Byron.

Theatre Antigonish’s next production at Bauer is the One-Act Play Festival running between March 22-24, 2018. The annual Festival features amateur theatre groups and individual performers.

 

Are We There Yet?

 
 

Unpacking the hits and the misses of the 90th Academy Awards

On March 4, 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held their 90th annual Academy Awards. With so much momentum from the #metoo and Time’s Up movements from earlier awards shows of this year, many were eager to see whether The Oscars would carry on this progressive trend. Ultimately, there were some definite hits, but also a few obvious blunders, leaving viewers to wonder, is Hollywood really changing?

First and foremost, the successes of the evening. Host Jimmy Kimmel opened the show with many comments about post-Weinstein Hollywood. He commendably decried that Hollywood cannot “let bad behavior slide anymore,” calling for an end to sexual harassment in the work place. Kimmel also made a poignant joke about Hollywood’s lack of belief in minorities and women in leading roles by stating, “I remember a time when studios didn’t believe that a woman or a minority could front a superhero film… And I remember that time because it was March of last year.” He also noticeably shined a light on those women who were shattering glass ceilings in their area of work, such as the first ever woman to be nominated for cinematography, and the first female to be nominated for best director in eight years.

As the award show carried on, many other females also took a stand to uphold women’s rights. Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, two women who spearheaded the #metoo movement, came forward about their experiences with Harvey Weinstein. They had made their triumphant return to Hollywood after being blackballed by the Hollywood mogul. Best Actress winner, Frances McDormand, asked every female nominee to stand up during her acceptance speech. She then called upon the audience to fund women’s projects and films, seeing as only 11% of movies are created by females. While Sandra Bullock announced nominees for the best cinematography award, she described “the four men and one trailblazing woman” nominated to draw attention to the lack of diversity. Similarly, Emma stone read the names for nominees of best director as “these four men and Greta Gerwig,"  which is another category underrepresenting women.

And now for the misses. Prior to the Oscar red carpet, famed host Ryan Seacrest faced a sexual harassment claim from a former stylist. E! News, which houses Seacrest, investigated the instance rather quickly, and stated the claim had no grounds. Therefore, Seacrest was permitted to work the carpet as usual. Except, it wasn’t business as usual for the previously celebrated host. Tensions ran high and many female stars chose to avoid Seacrest on the Red Carpet. Those who opted not to talk to the presenter included Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Jenifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Greta Gerwig, and Jennifer Garner. For a company that is already in hot water over the massive pay gap between co-hosts Catt Sadler and Jason Kennedy, this was not a sign of progression. However, the biggest blunder of the evening goes to Kobe Bryan’s win for his short film, Dear Basketball. Bryan was charged with sexual assault in 2003. The charges were later dropped by prosecutors, but the civil side of the suit was settled for an undisclosed amount outside of court. Bryan himself even publically confirmed that he retrospectively understood the woman in this case did not view their sexual encounter as consensual. In Hollywood’s bravest year to address and challenge sexual misconduct, giving an Oscar to an accused perpetrator himself was a slap in the face to all victims.

In short, there were strides made at this year’s Oscars. Sexual assault was addressed for the first time in an opening monologue, women broke barriers in both nominations and awards, as well as women publically pointing out the lack of diversity in nominees. However, with decisions to put Seacrest on the carpet so soon after the accusation, and granting accused rapist Bryan an award during a time where sexual assault victims finally feel safe coming forward, it is evident that there is much, much further to go. If the highest body in film still does not honour men as equally as women and does not support victims by refusing to honour perpetrators, how will the lower bodies, the directors, agents, and fellow actors, ever realize that the time is truly up on sexual misconduct?

 

Moving Beyond Fracking

 
 

Our community’s need for a renewable future

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rock in order to create cracks in underground rock formations and release oil or gas deposits. This practice is extremely risky and poses a number of threats to human and environmental health. The overwhelming balance of scientific research to date points to these risks, with recent studies revealing a worrying pattern of underreporting of issues by industry and regulators in Pennsylvania, BC and Alberta.

