Jules Koostachin at book launch at the Pow Wow Cafe in Toronto | Image credit: Mahiigan Koostachin
Jules Koostachin is one of those authors who started writing intuitively in an attempt to process pain and, coincidentally, created a medicine from which we can all benefit. It’s hard not to honour someone who has made themselves this vulnerable for the sake of truth saying.
From the father who abandoned her, to childhood sexual abuse, to inheriting the traumas of a residential school survivor, to spiritual colonization, to domestic violence, to a murdered spouse, to being a single mom, to cultural awakenings, to decolonial parenting, to healing through creativity, Koostachin shares with us personal, raw and heartfelt writings. Familiar yet unique, the reader takes away from these stories a grounded appreciation for how sharing can be empowering and, simultaneously, a process of finding deep meaning in one’s most horrific experiences.
Despite its gravity, Koostachin’s first book is not a difficult read but more of a detoxification, a shedding of skin that reveals the exquisite beauty of Mino-bimaadiziwin beneath.
MM: What was your writing process like for this book?
JK: I started writing at a young age to help make sense of the world around me. When I was 19 years old, I started reading Chrystos (Indigenous poet) and her poetry seemed to speak to me directly. So in turn, I started experimenting with my own writing, and that is how “Unearthing” was birthed. Back then I called it “Reclaiming Matriarchy” but since changed the title. After 27 years it is finally here – what an amazing feeling to be able to hold the book in my hands. In regards to my writing process, I try not to think of anyone reading it; it almost feels like a private moment like writing in a journal or something. I just write to write, then go back later and revise as I see fit.
MM: Has this book helped you heal and transform? How?
JK: After the Toronto launch in September , I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, like I let something go. It’s hard to explain but I just felt light… I felt like all those painful memories are now free from me. As a survivor myself, I have held so much inside – carried things without really knowing why. When I write, I let them go! I feel rejuvenated and I am excited about creating more work. I have a lot of stories to share!
MM: What was the hardest poem to write and why?
JK: Whenever I read “Nanan” I cry. The poem is about the last day I saw my Nanan (Kokoom) alive. She was barely alive, fading as each moment passed. I remember telling myself that she will live forever – I was in denial. My Nanan is my medicine pouch and I love her so much, so losing her was unbearable. When I saw her lying there I started wondering who I was without her. It may not make sense to people reading this, but I honestly did not know who I was without her in my life. She is such a huge part of my identity, I am who I am because of her. When I read that poem I feel like my heart is shattering again, like I am being pulled back into that moment of fear and confusion. Deep down I know she is with me in spirit, and she still visits me in my dreams, but I miss her being so much. Whenever I felt stressed or worried I would snuggle in her arms, and it would all wash away.
MM: Which is your fave poem and why?
JK: My favourite poem is KoKoom because it paints a picture of my childhood living with my Cree grandparents in Moosonee. They were so much fun, super religious and always nurturing. I had an amazing childhood with them, they taught me so much about how I should live my life. I feel honoured that they were in my life and that I was able to spend so much of my life with them by my side. They did love their radio bingo, so that poem reminds me of the good ol’ days.
MM: What key idea do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
JK: You know, I call it broken poetry because my spirit shines through what has been broken inside me… I feel like those of us who come from the essence of resilience have so much beauty and strength. We have the richness of story and we have lived experience. I want people to know that this was a difficult process, and this writing saved my life in a way – allowed me a place to write without judgment. I feel free when I write and I hope others are inspired to find ways of expressing their truth, either that be in music, poetry, film, visual art and so forth… we as Indigenous people have an abundance of story and we need to honour that!
Unearthing Secrets, Gathering Truths is published by Kegedonce Press
Jules Koostachin Bio
Owner of VisJuelles Productions Inc., Jules Koostachin is Cree from Attawapiskat. She is known as a storyteller and digital media maker, works to honour cultural protocols and build relationships within Indigenous community through her media arts practice. Her artistic endeavours are informed by her experience living with her Cree grandparents in northern Ontario. Jules’ poetry, storytelling, educational presentations and media work are designed to educate audiences on Indigenous realities.