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Rita Joe

Arts (1997)

Her words describe who we are. In a phrase, this sums up the life and work of Cape Breton’s Rita Joe. Others have called her the Poet Laureate of the Mi’kmaq people when asked to describe the powerful role this artist has played in Aboriginal life in Canada. To call her poetry thought provoking does not do it justice. Saying it expresses the pain and plight of Aboriginal experience simply is not enough. These descriptions leave out the hope, beauty and understanding of the world she depicts and represents. Ms. Joe was in her 30s and the mother of eight when she discovered her knack for writing. Disturbed by the Aboriginal stereotypes that filled the books her children read, she took up a pen. “I am the Indian, and the burden, lies yet with me,” she gently thundered. People listened. Since then, Aboriginal people across Canada have responded to her voice. Ms. Joe has struck a chord and the power of her written words has given all strength. Her books, The Poems of Rita Joe, Songs of Eskasoni: More Poems of Rita Joe, Inu and IndiansWe’re Called and Songs of Rita Joe: The Autobiography of a Mi’kmaq Poet, have met with resounding acclaim from both critical and general readers. She has been showcased on television and in radio documentaries. Her articles have filled both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal newspapers surrounding her Nova Scotia home. A member of the Order of Canada, Ms. Joe is one of the few non-politicians ever called to the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, entitling her to be called “Honourable” for the rest of her days. The Honourable Rita Joe is truly the best of who we are. She received a 1997 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for the beauty of her words.