The process of fracking uses a significant amount of water, and can also contaminate drinking water through a leakage of chemicals into water tables. Methane emissions from fracking wells have recently been found to be massively underreported by industry, provincial and state regulators – a fact that is especially worrying given methane is a green house gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Fracking has also been known to cause earthquakes. The numerous threats that are posed by fracking have lead many community members and activists to protest the practice in their communities. In 2014, a bill was passed here in Nova Scotia legally banning fracking This was accomplished after community residents, primarily lead by indigenous individuals, rose up against fracking and disseminated critical information about the danger it poses to humans and the environment. This ban has been in place ever since.

Earlier this year, however, the municipality of Guysborough called for this ban to be lifted and proceeded to send multiple letters to the Premier and to other municipal councils throughout Nova Scotia, looking for support. This decision however, is not supported by most citizens; when one of Guysborough’s councilors held a town hall meeting on the issue, all those who attended were opposed the lifting of the ban.

Guysborough’s decision to propose this change comes with pressure from oil and gas supporters who used a freedom of information request to bring to light a provincial atlas of potential shell gas reserves in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia department of energy subsequently released an atlas that showed potential energy hot spots in the province, none of which are in Guysborough county. The Guysborough letter, therefore, seems to be more a part of an orchestrated campaign by the oil and gas sector rather than something that would actually lead to fracking in the county.

It turns out that a municipality site for an liquified natural gas (LNG) plant is being built in Guysborough county, a site where gas from around the continent will be held and distributed to markets in Europe. Germany has guaranteed a 4 billion dollar loan for the building of this plant as the country wishes to diversify where it is getting it’s LNG. Although, the plant does not need to use gas that is harvested in Nova Scotia, oil and gas supporters are pushing to have these options available, by pushing for the lifting of the ban on fracking.

Those who support the ban include many across Mi’kma’ki, including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, that come from indigenous and settler communities alike. As we know, Mi’kmaq land has never been ceded to settlers and thus the Mi’kmaq people have a strong say when it comes to practices that will affect the land. The critical analysis developed by many Mi’kmaq people is that while the fracking industry may bring jobs to this area of the country, it will also destroy natural elements such as water and land, that are sacred and important to indigenous ways of being, and to all life. The choice to propose a lifting of this ban, directly contradicts the concerns that have been presented by indigenous community members and settler-citizens alike. Communities throughout Nova Scotia have made it clear that they are completely against fracking. In 2014, when a fracking moratorium was being reviewed, the Nova Scotia association of Mi’kmaq chiefs unanimously voted against it along with the Mi’kmaq Native women’s association. So far, the conversation that has been held about lifting the ban has only been orchestrated in settler communities. The Guysborough effort therefore runs the risk of further damaging settler-indigenous relations in a time that these relations should be focusing on reconciliation.

On March 19, the Antigonish Town Council has planned to discuss the letter that they received from the Municipality of Guysborough and will be debating whether they too will call for the ban to be lifted. Responsible Energy Action (REA) has been organizing to encourage citizens to write to the mayor and town councilors in support of keeping the ban in place. If you are interested and having your voice heard in relation to this cause, I encourage you to do the same and email mayor Laurie Boucher.

The bottom line is that these conversations should be outdated; there is a strong understanding that we need to be moving towards the dismantling of the oil and gas sector and incorporating more renewable sources of energy. In California, for instance, the green energy sector is proving that transition to green energy is a major job creator. We need to be encouraging the promotion of Solar and Wind power and put our money towards getting more sustainable and safe energy sources up and running in our province. And we should be working in ways that respect the treaties here and reinforce reconciliation, not undermine it.

 

New Mindful Living Stream Open to All Students

 
 

An introduction to the courses that are carving out spaces in academia for students’ well-being

There is new development in the Religious Studies Department. Dr. Adela Sandness has constructed a new ‘Mindful Living’ stream of study consisting of 7 different classes. Dr. Sandness has been a prominent figure in the Religious Studies department in structuring her classes around issues of power, gender and gender relationships. She is trained as a scholar in the deep history of Buddhist psychology and the nature of mind, which has transferred over into her role as a professor in current classes about Modern India and Ghandi’s principles of truth and non-violence as a way of creating social change. The Xaverian sat down with Dr. Sandness to speak to a new stream of classes that will be available starting this upcoming fall.

Dr. Sandness prefaces our discussion by speaking to how the material involved in these new courses have been worked on already in various ways. What is unique now, is that the various elements already discussed, have come together in a single thread to create this stream focused on mindful living.

“These series of classes that Dr. Sandness will be teaching are really interesting and important, that sort of holistic approach to mental and physical health is an up and coming thing in society and it is something people are just starting to recognize. I think that culture has always been there but now it’s being brought to the forefront” says student, Matt Fleming who is not a religious studies major but has been drawn to take Dr. Sandness’ courses as electives.

Specifically, these courses will be addressing several issues that have been identified on the university campus. In part, the establishment of this stream of study is in response to the conversations we have been having as a campus community surrounding sexual safety. It has very intensely been brought to people’s awareness that the ways in which we relate to ourselves, and our own bodies, as well as with other people in the quality of our relationships is something that needs to be talked about. Dr. Sandness asserts that in the time speaking with individuals, after the sexual violence case that occurred last semester, no one was moving into a space of simplistic blame. Instead, the reoccurring narrative is an understanding that the occurrence of sexual violence and the responses that follow are situated in a broader, cultural aspect of how we are relating to each other as people. Dr. Sandness attributes the depth, intensity, sophistication and duration of these conversations to confirm that the campus is in need of structured space to do a “re-think.”

4th year student, Jillian Barvir who works closely with Dr. Sandness says that

 “[These courses] will be a part of addressing issues on campus like sexual safety and the rise in mental health issues and despair that some students face. Dr. Sandness will have direct access to these students to help them work through it.”

These conversations are both academic by nature with groundings in Ancient Indian or Veda cosmology. Or in other words, the study of the world through religious groundings alternative to contemporary scientific western materialism. It will be the pairing of this academic anchorage with honest and open conversations that will lead to discussions on the quality, sensitivity and genuineness of the relationships that we’re creating with other people; whether that is an intimate relationship or not. The quality of relationships that we have with one another will necessarily create structures or frames of thinking that can shape the views of the world we have when we focus in on broader social issues. Dr. Sandness identifies these as issues of safety, respect, gender and power relationships. These relationships will also offer insight into the ways that we service leaders in the world; whether that be the leader of a residence house, a family or the leader of broader situations.

Next year (2018-2019) will introduce the first two new courses. In first semester is RELS 294 Mindfulness: How to Cope with Hard Things. This course will be dealing with mindfulness in a very direct way through applying historic, old Indian understandings of the shape of the world and the mindfulness techniques that evolved at this time to a practical component such as meditating together as a class. Through looking at various aspects and shapes of the world, this course is very much how to cope with hard things and how to work with balancing emotions such as jealousy and pride.

The second semester class is RELS 297 The Body: An Owner’s Manual in which students will quite literally be making an owner’s manual to their bodies grounded in cosmology that comes out of Hinduism and Buddhism. “What is a body” in this case will be explored more broadly. Dr. Sandness expresses her intent in bringing in several guest lecturers to cover the basis of what a body is. For example, she aims to invite community members from indigenous elders to lawyers, to the AWRCSASA and even nutritionists in unpacking what students feel and think about their bodies and why they feel such ways. Relating it back to a response to observed campus conversations about student’s wellbeing, this course will find the space in between conversations to say “well ok, how do I understand my relationship with my body and what is the quality, dignity, and respect I am offering to myself. Do I feel like I would want to make some changes?”

RELS 315/WMGS 397 Authentic Power and Gender is another new course that will be offered in the following year (2019-2020) along with RELS 394 Authentic Relationship. These courses are going to look at the ideas of power and gender from perspectives that come specifically out of Ancient Indian Cosmology. These ideas will provide a framework for answering questions around what constitutes real and authentic power. They will explore the interrelationship of masculine and feminine principles in Hinduism and Buddhism and gender from outside the contemporary western understanding. The first class will unpack controlling, domineering, territorial and oppressive natures as the default understanding of power. Dr. Sandness asserts that these behaviors are rooted in fear which merits compassion but not complacency so this course will be looking at what defines a strong and powerful person. The latter course mentioned is the companion class and this will continue the conversation by saying “if relationships aren’t about predatory dominance, power, control or who is on top, then what actually is an authentic and genuine relationship?” At the heart of these classes is human connection and with what degree of sensitivity to ourselves and others.

