TORONTO — An award-winning Indigenous poet and residential school survivor who has used poetry to confront Canada’s fraught history with Indigenous people has been selected as the next parliamentary poet laureate.
Louise Bernice Halfe, who is also known by her Cree name Sky Dancer, was appointed Canada’s ninth poet laureate, succeeding Nova Scotia’s Georgette LeBlanc.
Raised on the Saddle Lake Reserve in Alberta, Halfe attended Blue Quills Residential School as a child and went on to become a social worker.
“It is a privilege to bring the First Peoples’ voices and stories, poetry and whatever genre they are bringing to life to the forefront,” Halfe said in a statement.
Halfe’s poetry often dabbles in the political. In her 2016 collection “Burning in This Midnight Dream,” she revisited her six years in a residential school and included observations on the Truth and Reconciliation process.
Halfe has said she wrote the collection because she “wanted the truth to be told.”
“There is no reconciliation without truth. People need to know the personal, family, and community impact of residential schools. It went far beyond the government program. I wanted to tear away the masks of the ‘good intentions’ of the churches and government,” Halfe said in a 2017 interview with All Lit Up.
A lifelong poet, Halfe said her ultimate goal is to help poetry gain greater prominence in Canada.
“My dream is that poetry will be given the same stature as that of the novel,” she said.
Critics have celebrated Halfe’s work for the way she slips between Cree and English — an interplay referred to as code-switching. In an interview with The Malahat Review, Halfe said she thinks in Cree and turns to poetry to highlight the beauty of the language.
“Cree is a very poetic and picture rich language, that to me is also the decolonizing of the English language,” she said
Halfe has received numerous literary awards, has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and previously served as Saskatchewan’s second poet laureate. Her next work, titled “awâsis – kinky and disheveled,” will be released in the spring of 2021.
The role of the parliamentary poet laureate is to write poetry for parliamentarians or for special occasions, to hold poetry readings, and to help curate the Library of Parliament’s poetry collection.
The position, created in 2001, comes with a $20,000 stipend, $13,000 for travel expenses, and a budget for planning programming and translation services.
With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello in Ottawa
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