Marie Wilson and Stephen Kakfwi set for book readings in Hay River

NorthWords Writers Festival is making a stop in Hay River this year, and the event will feature book readings from two extremely influential NWT residents: Marie Wilson and Stephen Kakfwi.

Wilson, a former CBC journalist and the lone non-Indigenous member Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), will be reading a passage from her forthcoming book North of Nowhere: Song of a Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner. Kakfwi, Wilson’s husband, was the ninth premier of the NWT, and is still the longest-serving cabinet member in the territory’s history. He’ll be reading a segment of his book, Stoneface: Memoir of a Defiant Dene, which came out last year.

Both readings are set for 7:00 pm on May 30, at the Hay River Centennial Library.

“I’ve attended the NorthWords Festival before as a participant, but never as an author,” Wilson said. “I’m very excited about that, and going to Hay River is great because I always love going to any of the communities and getting out beyond Yellowknife.”

“Marie and I have done some presentations together in the past, and it’s always worked out really well,” added Kakfwi. “I look forward to doing this little trip, together with her, presenting together as well.”

Wilson’s book is an account of her work on the TRC. She began writing the book as a means of “personal care,” and also to document her life for her children and grandchildren.

“I didn’t start off thinking I was writing a book,” she said. “One of the ways for me to kind of get whatever’s inside of me out has been through writing.

“Once the constant day-to-day demands of the commission was over, [I thought] how do I pause and really process what I’ve lived through and what I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard? I started writing that way, and I also wanted to leave a record for my family because this work took me on the road a lot. I was gone easily 80 per cent of the time, and my grandchildren in particular were very small at the time, and saw me coming and going, probably wondering where the heck was I going and why was it important. I really wanted there to be some records so that they would know that.”

She is “satisfied” with the final product, which will be available in June.

“It wasn’t always easy, the writing of it, but I’m glad I saw it through,” she said. “I’m glad that there will be another tool in the toolkit for informing people going forward.”

Kakfwi’s book recounts his experiences as a residential school survivor — experiences he hesitated to speak about during his time in public office.

“Years ago when I was still a minister in the government, I didn’t want to talk about my residential school experiences,” he said. “When it was published, it’s done. It’s your own words, your own experience, and so no one is ever going to duplicate that.

“Nobody will ever write a book like that.”

Much like his wife, he felt a lot of satisfaction when the project was finished.

“I would say it’s like writing a song and then hearing it over the radio for the very first time,” he said. “It kind of makes you want to jump up and holler and skip down the road and back. It’s an exhilarating kind of feeling.”

NorthWords 2024 runs from May 30 to June 2. This year marks the festival’s 19th annual edition. The bulk of the festival’s events will occur in Yellowknife, with a lineup of readings, panel discussions, writing workshops and more on the schedule.

Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, NWT News/North