Two Indigenous authors from Canada have received Governor General’s Literary Awards for 2021.
Inuk writer Norma Dunning from Alberta won the fiction category for her book Tainna: The Unseen Ones. In the illustrated category, David A. Robertson, a multi-talented Swampy Cree author who collaborated with illustrator Julie Flett, won for his book On the Trapline.
Dr. Norma Dunning is an Edmonton-based researcher at the University of Alberta. “Being awarded the GG is a validation of my writing, my art and my place inside of the Canadian literary scene,” Dunning shared with CBC Books. “I am an Inuk writer who does not write about the happily ever after because that has yet to occur for Inuit Canadians. When I wrote Tianna I was thinking about the many thousands of Inuit Canadians who live beyond tundra and the reactions that are issues to us daily and how very wrong it all is. I was also thinking of poverty and the very dark side of southern life which is rarely exposed.”
Tainna is collection of six short stories. The narratives depicts Inuit life in southern Canada. It makes readers think about subjects no one likes to think about, such as racism, poverty and colonialism. Characters experience alienation, isolation and loneliness but it also urges readers to think about their ancestors’ love, acceptance and beauty.
“Tainna is for everybody. She’s my third girl and she upsets people and hopefully she makes people have a good cry and then a big smile,” Dunning added.
Raised in Winnipeg, David A. Robertson discovered his parents kept his father’s Cree origin hidden from him to shield him from the challenges of growing up as an Indigenous person. He started talking with his parents and extended relatives to piece together his family heritage and reconcile his understanding of what it means to be Cree.
“I wanted to use Cree as a way to continue to work toward language revitalization, to have our language represented in mainstream literature,” Robertson continued. “The other thing was to display the beauty of the language to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers.”
On the Trapline is a picture book about a boy and his grandfather, Moshom, who go on a trip together to visit the elder’s northern trapline where he worked during his formative years. As they both embark on their journey, the child imagines what life was like two generations ago.
Julie Flett, Cree-Métis author and an illustrator from Toronto, collaborated with the author. ~Manal Amir