These are the four new courses offered next year. Accompanying them are RELS 395 Selfless Leadership:  Be the Change I and RELS 397 Selfless Leadership:  Be the Change II. The first two courses apply these authentic leadership learnings into leadership questions, both inspired the work of MK Gandhi. There is a sense that it is entirely possible to create broad stroke social change and these courses will look at some practiced ways to do so. These courses are rooted in old Indian World Views that informed Gandhi’s non-dualism truth and non-violence, specifically in relation to colonialism. These courses will actively unpack the perceptions of success within leadership that are directly from colonial forms of thinking; thus up for complete re-working and review when as a culture, we begin to authentically decolonize.

As for the final course, Dr. Sadness refers to it as the capstone of a series of classes. Every August, Dr. Sandness takes students to the Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton. After three weeks of online study together, the group goes to the monastery and lives there for a week the way that the monastics do. In essence, it is a mindfulness immersion experience to provide quite a strong basis in exploring meditative practices. This has been a class that Dr. Sandness has been nurturing and loving for quite some time now.

Dr. Sandness has made these courses free of pre-requisites in order to make them as accessible as possible to students from all disciplines.

The Xaverian also had an opportunity sat down with 4th year student, Colleen Murray.

“I took my first class with Dr. Sandness in my second year and there is something about the way that she brings the people in the classes that she teaches together that is really unique to the education that I have received at StFX. We get to know each other in the classroom and she gets to know us to incorporate the experience that we have on campus, our feelings about our positions as students and our own personalities into the course material which makes it really meaningful and purposeful for students. Not only are you receiving an awesome education, for example, in the religion and modern India course that I took with her, we learned so much about the history and development of religions about politics and important people from India; but we also got to learn a lot about each other and ourselves and it was just a beautiful experience as a student to encounter that on a university campus. It’s not something I expected. The fact that now there is an entire stream so students can be introduced to that way of learning and that way of thinking and being in the world is so important.”

Upon completing our interview, the Xaverian asked Dr. Sandness why she felt that it was time to introduce these courses. She expresses that in Buddhism there is an understanding that in any situation there would be the outer, the inner and the secret. In this case, the outer rationale would be that these courses are simply interesting theoretical material. There are many ways to dream a world and it is very helpful and useful to look at alternate ways of understanding the nature of self, body and other. Dr. Sandness speaks to the inner layer by saying that we can help people make choices and now these classes offer an avenue. The students are asking the institution to do better and it is completely appropriate to offer a space to have that conversation in a sustained way. And finally, the secret layer to the rationale.

“If I were to give away my secret, I have heard it said that we really only need 10% of any population to identify with each other as being an alternative culture to create that socially viable alternative. We are a campus of 5000 students which means we would only need to have 500 students who are identifying each other as being people who are making alternative lifestyle choices in order to create that viable, peer, cultural alternative that people as far as I can tell are essentially begging for…It isn’t about either this or that, but there is a space in between in which we live and how we engage in that space in between here is honestly going to set the platform for the rest our lives not just in the way it shapes our personality style and our long term friendships and the ways in which we tend to carve relationships in the future. I feel that it is an appropriate for a way to create that viable cultural alternative, 10% of our student population is only the Schwartz Auditorium filled twice.”

As we said goodbye, Dr. Sandness offers one last comment

“Just breathe, you are enough.”

 

Cultivating Consent Culture

 
 

How do we rewrite the narrative of sexual violence in our communities?

"Smile and be nice." "Don’t overreact." "Don’t make a scene." "It’s just guys being guys." "He only picks on you because he like you." "Cover up." "You’re showing too much skin - it’s distracting." "He was just trying to be friendly." "You were pretty much asking for it."

As women, we’re constantly taught to remain idle in the face of sexual violence. Whether that’s through what we're told, media depicting violence as a gateway for sex, or simply the lack of recognition that sexual violence is a problem to begin with. Is it no surprise, then, that 1 in 4 women aged 15 to 24 will experience sexual violence? We’ve normalized sexual violence to such a degree that more often than not, women don’t feel comfortable or validated in coming forward - instead, they pass it off as “just a bad date,” or stay silent.

That is not okay.

