It’s definitely a time of change in UVic’s celebrated Department of Writing, due in large part to this year’s retirement of both award-winning novelist Bill Gaston and acclaimed playwright Joan MacLeod. But with change comes opportunity, as seen by the hiring of not one but two noted writers as incoming faculty members: new associate professor Gregory Scofield and new assistant professor Danielle Geller.
Scofield is a Red River Metis of Cree, Scottish and European descent whose ancestry can be traced to the fur trade and to Metis community of Kinosota, Manitoba. Geller is is a member of the Navajo Nation: born to the Tsi’naajinii, born for the bilagaana.
“Gregory and Danielle are transformational hires who will help the department build on nearly 50 years of literary excellence and lead the university into a future of new and diverse creative possibilities,” says department chair David Leach. “Both will expand the national reputation of our creative writing program and establish the University of Victoria as an international centre of excellence for Indigenous writing and writers.”
Meet Gregory Scofield
One of the most important poets and memoirists writing today, Scofield bridges several generations of Indigenous authors, with an extensive publishing history across multiple genres and years of mentoring and editing young writers—not to mention two new books coming out shortly: a re-release of his first memoir, Thunder Through My Veins (Doubeday Canada/Anchor Books) coming fall 2019, and his second memoir, Sitting with Charlotte: Stitching my History Bead by Bead (Doubleday Canada) due to be published in 2021.
“âcimowina. Stories. The power of stories. The spirit of stories. The bones of stories that need to be sung and invited to dance. I am so very excited to bring my stories and energy to the Writing department at the University of Victoria, to work with the students and the university community to Indigenize the creative writing curriculum,” says Scofield. “I am deeply honoured to be welcomed in the territories of the Lkwungen peoples, and to listen to their stories while sharing my own. âcimowina. Stories. There will be such a good feast.”
An award-winning poet with eight volumes published, Scofield has taught creative writing and First Nations and Metis literature at Brandon University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the Alberta University of the Arts. He has also served as writer-in residence at the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and Newfoundland’s Memorial University. He is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Writers’ Trust of Canada Latner Poetry Prize (2016); he is also a skilled bead-worker and creates in the medium of traditional Metis arts. He continues to assemble a collection of mid to late 19th century Cree-Metis artifacts, which are used as learning and teaching pieces.
“Gregory brings academic leadership, versatility as a literary artist and innovative ways of learning and teaching to our department,” says Leach. “He will lead writing workshops and teach courses in Indigenous storytelling based on Cree traditions, and Indigenous women’s resistance writing through the practice of Métis beadwork.”
Introducing Danielle Geller
Danielle Geller is a writer of memoir and personal essays; her debut memoir, Dog Flowers, is forthcoming from One World/Random House in 2020. She received her MFA in creative writing (nonfiction) at the University of Arizona, and is a recipient of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Awards. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Brevity, and Arizona Highways Magazine and has been anthologized in This Is the Place (Seal Press, 2017).
“I am delighted to be joining the talented community of writers, storytellers, and artists in UVic’s Writing Department,” says Geller. “I hope to enhance Indigenous perspectives and voices in the curriculum and pedagogy . . . [and] I am looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm and commitment to the craft of writing and art-making with the students.”
Geller writes and teaches across multiple genres with interests and expertise in contemporary forms such as slipstream fiction, Indigenous futurism and video games. Along with her MFA, she has an MS in Library and Information Science and experience as an archivist, which will deepen our students’ research skills and the Writing department’s connection to the many resources of UVic’s library.
“We can’t wait for Danielle to meet our students—and vice versa,” says Leach. “When Random House releases her debut memoir about rediscovering the diaspora of her Navajo family, the rest of the world will also discover one of the most exciting new voices in literary prose.”
Both positions will begin in July 2019.
A commitment to reconciliation
“UVic recognizes that colonization and associated attitudes, policies and institutions have significantly changed Indigenous peoples’ relationship with this land. And for many years those same things served to exclude Indigenous students from higher education. We’re committed to redressing those historical and continued barriers,” says university president Jamie Cassels.
“As part of our commitment to reconciliation we’re building better and meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities, developing new programs, and working to bring our university into better harmony with Indigenous cultures, beliefs and ways of being. Indigenous people and communities are an important part of building our university for the future.”
We acknowledge with respect the Lkwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territory the University of Victoria stands, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.
Carey Newman’s “Witness Blanket” installed at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (photo: Jessica Sigurdson, CMHR)
An unprecedented move
In an unprecedented move, written documents and an oral ceremony have been given equal weight in an agreement that vests legal rights with the artwork itself, as a living entity that honours the stories of the survivors.
Audain professor Carey Newman
“Rather than trying to decide our rights, we put the rights with the Blanket and the stories that were given to us by survivors,” says Newman (Ha-Yalth-Kin-Geme), a Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist and master carver from Sooke. “We were not negotiating against each other but collaborating together in the best interest of the Blanket itself. We didn’t want to treat it like a transfer of property because I don’t feel ownership of the Blanket, I feel responsibility towards it and I wanted to make sure the Museum felt this too.”
UVic professor Rebecca Johnson, associate director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, reviewed the agreement before it was finalized and called it “totally unique”.
“It has huge implications for me as a law professor because it models new and hopeful possibilities of seeing the law in its creative and expansive forms, not just as something that constrains and punishes,” she says. “It captures the heart of what’s possible when people work together to imagine new ways of drawing on law—both Indigenous and Canadian—to move us in a new direction.”
