Aaron Paquette feels the current flourishing of native art and culture in Canada is no coincidence.
Aboriginal and Metis literature, visual arts and music are finding wide-ranging acceptance in mainstream society for, perhaps, the first time in this country’s history.
The Edmonton-based Métis painter, storyteller and author believes this is happening because it’s the creative peak of the first generation of indigenous artists who have not been wrenched from their families and culture.
“This is the first generation who can tell their stories — and that makes a difference.”
Paquette feels aboriginal “voices are growing stronger.” He intends to discuss reasons for this, as well as the writing process, when he addresses an audience at a 7 p.m. fundraiser on Wednesday for a proposed indigenous cultural centre. The benefit will be held at the Red Deer Public Schools district office.
His story for young adults, Lightfinder, was published by a small Ontario publisher, Kegedonce Press. Paquette believes his book, about a determined Cree girl, Aisling, who journeys into the forest with her Kokum (grandma) and aunty to search for her younger brother, was chosen for publication because it was written with readers in mind.
Young First Nations people aren’t interested in didactic tales about what it means to be aboriginal — they already know, he explained. Many students he spoke to asked him, why can’t there just be a book with characters they can relate to?
“I decided I would write one – one chapter a day,” recalled Paquette. After 45 days, he’d finished, “but then I threw it in a drawer because I didn’t have the confidence to send it out.”
Lightfinder, which won the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit literature in 2015, only found its way to a publisher on the insistence of Paquette’s friend, the late author Richard Wagamese. After reading it, Wagamese persuaded him to “stop wasting time” and submit it already.
Chapters about Aisling are interspersed with those about her younger brother, Eric. The author contrasted the difference between going through life with the support of community elders, and going it alone — or in Eric’s case, with a friend of dubious character.
There’s magic realism in the book, as Aisling discovers that some of the cultural tales she’d heard about are coming true around her.
Paquette, a father of four, admitted he turned to art during a “rough childhood.” His own dad had left the family when Paquette was four years old, after his father struggled to come to terms with being forcibly adopted out to a non-aboriginal American family when he was a child.
The author was raised by his Norwegian mother and Métis stepfather. But he later reconnected with his birth dad as an adult.
“The benefit is I got to have all these other (half-)siblings in my life that I didn’t know about.”
Tickets to the 7 p.m. fundraiser for the new Asooahum Crossing Cultural Centre, to be build on Riverside Drive, are $20 from the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre.