A poetry album of aboriginal life in Saskatchewan

Tyler Clarke
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Creative writing instructor William Robertson is seen with a book collecting poetry from his aboriginal students from 2005 to 2013, titled Where I’m From: ITEP Creative Writing. 

Pride fills creative writing teacher William Robertson’s voice while he talks about his students.


This pride fueled the instructor’s drive to compile the poetry of 126 of his students between 2005 and 2013 into a book.

Titled Where I’m From, the 200-page collection presents an eclectic view of what it means to be an aboriginal person in Saskatchewan today.

In addition to the book’s key commonality -- that all of the writers are aboriginal -- are some semi-consistent overall themes to the poems’ tones.

“They were poems about displacement -- like, ‘why do I feel out of place in my own skin, community, land, language,’ and it all stems from marginalization,” Robertson summarized.

“And then there’s the commonality of life and love. People fall in love, people fall out of love -- pretty well anything you can hear on the radio hit parade.”

Accompanying these feelings of displacement is anger that rarely reaches bitterness.

At one of its angriest moments is a poem by 2006/07 student Dean Rabbitskin, who is now a Grade One teacher at Pelican Lake First Nation.

Asking a series of rhetorical questions, such as “Were you there when they poisoned us with your blankets?” the poem is a juxtaposition of settlers’ history with today’s eagerness to forget.

However, the book’s overall tone is one of humour -- “A wonderful, playful sense of humour that comes out in self-depreciation, that comes out in playful teasing, that comes out in pointing out the absurdities of life,” Robertson summarized.

At its most positive is a love of one’s heritage, perhaps best summarized in Marcy Whitefish’s poem Jingle Dress, which highlights the positive feeling she gets when participating in a traditional First Nations dance.

Tell me if this isn’t pretty darned good. Tell me if there isn’t a beautiful joy out of reading this book. William Robertson

“The sound of the music fills me with joy and a sense of peace,” she wrote. “I can feel Mother Earth move beneath the soles of my feet. My moccasins take control, my jingles move to the rhythm of Mother Earth’s heartbeat in the drum.”

Reflecting on his career in education, Robertson said that his creative writing students have consistently impressed him, whether they’re the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) students he teaches in Prince Albert on Mondays, or the ITEP students he teaches in Saskatoon for the balance of the week.

“I signed up to teach at SUNTEP and ITEP because I wanted a job, and I lucked out,” he said.

“I walked into a situation in both cases where the people and the program -- everything just fit with me, and I found a group of people that I really enjoyed working with.”

Getting Where I’m From published was an important project for Robertson, who said that is students’ words speak form themselves.

“I want people to see what I have been given a rare and wonderful privilege to see,” he said. “I know I’m sounding like a booster… but it’s true -- I do feel this way.

“Tell me if this isn’t pretty darned good. Tell me if there isn’t a beautiful joy out of reading this book.”

Where I’m From is available at the Gabriel Dumont Institute’s office at 1308 First Ave. E., in the third-floor SUNTEP department. Books are $21 a piece, cash only. 

Organizations: Pelican Lake First Nation, First Nations, Prince Albert Gabriel Dumont Institute

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

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