On March 7, the Antigonish community came together to discuss what sexual violence looks like here in our community, and what we can do to change the narrative, and have an impact. Panelists Suzi Synishin, Sam Gan, and Katie MacDonald shared their research findings and experiences with the group - speaking to the normalization of sexual violence and the meaning of consent, the male perspective on leadership in consent culture, and sexual violence response in customer service positions respectively. Following the panel, the room was asked to answer two questions:

  1. What does sexual violence look like in your community?
  2. What needs to change? How can we make these changes happen?

Though the questions were discussed in a number of smaller groups, the answers of what sexual violence looks like all seemed to follow the same core idea:  sexual violence is simultaneously extremely pervasive, and invisible. The social repercussions facing victims prevent large numbers from speaking out, things like dick pics, revenge porn, and “kill counts” have become synonymous with teen and young adult culture, and university culture, as well, has become so intertwined with rape culture that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. On top of all of this, there is a general refusal to acknowledge that we have a problem.

So, what needs to change? How can we break the silence around sexual violence, and stop teaching our women to grin and bear it? We can start by teaching consent in our elementary and high schools - re-configuring Sex Ed to teach about healthy relationships, pleasure, and bodily autonomy - and integrating the conversation into every school, and every classroom. We can stand up and call out instances of toxic masculinity, harassment, and violence we witness every day, and turn to education to call people in.

Most importantly, however, in this fight, is that we not stay silent in the face of injustice. The actions above all came from this one conversation - but conversations like this one, when held as events or panels, attract the people who already care about these issues, and are already working to make change. For this conversation to be truly successful and sustainable, everyone has to be involved. So, keep on speaking out, speaking up, and being loud - ultimately, that is what will make a difference.

 

International Women’s Day in the Global Community

 
 

Taking a look at a Necessary Celebration Around the World

On Thursday, March 8, women from Iqaluit to Jakarta will be celebrating International Women’s Day. Beginning in 1911 and held annually ever since, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements while simultaneously advocating and mobilizing for change and movement away from gender-based discrimination. Every year on March 8, governments, businesses, women’s organizations and other entities join forces in order to honour the day with speeches, celebrations, rallies, and other events.     

This year’s theme is called #PressforProgress, developed as a response to the Weinstein Scandal, #metoo and #TimesUp movements, and a growing public discussion of the gender wage gap. The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report found that it will take 217 years to close the gender gap around the world, a number we will not and cannot accept. Therefore, #PressforProgress urges not only women, but entire communities, to unite in action against gender disparity, making this not only a women’s issue, but a human one as well.

The United Nation’s Headquarters will be holding an observation of International Women’s Day at their headquarters in New York City. Speakers to discuss women’s issues include the UN Secretary-General, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Reese Witherspoon, and Danai Gurira. The UN has chosen to focus on the activism of rural women around the world, and what they do to transform and improve the lives of women in their communities.

Canada’s theme for International Women’s Day is #MyFeminism, where Canadian women are encouraged to state what feminism means to them. Celebrations include marches across the country in major cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver. Calgary is also holding a UNITE! benefit concert to celebrate women who have paved the way for equality.

London, England is hosting a variety of women-centric events including talks, workshops, and film screenings. There is also a Women of the World Festival taking place from March 7-11, where female speakers will be working to tackle the question of why gender equality is taking so long . An organization known as Kitrinos Healthcare is also hosting an event discussing how their sewing and knitting club in refugee camps helps to inspire women living there. The products these refugee women have made will also be for sale, helping to prepare refugee women for life beyond the camps.

India’s focus for this year’s International Women’s Day is sexual harassment in the work place. In order to target this, many large corporations are hosting workshops to discuss and learn how to prevent sexual harassment. Last year, thousands of women protested in many cities across the country as a response to the nation’s rampant sexual assault problem. Protests of a similar nature are expected to occur again. Meanwhile, a company in Nigeria, known as The Enterprise Development Centre, is focusing on small and medium businesses and their female entrepreneurs by setting up networking events for women. In many countries such as Russia, Armenia, Cambodia and Cuba, International Women’s Day is a national holiday and it is tradition for women to both give and receive yellow flowers. In China, women are given a half day off work to honour the holiday. In Italy, mimosa blossoms are given to women as a part of the celebration.

