Louise Bernice Halfe is appointed Canada's ninth Parliamentary Poet Laureate

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Renowned writer Sky Dancer, otherwise known as Louise Bernice Halfe, is Canada’s ninth parliamentary poet laureate.

“It is a privilege to bring the First Peoples’ voices and stories, poetry and whatever genre they are bringing to life to the forefront,” Halfe said in a statement.

The role of the parliamentary poet laureate is to write poetry for parliamentarians or for special occasions, to hold poetry readings, and to help curate the Library of Parliament’s poetry collection.

The position, created in 2001, comes with a $20,000 stipend, $13,000 for travel expenses, and a budget for planning programming and translation services.

An award-winning writer, Halfe won the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize in 2017 where she was described as “an extraordinary storyteller, okihcihtâw-iskwew (a warrior woman): one whose voice emerges from profound solitude, and simultaneously opens to a vast polyphony of voices.”

“Halfe’s poems are highly attuned to speech, silence, and stillness; to breath, to incantation; creating a taut, resonant relationship between the page and the reader. She leaves no experience unturned: her own life, the violence experienced by Indigenous women, and the painful legacy of the residential school system,” said the Latner Writers’ Jury.

In 2017, the year she won the award, Halfe is quoted as saying, "I was told that Bear Bones & Feathers may be the only book I'd ever write - I saw this as a challenge to prove them wrong! It may have become a reality if I hadn't persevered and believed I had something important to say about aboriginal history.”

She has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and previously served as Saskatchewan’s second poet laureate.

Her poetry collections include Bear Bones & Feathers, Blue Marrow, The Crooked Good and Burning in this Midnight Dream. Her latest poetry collection, awâsis – kinky and disheveled, will be released in spring 2021.

Canada’s ninth parliamentary poet laureate is also a residential school survivor. Halfe attended Blue Quills Residential School – which is now a university – in central Alberta. This experience is felt and translated through Halfe’s work, such as in Burning in this Midnight dream where she revisited her six years in a residential school and included observations on the Truth and Reconciliation process.

“There is no reconciliation without truth. People need to know the personal, family, and community impact of residential schools. It went far beyond the government program. I wanted to tear away the masks of the ‘good intentions’ of the churches and government,” Halfe said

Halfe’s work has been celebrated for the way in which she utilizes “code-switching,” which is drifting between English and Cree. Halfe said she thinks in Cree and turns to poetry to highlight the beauty of the language.

“Cree is a very poetic and picture rich language, that to me is also the decolonizing of the English language,” she said

Louis Bernice Halfe marks the very first Indigenous person to receive the honour of becoming Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate.

Jacob Cardinal is an LJI reporter for Alberta Native News.

Jacob Cardinal , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News