SGI Quarterly (October 2011), an international Buddhist magazine. In “A Hidden History Revealed,” Larry Loyie’s residential school experience and efforts to make the hidden history of residential school well known are featured in a special edition on human rights education today.
Legacy magazine, Fall 2009. “Elder in Demand for Childhood Stories” by Dianne Meili, www.legacymagazine.ab.ca. Heritage to a New Generation article — a four-page article with photos of Larry in 2009 and also in residential school. Excellent background on Larry, his goals as a writer and First Nations person, and on his children’s books for all ages.
My Writing History – Larry Loyie UPDATED MAY 25, 2012
My 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 9 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).
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.
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.
As Long as the Rivers Flow won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction as well as First Nation Communities Read Honour Book (2006). It celebrates its 10th year in print in 2012, and continues to be an inspiring introduction to the story of residential school. I wrote the sequel, Goodbye Buffalo Bay (Theytus) in 2008. It answers the questions thousands of students have asked: what happened to Lawrence in residential school and after? See more below.
In January 2012, the French version of As Long as the Rivers Flow, entitled Tant Que Couleront Les Rivieres was published by Editions des Plaines in Manitoba. This is a much-needed, perfect gem of a book, with illustrations by Heather D. Holmlund. I thank the publishers deeply for this honour.
Heather D. Holmlund’s sensitive acrylic paintings appear in The Gathering Tree (Theytus Books, 2005) by Larry Loyie, 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. A bestseller and still in print, The Gathering Tree was written with the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Chee Mamuk Aboriginal health program. It was one of only 13 literary works chosen for presentation at the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto. It is “grandparent friendly” and includes 15 basic questions and answers by Melanie Rivers of Chee Mamuk. For grades 5 and up.
Another children’s book, When the Spirits Dance was published by Theytus Books (Fall 2006). It is the story of a First Nations family (my family) and how it was affected by the Second World War. As with As Long as the Rivers Flow, it is based on my childhood experience. When the Spirits Dance is an excellent introduction to the subject of war, and its impact on families left behind at home.
My first chapter book, Goodbye Buffalo Bay (Theytus), was published in 2008. I wrote about my last year at residential school, and moving on at 13 years of age as a youth worker. This book has now (2012) been reprinted many times and is a popular choice for novel study from grades 6 and up. My goal was to write truthfully, with drama, insight and humour about these tumultuous years. The overall effect is hopeful, the ending suggestive of a positive future.
For those of you who have read or seen my play Ora Pro Nobis, Pray for Us, you will recognize several scenes from the play which I added to Goodbye Buffalo Bay. My play was published in Two Plays About Residential School, along with the moving play The Strength of Indian Women by Vera Manuel. My dear friend and colleague Vera Manuel passed away in 2010. Just as mine reflects the boys’ reality, Vera’s reflects the girls’ reality and the aftermath effect on those who followed the survivors in a family.
Two Plays About Residential School has been out of print for several years but will be available as an e-book by the fall of 2012.
As of Summer 2012, Constance Brissenden and I have six projects on the go, including The Moon Speaks Cree (Theytus, Fall 2012). The Moon Speaks Cree will include illustrations by Bill Cohen, an Okanagan First Nations artist from Vernon, BC. Chronologically, the book (68 pages) is the first in the Lawrence Series, followed by When the Spirits Dance, As Long as the Rivers Flow and Goodbye Buffalo Bay. In The Moon Speaks Cree, Lawrence and his sisters enjoy the adventures of a northern winter while living a traditional mid-1940s childhood. They learn the ways of survival from their parents and elders. As with my other books in the Lawrence Series, the pressures of change are felt. I’m proud of the story and look forward to sharing it with you, the readers.