Joseph Boyden: A unique talent and Canadian treasure

I had the pleasure of attending a West Vancouver Library fundraising event last week where Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden  was the headline speaker. Joseph has recently completed the third novel of a planned quintet entitled, The Orenda, which was preceeded by two others, Three Day Road, which I am currently reading, and Through Black Spruce which I enjoyed several years ago. All three novels deal with the Aboriginal experience in Canada with his latest, The Orenda, taking us back to the time of first contact in sixteenth century Quebec.

Joseph is an engaging speaker and kept the crowd laughing and clapping along as he introduced each of his three novels with a rousing chorus on his Blues Harmonica. He currently lives in New Orleans, where a little of the local culture has rubbed off on him. He sounded really good and I’d love to jam with him on my tenor sax sometime.

I would recommend these three novels to anyone wanting to gain insight into this historical subject matter. 



PSWG Desert Writers Expo

I am pleased to announce my participation in the 4th Annual Desert Writers Expo in Rancho Mirage, California on Wednesday, April 2, where I will be joining forty other writers who are also members of the Palm Springs Writers Guild ( We will be promoting and selling our current published works and are looking forward to a busy turnout tomorrow afternoon from 3:00-7:00 pm at the Ranch Mirage Public Library.

Admission is free and hard copy and e-books will be available for purchase. Come by and chat with the authors and possibly find a gem or two that catch your eye.


First Nations Education Act: Here we go again!

The proposed First Nations Education Act will allow Band Councils to operate schools directly and to purchase outside services from the government or the private sector with taxpayer’s money. However, the federal government reserves the right to set and enforce standards and take over if there are problems meeting the bar. Kind of makes sense if they’re paying the bills. First Nations leaders don’t agree.

AFN Chief Shawn Atleo has set down non-negotiable conditions: Native control of education; Statutory funding guarantee; Recognition of native languages and Meaningful engagement.

We have a problem Houston!!: Where in this world do you get “control” along with “guaranteed funding” without accepting to meet educational standards that other Canadians are expected to achieve?

We all agree with recognition of native languages but isn’t this really is a cultural issue that should be dealt with in the home and in the community?

Education is about preparing our youth for a future in a globalized economy, where skin color and ethnicity don’t matter. 



Who’s Telling the Truth?

I was speaking to a literary colleague the other day who suggested that the novel Blue Saltwater lacked balance since the antagonist, Brother Denny Boyle is portrayed as an extremely evil detestable man. My colleague is of the opinion that the story was too one sided, since the vast majority of teachers in aboriginal schools were altruistic, kind, loving individuals who really wanted to help these kids toward a better life. He is of the opinion that many of the claims of abuse are instigated by greedy lawyers who are not interested in anything but lining their own pockets. They convince former students that accusing teachers of abuse is a no brainer whether it be true or not, since the government or religious denomination will quickly pay out big money to make the issue go away. Even if the former students have a change of heart later on, they can never recant their testimony since they will then be charged with perjury.

Are we really supposed to believe that all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Testimony is a crock or at the least, highly exaggerated?

In the book, Father Joe Murphy and Brother Tremblay do portray this other side of things. However, the novel is not about picking sides. It is a work of fiction that explores how the individual lives of the characters were affected by a dysfunctional social engineering experiment into which they became embroiled.

Write on the Beach

Yesterday, I enjoyed a very stimulating time at the Federation of BC Writers annual conference out at Beecher Place on beautiful Crescent Beach. The four speakers who presented all did a sterling job and kept us on our toes throughout the morning and afternoon. David Blinkhorn  got me rethinking some of the scenes in my current project by engaging the reader’s senses of touch, taste, sound, smell and sight. Ben Nuttall-Smith presented on How to Get Published in his usual upbeat manner. Not bad for a guy who is turning eighty any day now.

Lois Peterson kept us chuckling with her infectious humor while engaging us with Ten Ways to Breathe Life Into the Germ of an Idea.  Great suggestions that I’ll use to give my work more depth.

Janie Chang, who has just published her first novel, Three Souls, finished up the day with a well organized and timely presentation on Building and Optimizing a Web Platform.

