Robertson discusses stories and social change
David A. Robertson, author of many graphic novels, children’s books, and adult novels, will be speaking at the Spirit of the Land Conference on Oct. 27. A member of Norway House Cree Nation, Robertson educates and entertains through his writings about Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, reflecting their cultures and illuminating contemporary issues.
Robertson has won several awards, including the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer in 2015 and the Governor General Literary Award for When We Were Alone.
With a theme of “Stories For Generations”, the 7th Annual Spirit of the Land conference will explore how storytelling connects to the land, ecology and community. The Medium sat down with Roberston to discuss why he thinks stories are important, where he finds inspiration, and how his writing connects to the conference themes.
What are some of your favourite stories?
One of the stories that has always resonated with me is that of Fisher, and the Cree view on how the Big Dipper constellation came to be. It has inspired me so much that I’ve written about it a few times, and am also adapting the themes behind it into a book. It is a story of courage and resilience and sacrifice that I think resonates not only with me, but with anybody who hears it. I think it’s important, too, because these are stories that are sometimes overshadowed by the westernized view. I love the idea of youth, in particular, Indigenous youth, hearing stories like this, and seeing how much it influences them. Part of that is just hearing stories that they can see themselves reflected in.
How do you find inspiration for writing/storytelling?
I find inspiration from the youth. My own kids, of which I have five, and any other kid I meet. I look at what I think needs to be out there, in terms of story, and then I set about to write it, and do so in a way that I feel can reach and engage and inspire kids. I love to emulate the whole idea that we pass down knowledge through story, and so every time I write a book I think of that very seriously, of the responsibility of story and what it can do.
How do you think that storytelling can change communities? How does your writing reflect complex real-world ramifications?
I think social change almost always comes through stories, in one way or another. I have seen this in my work, and in the work of many storytellers. Whether these stories are presented in music, art, writing, dance…this is the way to reach people, to engage with people, to motivate them to take action, to pass down knowledge. For my part, all of my writing reflects real-world issues, even fiction stories. They always try to look at what happens when we arm ourselves with knowledge; what kind of difference can we make when we seek out and educate ourselves. I think there is no better tool to change our community, than through story.
How does your storytelling connect to land, ecology and/or people?
I think, really simply, stories are directly linked to our traditions and ways of knowing. They are how we used to learn. They are how we used to teach about ways of living, traditions, mythology, history. It’s just that now, our storytelling happens in different ways. It’s gone from an oral tradition to art and writing and music, but the essence remains.
How does your writing impact future generations in relation to how we interact with the world around us?
I just think that my writing helps to educate this generation so that they are prepared to educate the next, or even the current. And I think that’s how we are going to change things for the better. I think that’s how true reconciliation works.
Why are stories important to you?
For all of the above. Stories are how we live and breathe and love and inspire.