Canadian author Joseph Boyden speaks at the Red Deer College Welikoklad Event Centre Tuesday. The evening event was presented by the Friends of the Red Deer Public Library and the Red Deer Public Library. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Author Joseph Boyden focuses on what he does best

A Truth and Reconciliation honorary witness

Award-winning Canadian author Joseph Boyden says the controversy that has surrounded his ancestry and his writing was not enough to douse the ember that he has burning inside to write the stories he needs to tell.

But Boyden, who spoke to about 110 people in Red Deer on Tuesday, said he’s also getting much better at listening to others.

“The outside voices, continue please to say what you need and feel you have to say. But when I sit down to write, I need to do it. It’s not that I do it for any other reason than that ember in me that pops into fire,” said Boyden who talked about his life and writing at An Evening with Joseph Boyden, at Welikoklad Event Centre, in support of Friends of the Red Deer Library and Red Deer Public Library.

Boyden, best known for writing about aboriginal culture, has faced questions about his aboriginal ancestry.

In December a report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network disputed his heritage. He responded on Twitter saying that he had a mixed blood background of mostly Celtic, but also Nipmuc roots from Dartmouth, Mass. on his father’s side and Ojibwe from Nottawasaga Bay, Ont. on his mothers side.

Boyden has over 13 publications to his name that include novels, non-fiction books and more.

His first novel Three Day Road, about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian military during World War I, won the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize. It was inspired by Ojibwa Francis Pegahmagabow, a legendary First World War sniper.

Through Black Spruce, that follows the story of the son one of the characters in Three Day Road, won the 2008 ScotiaBank Giller Prize winner.

The Orenda was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.

His latest novel Wenjack, released in 2016, is about an Ojibwe boy runs away from a residential school. Inspired by the life of Chanie Wenjack, as was Gord Downie’s Secret Path project, Boyden said it was Wenjack’s sisters, on New Year’s Day who told him, “We know who you are. We love you. You know who you are. You just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s all going to be just fine.”

Boyden said that was what he needed to hear.

As an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Boyden said it was carefully explained to him that being a witness was for life and that each honorary witness was chosen for a specific reason, both indigenous and non-indigenous witnesses in which he falls somewhere “in the middle.”

“I said of course I will because this is something I understand. If we’re going to move forward as a county we’re going to have to come to some kind of figuring out of our past and how to move forward.”

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