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My Writing History - Larry Loyie

Larry LoyieMy vision is libraries full of books written by First Nations people. With my partner, writer Constance Brissenden, I encourage indigenous people to write their stories in a true fashion (not just to make it sound good, or to sell) through talks, readings and creative writing workshops.

I was born in Slave Lake in northwestern Alberta. I lived a traditional Cree First Nations life in my early years. After going to public school for three years, I was taken from my family at the age of 10 to St. Bernard's Mission (residential) school Grouard, Alberta. My time here inspired my play Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for Us) (published in 1998 by Living Traditions).

At 14, I left the school and went to work on farms and in logging camps. At 18, I joined the Canadian Forces, living in Europe before returning to work in northern British Columbia and Alberta. For more than 25 years, I did jobs including fishing, logging and native counselling.

Through it all, the longing for the traditional First Nations way of life I experienced as a child always stayed with me.

In the mid-1980s, I began reading again and pursued my dream of becoming a writer. I went back to school to learn grammar and typing. I took a free creative writing class in the downtown eastside and wrote short stories. I got involved with the literacy movement. In 1991, the year of literacy, I crossed British Columbia interviewing native teachers for two radio documentaries. I was co-editor of The Wind Cannot Read, an anthology of learners writing (published in 1992, Province of British Columbia).

This paperback book is available from Living Traditions Writers Group.  Please email us for information.

My first play, Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for Us), was based on my residential school years. It was staged in Vancouver and five federal B.C. prisons (1994), at Weesageechak Festival in Toronto (1995) and in Alberta (1998). I wrote two more plays, Fifty Years Credit, based on the media's view of First Nations people, performed at Carnegie Community Centre (1998); and No Way to Say Goodbye, a commission for the Aboriginal AIDS Conference in northern Alberta (1999). I've worked with Constance Brissenden as my director on all these projects.

Larry Loyie with actors at Weesageechak Theatre in Toronto

 

The Healing, a memoir for four voices, has been performed more than 30 times at learning centres, schools, pow wows, etc.

My first children’s book, As Long as the Rivers Flow (Groundwood Books), written with Constance Brissenden, is about a First Nations boy’s last summer spent with his family in the bush before being taken to residential school. The book includes beautiful watercolour illustrations by artist Heather D. Holmlund of Pickering, Ontario. Heather grew up in Fort Frances, Ontario, and has a true understanding of the lifestyle I write about. Heather’s sensitive acrylic paintings appear in The Gathering Tree (Theytus Books, 2005), to help tell the story of a family learning about HIV. Although the book has a First Nations setting, it reflects a universal issue, opening doors to discussion among people of all ages and backgrounds.

For the past 20 years, I've traveled NorthAmerica exploring First Nations traditions at first hand. My goal is to build on the knowledge of our traditional lifestyles through my writing. I have several more books in the works, including a children’s book on the history of residential schools in Canada. Another children’s book, When the Spirits Dance will be published by Theytus Books (Fall 2006). It is the story of a First Nations family affected by the Second World War. As with As Long as the Rivers Flow, it is based on my childhood experience.