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The Aboriginal Arts and Stories Awards have been a platform for Indigenous youth to showcase their art and writing for the past eleven years. Since 2005 the awards have garnered over 2000 submissions with 530 just this year. This years presenters included Drew Hayden Taylor, Lee Maracle and Brian Maracle with a stellar performance by Digging Roots. Project Manager, Bronwyn Graves, would like to see the contest receive more entries in the future. “There’s so much artistic talent out there, we would love to see up to 1000 submissions next year.” Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine got to sit down with writing winner Shaelyn Johnston at the awards on June 9 2015.

MM: What was your inspiration in sharing your story?
SJ: My inspiration came from wanting to discover more about my Ojibwe culture and Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibway language) . I live in Vancouver and it’s hard to have a strong connection to my culture when all of my Ojibwe roots are in Ontario. Writing this story was a way for me to not only connect back to my family and my roots, but to honour both as well.

MM: Who do you look up to as an Indigenous artist and role model?
SJ: Of course the writers that I had the chance to meet at the ceremony. What an honour to be presented an award by Brian Maracle and Drew Hayden Taylor! In my courses I’ve enjoyed the works of Marie Clements, Marie Annharte Baker and Sherman Alexie, both as an author and screenwriter. I’ve also started following Wab Kinew’s work more and more lately and think he has some great things to say.

Drew Hayden Taylor presenting at the Aboriginal Arts and Stories Awards
Drew Hayden Taylor presenting at the Aboriginal Arts and Stories Awards

MM: What do you hope to accomplish after winning?
SJ: Winning the contest has been a bit of a confidence boost for me. I want to keep telling stories, so I’m hoping to not be so scared of putting my work out there. I’d really love to research my family’s history and Ojibwe culture to incorporate those into my storytelling. This is my final year at UBC in my fine arts degree in creative writing, once that is done I’m hoping to continue on to my master’s.

MM: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to enter the Aboriginal Arts and Stories Competition?
SJ: One of the things I mentioned in my acceptance speech is to not be afraid to wander into unknown territory. This can be applied to what you choose to tell in your story because it’s an opportunity to educate yourself. If this is your first competition, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It can take you to some amazing places and give you a great experience.

Attendees Taking Part in a Round Dance
Attendees Taking Part in a Round Dance

The 2015 Winners of The Aboriginal Arts and Stories Awards

Writing Ages 14-18
Sunshine O’Donovan
Merritt BC; Zoht Reserve, Lower Nicola Indian Band, Nlaka’pamux Nation

Writing Ages 19-29
Shaelyn Johnston
Burnaby BC; Saugeen FN

Arts Ages 14-18
Mary MacPherson
Thunder Bay ON; Couchiching First Nation

Arts Ages 19-29
“Nodinamaad” Isaac Narcisco Weber
Toronto ON; Henvy Inlet First Nation

Historica Canada present Aboriginal Arts & Stories, which features submissions from Canada’s most talented young artists and writers from Indigenous communities. The next submission deadline is March 31, 2016. They are the largest independent organization devoted to enhancing awareness of Canadian history and citizenship. Their best known project is the Heritage Minutes, which is a collection of more than 70 dramatized vignettes that recreate events of great importance, accomplishment and bravery in our country’s history.

Winner Shaelyn Johnson
Shaelyn Johnson

(Saugeen First Nation) Shaelyn Johnston is a half Ojibway, half Irish-Canadian writer born and raised in Vancouver, BC. She is about to enter the final year of her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in Creative Writing at the University British Columbia and plans to pursue a career writing for film and television.

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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