First Nations writers talk shop at Western

Mojica, Taylor and Moses share their work and experiences

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Monique Mojica lays belly-down on a table

Jonas Hrebeniuk

WHY DO THEY MAKE THESE DAMN BELLYFLOP INSTRUCTIONS SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND? Monique Mojica got into character at Conron Hall Tuesday when she and two other First Nations writers discussed their work.

“Theatre is a power that can be used as an intervention... we can use it to save our own lives,” said Monique Mojica, one of the First Nations writers speaking in Conron Hall Tuesday.

Mojica joined Drew Hayden Taylor and Daniel David Moses in a forum organized by the Department of English, where she discussed how her art reflects her experience as both a member of the Kuna and Rappahannock nations and as a child of the ’60s.

“The spaces, deities, sounds and smells from places I’ve never been are in me too,” said Mojica, who comes from four generations of performers. “It’s in my cells and DNA, and it comes out in my writing.”

This relationship to the past and to other First Nations is apparent in many of her characters, which carry human remains, bones and shoes.

Mojica performed a part from her play Pocahontas and the Blue Spots, which looks critically at the Pocahontas myth. She encouraged the audience to participate while singing “If I’m a savage don’t despise me ’cuz I’ll let you civilize me...”

She also discussed witnessing the massacre of her husband’s village and its influence on her writing. She said the event changed her forever.

“I’m trying to use theatre as a tool of transformation and healing on myself,” she said, adding much of her work concerns the “trajectory of victim to victory,” and how we get there.

While Mojica said different Nations experience a strong relatedness, she said the most common misconception about First Nations people is “that we’re all the same, or that one Indian is all Indians.”

Drew Hayden Taylor believes the biggest misconception is that all First Nations people are tragic, stoic or angry. In light of this, he dedicates much of his work to celebrating the First Nations sense of humour.

Taylor, an Ojibway from the Curve Lake First Nations, grew up surrounded by the tradition of storytelling. As the youngest of 14 children " “That’s what happens when you don’t have cable,” he joked " Taylor always heard different stories. Most nights, he fell asleep to the sound of his family’s laughter.

However, Taylor was perplexed that most First Nations literature is angry or dark.

“When an oppressed people get their voice back, they write about being oppressed,” he said. “But I wanted to celebrate the aboriginal sense of humour... I was once told that humour is the WD-40 of healing.”

Taylor read from and discussed much of his work, including In a World Created by a Drunken God, which was recently nominated for a Governor General’s Award, and Me Funny, a book examining using humour in a First Nations context.

The final speaker was Daniel David Moses, a poet, playwright, editor, essayist and Queen’s drama professor. Moses recalled being a part of theatre at Western, where his Governor General’s Award-nominated play Coyote City was once staged.

Moses’ inspiration for Coyote City was a random book about telephone calls “from beyond,” which he saw in an occult bookstore in Toronto. He read a part from the play that includes one such call.

“The land of the dead looks an awful lot like Toronto,” he said, laughing.

Moses also read some poetry, including “Marina,” and his essay “A Bridge Across Time,” which is about Ben Cardinal’s essay, “Generic Warrior and No Name Indians.”

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