In previous years, the most common celebration of this holiday was a protest for something that has been identified as a priority to address. Women in Georgia have advocated against the glass ceiling in the workplace; women in Bangladesh rallied to demand for safety, while women in the Philippines protested the lack of food. Protests and rallies, though not always advertised in advance, are expected to dominate the celebratory activities on March 8. as there is still more work to be done. It is important to note that the experiences and struggles of women around the world are not homogenous. While some women are focused on equal pay, some are focused on the right to safe and adequate health care. However, the overarching factor that unites women on this day, and is the reason for this holiday, is the fact that all women experience inequality, and all women will no longer be complacent.

 

This is for you, Tina and Colten

 
 

The REDress Project as platform to discuss Canada’s often ignored epidemic

When you walk around campus, whether it being inside the buildings or outside, you can see red dresses on hangers, with a new addition this year of also seeing red ties around campus. So, what are these dresses and red ties for you might ask?

The red dresses are for the REDress Project which is an art installation in remembrance of  the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada; a national epidemic.

This year, the Aboriginal society made a change to the project and they added ties for the missing and murdered Indigenous men as well.

This art project hopes to raise awareness for all the missing and murdered Indigenous women and men. This isn’t new. Aboriginal women and men in Canada and America have been disappearing at alarming rates for years, and while Canada did put forward a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), not a whole lot has changed; nothing for that matter.

1,017 women and girls who identify as indigenous were murdered between the years of 1980 and 2012, according to Stats Canada. Mind you, those are just the cases that we know about through official reporting. These numbers don’t necessarily reflect each individual who has been missing or murdered.

Indigenous women are 4.5 times more likely to be murdered than all other women in Canada. For indigenous women, the highway of tears is their nightmare. It’s Highway 16 from Prince George and Prince Rupert BC, where countless murders of Indigenous peoples have been committed.

This highway connects many towns, which all hold vital resources not found in each community. Often times, due to lack of transportation, women end up going on foot.

For an indigenous woman, to be on this strip of highway often means to be adding their name to the list of missing and murdered.

For indigenous men, many know the truth about ‘starlight tours’, where police in Saskatoon drive indigenous men out of the city limits under the guise of taking them home at night. They are then left to find their way home which, during the below zero temperatures in the winter, often leads to their death. These starlight tours happen far too often for mainly indigenous men, and it's costing them their lives at the hands of Canadian police.

If you’ve been keeping up to date with the news lately, you might have heard the names Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie being repeated. These are the latest indigenous victims who's murderers were found not guilty in recent trials, leaving the families with no justice and no closure.

Tina Fontaine lived on the Sagkeeng First Nation. Tina was only 15 when she was murdered on August 10, 2014.  Raymond Joseph Cormier was charged with her murder, taken to trial where he plead not guilty and, on February 22, 2018 he was released of all charges.

Colten Boushie is a First Nations man who lived on the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation. Colten was only 22 when he was murdered on August 9, 2016. Gerald Stanley was charged with his murder, it went to trail and, on February 9, 2018, Stanley’s charges were acquitted.

Those two stories sound awfully alike, don’t they? That’s what most trials for murdered indigenous people sound like; their murderers being set free, leaving their cases to go cold. 

I wonder what the outcome would have been if Tina and Colten were white?

Tina and Colten were only children when they were killed, they were failed by society, the justice system, the police system, any system you can think of, and they were CHILDREN.

They had years ahead of them, experiences they’ll never know, hugs they’ll never receive, dreams they’ll never achieve.

So, when you’re walking around campus and see these dresses and ties, take some time to stop and think about Tina and Colten. Think about all the other indigenous peoples that have had this same reality, and for those who might succumb to this horrifying reality someday. For each dress or tie that you see on campus take the time to go home and research an indigenous person who has been killed, learn their story, learn about them, who they were.

I’m sorry, Tina and Colten. I’m sorry that you were given such a sour taste of this world. I’m sorry that your lives were disregarded as not being just as important as anyone else’s. I’m sorry that Canada is STILL having a hard time figuring out what to do with this epidemic. I’m sorry that the justice system didn’t fight harder for you; Creator knows how hard your loved ones wailed and fought for you.

Tina, I’m sorry that your father had the same reality as yours and I can only hope that you are among the stars together.

Mrs. Boushie, I’m sorry that the first thing the officer said to you after telling you about your son’s death was, “ma’am have you been drinking tonight?”.

Tina and Colten, these dresses and ties are for you.