In the Blog
Letters Lived Contributor: Lee Maracle
Lee Maracle, of Salish and Cree ancestry, is a novelist, poet, instructor, and critic. A member of the Stó:lō Nation of British Columbia, Maracle is one of Canada’s most prolific First Nations writers who has been producing and performing work for more than three decades.
Maracle grew up in an impoverished North Vancouver neighbourhood where she felt a simultaneous distance from her own Aboriginal and Canadian culture, setting the stage for the elements she would explore in her writing. Maracle talks candidly about her tough upbringing in her contribution to Letters Lived: Radical reflections, revolutionary paths:
“You are so focused on the fact that white people don’t like you, and because you are surrounded and tormented by them, day in and day out, you can’t seem to sit and explore what you love. You have been in school now for eleven years, and the moments that were not spent being beaten by other children, who were validated by teachers, were spent being alone and lonely. You cannot admit it right now, but you want oneness with them, despite how they feel about you. You can’t possibly know that wanting oneness is both natural and cultural. The long hours spent at school away from those who love you have crippled your spirit just a little; they hunch your spine; they pain you physically and emotionally. That is sad, but they have not harmed your intellect.”
This alienation motivated Maracle to drop out of school and join the politically active Red Power movement, a grassroots organization led by the Indigenous community in the late 1960s and 1970s that fought for recognition of their grievances (police harrassment, racism, poverty) and right to equality. Red Power arose at the end of the 1960s in North America, a historical period marked by a series of post-war recessions. The Canadian government in particular became increasingly aggressive in its search for new sources of oil and gas, leading to head-on encounters with Indigenous communities.
Red Power successfully adopted organizational tactics of the the civil rights movement such as sit-ins that led to legal victories and strong media attention. Maracle travelled everywhere from California to Toronto, taking up odd jobs along the way before studying at Simon Fraser University. Maracle was greatly inspired by this active struggle for native rights and gender equality in her own writing, and remains one of the leading Aboriginal voices in Canada to speak out against racism, sexism, and oppression.
Maracle’s writing spans novels, poetry, short stories, and collaborative anthologies, blurring the line between the genres of fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and myth. She mixes European literary styles with Native forms of oral storytelling, addressing cultural rifts and problems of identity. Maracle’s main focus is Indigenous women in the context of feminism. In novels such as Ravensong, Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel, and Sojourner’s and Sundogs, Maracle features native female protagonists who are caught between their traditions and the invasive values of North American society. Her spiritual approach to writing is reflected in the connections she sees binding women and the environment: “Feminism begins with considering the earth our Mother. All violence against earth is violence against us.”
Maracle is currently the Aboriginal Writer-in-Residence for First Nations House, and an instructor and mentor in the Aboriginal Studies Dept. at the University of Toronto. She is a founding member of the En’owkin International School of Writing in Penticton BC, and Cultural Director of the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto.
You can follow Lee Maracle on Twitter here.