Singapore Writers Festival: A spotlight on indigenous voices from around the world

Journalist Waubgeshig Rice is among the Canadian authors coming for the Singapore Writers Festival.
Journalist Waubgeshig Rice is among the Canadian authors coming for the Singapore Writers Festival.PHOTO: REY MARTIN

SINGAPORE - Moon Of The Crusted Snow begins like many post-apocalyptic novels do - an unexplained blackout, a looming winter, a community on the edge.

What sets this 2018 novel by Canadian journalist Waubgeshig Rice apart, however, is that this apocalypse is told from the point of view of a remote northern community of the Anishinaabe, who are indigenous people of Canada.

"I was always a big fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature growing up," says Rice, who is originally from the Wasauksing First Nation.

"But I realised my people had already endured that. Their world had ended as a result of colonialism, having been displaced from their homeland and had their culture violently removed from them. Many indigenous nations could rightfully argue that this is a post-apocalyptic dystopia they are living in."

Rice, 40, is among the Canadian authors coming to the Singapore Writers Festival, where Canada is the country of focus and which will have a spotlight on indigenous voices from around the world.

The theme of the festival is A Language Of Our Own, which has a particular resonance for Rice. Under Canada's Indian Residential School system, well into the latter half of the 20th century, indigenous children were removed from their families and placed in residential schools, where they were forbidden from speaking their native languages.

By Rice's parents' generation, the stigma associated with speaking Anishinaabe languages was so great that Rice himself is not fluent, although he is trying to learn more and represent languages such as Ojibwe in his work. He has written another novel, Legacy (2014), and short story collection Midnight Sweatlodge (2011).

"As an indigenous person, there's a lot connected to language that we're able to reclaim and revive when we take control and command of our own stories," he says.

Moon Of The Crusted Snow joins a wave of indigenous dystopian literature, alongside the works of Native American writer Louise Erdrich, whose novel Future Home Of The Living God (2017) is about a young, pregnant Ojibwe woman on the run in a dystopia where mothers-to-be are rounded up by the state; and Canadian Métis writer Cherie Dimaline, whose young adult novel The Marrow Thieves (2017) is set in a future where indigenous people are hunted for their bone marrow to create a dreaming serum.

 
 

Rice, who is married with a three-year-old son, says: "I didn't notice much of a conversation in the post-apocalyptic books I read about building a community afterward.

"That's what indigenous people have done, they've picked up the pieces and made a community. I think key to that is going back to the land and seeing how it can help us survive."

He is keen to see at the festival how other indigenous people are expressing themselves in literature. "I look forward to bonding over that shared experience of surviving the brutality of colonialism and finding ways to speak our truths by writing books, teaching people and making connections."


BOOK IT/ TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION: WAUBGESHIG RICE

WHAT: Author conversation with Rice

WHERE: The Arts House, Living Room, 1 Old Parliament Lane

WHEN: Nov 3, 5.30pm

ADMISSION: Festival pass, $25 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

THE DEATH OF LANGUAGES

WHAT: A panel on endangered languages featuring Rice, French linguist Louis-Jean Calvet, Sarawak poet Kulleh Grasi and British author Caryl Lewis.

WHERE: Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium, 1 Empress Place

WHEN: Nov 3, 10.30am

ADMISSION: Festival pass

A SPOTLIGHT ON INDIGENOUS VOICES

WHAT: Indigenous performers and writers from around the world, including Borneo avant-garde music ensemble Nading Rhapsody, Australian Aboriginal poet Melanie Mununggurr-Williams and Canadian Metis performing artist Moe Clark, take the stage.

WHERE: The Arts House, Chamber, 1 Old Parliament Lane

WHEN: Nov 3, 8pm

ADMISSION: Festival pass

For more information, go to www.singaporewritersfestival.com