A series in which Isabella is excited about everything that is happening at Growing Room 2019, so she sat down with some festival authors to hear about their work, and what events they are most excited to take part in. Learn more about the 2019 Growing Room festival by visiting our website, festival.roommagazine.com.
Emily Riddle is nehiyaw from the Alexander First Nation in Treaty 6. She is a researcher/writer/policy analyst. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Teen Vogue, Canadian Art, and others.
ROOM: Hello Emily, how are you? I’m so glad to be joining you in this space today. In getting to know you a bit more, I’d love to hear about your work with First Nations and Métis communities on developing diverse policies and governance projects. How has your background in political sciences then, influenced your writing in places such as the Globe and Mail, Teen Vogue?
ER: Hi Isabella! I am doing alright. I think everyone is my life is super busy and contending with the mental effects of being at the end of rainy Vancouver winter, but I am excited for a bunch of things coming up, including Growing Room. And summer in Vancouver is the best! This month I travelled a fair amount and I am excited to be in Vancouver for a few weeks to get some projects done.
In terms of governance and policy projects, I have worked for the last five years with various Indigenous communities across Canada on different initiatives including drafting policy, communications, etc. Right now I work in First Nations education policy for an organization that represents most of the First Nations in BC. I feel like my education (not owing this to the field of political science but the Indigenous mentors I have had) helped me have a solid background in the history of this country and my own history. I don’t think you have to go to university to be a successful writer but it was integral to my growth and way of thinking.
ROOM: So much of your writing comes from your personal experiences, where you speak to what it means to be nehiyaw iskwew (Plains Cree woman) in Vancouver. You’ve also written on treaty feminism, and your essay in the Globe and Mail is on how “Cutting Greyhound service in Western Canada puts Indigenous women at risk.” What is it like to write about such politicized topics across space, and how does writing become a way of building community as well?
ER: I do a lot of different types of writing and they all have different purposes. When I write about Treaty Feminism, I am trying to imagine a world that fits the intention of my ancestors. I don’t buy this “you are your ancestor’s wildest dreams” business that I see a lot on Native twitter but I think we (Treaty ndns) were provided with directions we can choose to take forward as we see fit. My writing isn’t separated from my identities whether I am writing a policy report or a personal essay, but it leaks out in different ways. I think it is my obligation to write to what I know and utilize my talents. My nehiyaw family is full of visual artists and hunters and since I only dabble in those, my words are what I have to use. Recently at the 2019 Indspire awards, my friend Billy-Ray Belcourt said something to the effect of “I realized that if I wanted a queer Indigenous world in literature, I had to help create it”. I don’t think you can ignore Indigenous writers in any field of writing in Canada now and you would be foolish if you did.
ROOM: Tell us about are some things that you are currently involved in. Personally, I’m most curious about your work with Indigenous and queer/trans/two-spirit youth.
ER: I unfortunately have not been able to do as much work with youth lately as I would like to! I think in terms of governance and art, Indigenous youth are often left out of the conversation despite having the best things to say. Now that I am in my late twenties, I am aging out of ‘youth’ and it becomes my responsibility to bring these perspectives forward. I am on the Board of Advisors for the Yellowhead Institute, which is the first First Nations-led policy think tank in Canada and we are currently planning the Oshkimaadziig Freedom School to bring together Indigenous youth leaders and intellectuals from around the country. I am really excited for that and to hear the perspectives of youth around the country!
ROOM: Talk us through your writing process. You write a lot of nonfiction, but I hear that you’ve written other forms as well?
ER: I wish I had a more regimented writing process, but having a full-time job and other responsibilities mean that a lot of the freelance or creative writing ends up in the margins of my day (weekend mornings in bed or late weeknights). Sometimes the writing comes easy and it seems like a necessity to get it out of me. Other times, I am purely driven by a deadline. This is controversial, but I don’t really believe in writer’s block! I can always write something, it’s just that sometimes it’s bad. I am almost purely non-fiction but my first published poem in coming out in the next issue of PRISM International. I hung out with so many poets that a poem oozed out of me, so we’ll see if any others emerge.
ROOM: Where do you turn to for inspiration? Are there titles of books that you find yourself returning to, time and time again? Other Indigenous writers? Give them a heartwarming shoutout!
ER: I have so many brilliant friends and they live all over, so I feel so blessed to be able to hang out with them in the form of books and articles! There is too many to list, but here are a few. Jessica Johns, one of the Growing Room Organizers just released a chapbook called How Not to Spill which has sat on my desk at work as a reminder of what’s important for the last few months. Lindsay Nixon released their memoir this winter and I am excited to talk to them about it in our Growing Room Panel. The kokum to my moshum Billy-Ray Belcourt is releasing his second book, NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field, on September 3, 2019. I just Arielle Twist’s debut poetry collection Disintegrate and Disassociate, which was amazing and felt like a nehiyaw femme home. Another Treaty 4 iskwew whose writing I love is Nickita Longman who writes amazing non-fiction and has a lot of work to foster Indigenous writing community in Saskatchewan. Brandi Bird has a chapbook coming out this spring called I am Still too Much. I am eagerly awaiting poetry books from jaye simpson and Samantha Nock but for now will devour everything personal essay and poetry tidbit they publish and perform. I’m super excited to meet Alicia Elliott because I have been following her work for a long time.
ROOM: We have you featuring in several events and readings, including “Indigenous Brilliance,” “Art and Academia,” and Journalism: A New Hope .” But tell me, what are some other events that you are most keen on attending?
ER: I’m a little scared of how much power is going to be in the room for Indigenous Brilliance, but also so proud to be part of the event. I am keen to check out as much as I can, but the Kinship Bonds and Behind Every Microphone, There is a Great Women panels come to mind.
ROOM: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me, Emily. I’m so excited to have you for Growing Room 2019!
ER: hiy hiy Isabella for all your work in reaching out to writers before the festival!
Isabella Wang’s debut poetry chapbook is forthcoming with Baseline press in 2019. At 18, she is the youngest two-time finalist and writer shortlisted for The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest. Her poetry and prose have appeared in over a dozen literary journals, and she holds a pushcart prize nomination in poetry. She studying English and World Literature at SFU, interning at Room Magazine, serving as the Youth Advocate for the BC Federation of Writers, and co-ordinating the bi-weekly Dead Poets Reading Series.