Indigenous author and poet Lee Maracle is known as a pioneering writer and teacher

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Lee Maracle, pictured at the First Nations House in Toronto in 2019, has died aged 71. She is remembered as “one of the matriarchs of indigenous literature”.Tijana Martin / The Globe and Mail

Legendary Indigenous storyteller Lee Maracle was a powerful writer – poet, novelist, essayist. She was also a fierce activist with an indomitable presence. If you spent time with Maracle – listening to him, talking to him, even just reading his words – you will never forget him: his laughter, his wit, his wisdom.

But perhaps Maracle’s greatest legacy will not only be in the words she wrote, but also in the writers she raised. Maracle has taught and mentored countless other people, including people who would attribute their success today at least in part to the help they received from her – and the doors she opened. She was “one of the matriarchs of Indigenous literature,” as one of its editors, British Columbia Indigenous publishing house Theytus Books, called it Thursday.

A member of the Stó: lō Nation, Maracle was born in Vancouver in 1950 and died Thursday. She was 71 years old.

She was prolific. His books include Bobbi Lee: Indian rebel; I am a woman: an Indigenous perspective on sociology and feminism; Ravensong and his 2014 novel Celia’s song, which she dedicated “to all those children who were taken out of our homes and who did not survive residential school.”

Maracle received many awards and honors during his life, including the Order of Canada. But perhaps the greatest recognition lies in the words that peers and admirers of the literary community spoke to Maracle on Thursday upon hearing of his death.

Katherena Vermette – Métis author, poet, filmmaker

“She is and always will be my mentor and I wouldn’t be where I am without her.

“Lee was our aunt. She watched over us and fought for us. Always. This woman stormed the stage to make herself heard. She insisted on her place and led us behind her whether we like it or not – no one said no to aunt.

“That we will miss her is an understatement; I don’t think any of us are influenced – if not directly mentored or directed – by Lee. “

Hazel Millar and Jay Millar – editors, Book * hug Press

Jay: “My first meeting with Lee was at a conference at Brock University. [in 2014] where she was the keynote speaker. She stormed in, as Lee often does, and stormed into the place. She took the stage and spoke for an hour and a half. It just blew me away.

“We had just started our essay series at Book * hug Press and I thought that was a really important voice. I knew who she was, but I had never heard her speak before, and hearing her was so powerful. So I emailed him and told him I would like to tell you about a book project. I met Lee at her office and she asked me, “What are you talking about? And I explained that she would have free rein to write whatever she wanted. And she put her finger to the side of his nose and said, ‘I have an idea.’ And it became My conversations with Canadians. “

Hazelnut : “[She] wrote this book entirely on her phone, as she wrote it mostly during flights. She stole a lot – she was invited to speak everywhere. It’s great, the legacy Lee leaves behind him… and his work will live on forever in his beautiful words.

Jesse Wente – Anishinaabe writer, author, broadcaster and president of the Canada Council for the Arts

Perhaps the most important thing she taught me was to be fiercely myself in the face of demands that I be someone else. She was a gift to many. She was my aunt. , as she was to many. I will miss her and will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to know her.

Margaret Atwood – author and poet

“She was strong. She was a source of inspiration for young Indigenous writers. I think she was a very generous person. She was a pioneer – and once one of those doors is opened then it is much more possible for other people to come through that door.

Shannon Webb-Campbell – Mixed Aboriginal (Mi’kmaq) author of the poetry collection I am a body of earth (with an introduction by Maracle, who also edited the book)

“She left us so much – she gave us a way forward. Lee has had a huge impact on my life – she has changed my entire writing career and the way I think about poetry and what is mine and what is not. His classes are something I brought to class, in my writing and in my relationships.

“When my book Who took my sister? was taken out of distribution, my editors wrote to tell me that Lee Maracle wanted to talk to you. And I thought I was really in trouble. Lee and I have had several phone calls. She guessed what my intentions were behind this collection. And she could read that I had no bad intentions, but I definitely should have consulted [people] before publishing the book.

“She explained how Bobbi Lee: Indian rebel was a book that was very complicated for her, and her family was very upset about it. She did not consult anyone and since then she always has.

“We have probably spoken on the phone three or four times. I sent him the manuscript. She said, ‘Just come over to my house.’ I sat on the porch for a morning until the end of the afternoon. We had coffee, berries and nuts. And we’ve been talking throughout the book, line by line. And she asked: what did I mean? What was this line used for?

“I just completely trusted Lee to help me unbox what I had done wrong. Not only had she taught me that I had violated Indigenous protocol, but also what poetry was mine and what was not mine.

“She made the poems a lot stronger. She made me a better poet, a better thinker, a better human being all around.

Theytus Books

“Lee Maracle was a fierce and proud Native woman who wrote from her heart. She was one of the founders of the En’owkin International School of Writing in Penticton, British Columbia. Lee was a gifted speaker who raised her voice on many issues close to her heart. Her tireless dedication to Indigenous rights and Indigenous literature was boundless – educating thousands of Canada’s dishonorable history and the attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples, through the workshops she led.

“Lee told a good thread and might inspire the reader to experience deeply the worlds she skillfully created with her mind, character and intelligence. Lee seamlessly infused the metaphysical and spiritual worlds into his work. His first novel Bobbie Lee: Indian rebel sparked a spark, as Lee was one of the first Indigenous women to be published. A pioneer for many authors to be courageous and to have the courage to also tell their stories, [through] mentorship from some of the best and brightest writers in Indigenous countries today. His influence on Indigenous literature is immeasurable.

These interviews and statements have been condensed and edited.

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