Indigenous arts award helps Edmonton author put rubber to the road

Indigenous arts award helps Edmonton author put rubber to the road

Making a living as an author and stay-at-home dad is a constant hustle for Richard Van Camp. So he's using the money from an Indigenous art award to make family life a bit easier.

"It means that we get to upgrade our vehicle," Van Camp said. "I've got something like a 1989 Protegé."

The Edmonton writer is one of 150 Indigenous artists across Canada getting a share of $1.5 million in cash awards from the Hnatyshyn Foundation.

The chosen artists are getting $10,000 each, which Van Camp sees as the ideal amount to get himself a newer ride.

"Our son is two years and ten months. You drive around Edmonton, he can't see anything in the back seat and his feet are touching the back of my arm," he said.

A best-selling author who has already published 20 books, Van Camp works his magic as a storyteller while balancing life as a parent.

He's up and out of bed every day just after 4 a.m. so he can write in peace before his son wakes up at 6:30 a.m.

"I think having children doesn't make you a better writer, it makes you a more efficient writer," he said, adding the deadline of his little boy waking up every day is extra motivation to create something special.

"I've always been a morning writer. That's when the world is quiet," he said.

A proud Tlicho Dene from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, Van Camp, 45, is loving life in Edmonton, which has been his home for the last six years.

In addition to the 20 books he's already written, he has eight more on the way and still takes bookings as a guest speaker to help pay the bills.

"You can make a living as an author, you just have to hustle," he said. 

The cash award he's receiving brings a bit more security to his life. It also gives him the ability to travel up north as a family to spend more time with his Elders learning stories, researching for new books and celebrating time with family, which he says is essential to his well-being. 

Redemption, forgiveness and healing

The award is part of a one-time program from the Hnatyshyn Foundation, an Ottawa-based charity named for former governor general Ray Hnatyshyn.

The foundation was set up to support emerging artists.

"We wanted to honour Indigenous artists across the country with a specific award," said Victoria Henry, chair of the foundation's board.

Of 420 artists who applied for the money, the final 150 were chosen by a panel of Indigenous peers.

Twenty-six of the 2017 recipients are based in the Prairies. The artists range from those in music, theatre, dance, literature, drama and fine arts.

Henry chuckled upon hearing Van Camp is using his prize money to buy a vehicle, but said the money has no strings attached and is for anything that benefits the artists.

"What we were really hoping is the people would find a very special use for that $10,000 and help them continue their work into the future," Henry said.

Van Camp's upcoming book about reconciliation, When We Play Our Drums They Sing, will be published in July.

Describing himself as blessed, Van Camp said he's going to stick to the three key themes he feels characterize him as a writer: "One is redemption, the other two are forgiveness and healing. And that's a pretty sweet way to live your life," he said.

Richard Van Camp was invited to receive his award at a special ceremony in Winnipeg on May 22.