UVic’s Faculty of Law plans to incorporate the agreement into its curriculum, which will help students explore creative avenues for drawing Indigenous and Canadian legal orders together.
Now that the 12-metre-long, cedar-framed artwork—which was first presented publicly at UVic back in 2014—has been taken into the care and protection of the CMHR in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory, it will undergo restoration work after several years of traveling, including an extended exhibition at the CMHR in 2015-16. A new traveling version of the Witness Blanket has also been created, which will have its first showing at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery from May 4 to June 23.
Interacting with the installation. (Photo: Jessica Sigurdson/ CMHR)
CMHR president and CEO John Young said meaningful working relationships with Indigenous people create opportunities to learn, grow and share in new ways—which is also important to reconciliation. “Museums have sometimes assumed a unilateral authority to interpret Indigenous cultures and artifacts,” he says. “In collaborating with our Indigenous partners, we instead work to honour the perspectives, skills and experience they bring to the discussions.”
CMHR head of collections Heather Bidzinski researched positive examples from other cultural institutions but worked to create something entirely unique. “This agreement is based on understanding each others’ traditions in a mutually respectful way and recognizing that agreements are really about relationships—not about concepts of indemnity and ownership, which can be adversarial and confrontational,” she says
The new documentary film, Picking up the Pieces, about the making of the Witness Blanket—which debuted last fall at the Vancouver International Film Festival—was also shown at the CMHR as part of the announcement, followed by a conversation with Newman and film producer Cody Graham of Victoria-based Media One.
UVic’s Young said the Witness Blanket is a work of national significance that provides a tangible framework for conversations about the genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. “Its stories, its objects and what they represent help us better understand this issue in terms of human realities and consequences instead of being just an abstract concept. As a national museum devoted to human rights education, we are committed to playing a meaningful role in sharing this truth as we work towards reconciliation.”
UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth an
d Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.
April is definitely the month for exhibits in UVic’s Visual Arts department, thanks to a pair of annual exhibitions by graduating artists in both the BFA and MFA programs. While the MFA exhibit is now closed, the annual BFA exhibition is set to engage your senses with a remarkable display of work.
This year titled Scatter, the BFA exhibit will feature work by nearly 30 student artists and will completely fill the Visual Arts building. Work will range from painting, photography and sculpture to performance, digital media, installations and more.
Scatter starts with the always-popular opening night reception at 7pm on Thursday, April 18, before continuing 10am-6pm daily to April 27. (Note: the exhibition will be closed Easter Sunday/Monday.) Opening night will feature catered food and a cash bar open until 11pm.
This exhibit only happens once a year and is the artistic equivalent of a final concert or mainstage theatrical production. Don’t miss your chance to share in this celebration of student creativity, dedication and innovation!
April is definitely the month for exhibits in UVic’s Visual Arts department, thanks to a pair of annual exhibitions by graduating artists in both the BFA and MFA programs.
First up is the annual MFA exhibition, showcasing Victoria’s best emerging contemporary artists. This year titled It’s Only An Island If You Look At It From the Water, the exhibit run April 5-14 at downtown’s Victoria Arts Council (1800 Store Street).
It’s Only An Island offers a diverse and compelling range of painting, photography, installation and sculpture by graduate student artists Lauren Brinson, Kaitlyn Dunsmore, Angus Fergus, Levi Glass, Mona Hedayati, Dani Proteau and Claire Scherzinger.
The UVic Wind Symphony is joined by special guests for their season finale concert on March 29. Featuring solos by trumpet legend Jens Lindemann and School of Music trumpet professor Merrie Klazek, the evening finale—a concerto for wind symphony and jazz quartet—will star Music instructor Wendell Clanton on alto saxophone.
“Something Borrowed, Something Blue” offers an eclectic program featuring contemporary pieces that have borrowed from other composers or take their inspiration from jazz and Latin music.
UVic’s Wind Symphony (photo: Fiona Ngai)
With works by Shostakovich, Hindemith, Gershwin, Mackey and world premieres by UVic student Deborah Baynes and Esquimalt High School student Julian Glover—both commissioned by the UVic Wind Symphony—this concert presents some of the most innovative and exciting pieces written for the genre.
The UVic Wind Symphony, conducted by Steven Capaldo, is recognized as one of the leading wind ensembles in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, as the featured ensemble at the Okanagan Music Festival, the Wind Symphony performed concerts to over 800 students, parents and teachers. If you can’t make the concert, you can listen to it live here.
Trumpeter Jens Lindemann is hailed as one of the most celebrated soloists in his instrument’s history and is the first classical brass player ever to receive the Order of Canada. As an internationally recognized virtuoso and multiple Juno and Grammy nominee, he has performed in every major concert hall in the world and has an extensive discography in a multitude of styles ranging from solo and chamber to jazz and contemporary.
Trumpet legend Jens Lindemann
Lindemann is also the recipient of numerous international awards including the Prague Spring Festival, the Ellsworth Smith, ARD in Munich, was recently named “International Brass Personality of the Year” (Brass Herald), and is the only trumpeter to win the Grand Prize in the 60-year history of the Canadian Music Competition.
This Wind Symphony concert will present some of the most innovative and exciting wind ensemble pieces written for the genre. Don’t miss it!
The UVic Wind Symphony’s finale concert, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” starts at 8pm Friday, March 29 in The Farquhar at the University Centre. Tickets range from $5 to $20 and are available from the UVic Ticket Centre (250-721-8480) and at the door. Tickets are also complimentary for all UVic students!