Kudos also go out to Loreena Lee and her staff from the Federation of BC Writers for organizing this 3rd annual event, aptly called Write on the Beach.







Where Did Most Sexual Abuse by Religious Clerics Occur?

With the run-up to the election of a new Pope, more allegations from sexual abuse victims along with new confessions by clerical sexual  abusers are coming to light on a daily basis. The latest was Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien who has admitted to sexual misconduct and has chosen not to attend the conclave to elect the next pope. The week before it was Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney from the United States who was relieved of his duties for protecting priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Damning and as shameful as these incidents are, they pale in scope to the colossal tragedy of the 10,000 innocent aboriginal children who were proven to have been sexually abused during the 150 dark years of the Canadian Indian Residential School System. To date approximately 1.2 billion dollars has been paid to these victims by the Canadian government as a reparation for what happened then and for what continues to still haunt many today.

Catholics Disillusioned and Sad: “Change is Good for the Soul, Donkey”

The latest revelations of sexual misconduct by two prominent American and  British Cardinals are just another part of the sad saga of rot and corruption that has been allowed to fester under flowing cassocks and smokey rituals for centuries. The sadness, disappointment and disillusionment felt by Catholics around the world is overwhelming, whether they are practising or not. When will the clergy get it? This 2000 year old institution, the so-called “Only True Church” is in big need of a shake-up. “Let us pray”, that the new Pope will find the strength, grace and courage to lift Catholicism out of the dark abyss into which it has fallen. Otherwise all bets are off. The very survival of an institution that was initially based upon love, compassion and respect for all human life and which has contributed in so many ways to what is best in Western civilisation, is at stake.

A good place to start would be a reconsideration of the proclamation that priests be male and celibate. Why must the best and brightest youth of the world who want to follow the word and deed of Jesus Christ be disqualified because they are of the female gender or do not want to relinquish their human need and right for loving life-long companionship and family.  Change, is the only way to survive and thrive. Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he rode that donkey through all those palm branches on Palm Sunday. Time to make a clean sweep.

Sensationalist Hunger Strike No Answer to Problems of Youth Unemployment

The latest sensationalist gambit being deployed by Chief Spence from the Attiswapiskat First Nation, does nothing to improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians in Canada. This is the chief who through her questionable council management policies allowed deplorable housing conditions to grow on her turf until Federal emergency shelters had to be shipped up to the isolated northern reserve in the middle of last winter. Really good planning, eh!

Rather than instituting training programs to employ the young people in her community to maintain and build their own housing on a sustainable basis, Chief Spence follows in the steps of Shaun Atleo and the Assembly of First Nations to agitate for more unaccountable political power rather than accomplishing anything of real use on the ground. I’d say, have a good meal, take a hot shower and get back to work. Show us what you can do to create positive change and a brighter future for your young people rather than grandstanding to hide your own shortcomings. Either that, or get out of the way so someone else can lead the way.

Book Signing Event Nov 17

Drop by and say hello at my upcoming event where I will be signing copies of Blue Saltwater and talking about the story and its characters. This will be held at Indigo Books, Park Royal South Shopping Centre in West Vancouver. You can catch me at the front of the store from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Saturday, November 17.

New Paradigm for First Nations Education

George M. Dawson Secondary School on Haida Gwaii has instituted a new educational program for First Nations Kids from kindergarten to Grade 4 which does away with grades and instead, groups students into reading, writing and math classes based on skill level. They are then tracked weekly, These programs are offered in conjunction with cultural activities under the assumption that promoting culturally responsive education will result in children feeling more valued and appreciated for who they are and more open to learning as they make the transition into the public school system in Grade 5.

Let’s hope they’re on the right track and that accurate, unbiased and transparent monitoring systems will be used to ensure that this becomes an evidence based program that leads to an increase in the number of First Nations Kids who graduate within 6 years of entering grade 8. At this time it stands at only 54% compared with 80% for all students in the public school system.

Good on Chief Matthews and his team of dedicated aboriginal teachers who are pushing the envelope for better educational outcomes. They deserve all the support that we can give them.