Searching for identity

Author Lisa Bird-Wilson speaks to students at Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Prince Albert campus on Monday, Mar. 4 as part of the One Book One Province tour. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Who am I? Where did I come from? Where do I belong?

Those were the questions Lisa Bird-Wilson was asking herself when she started writing her first collection of short stories. Years later, that collection has won plaudits, awards and recognition across Saskatchewan, but Bird-Wilson hasn’t stopped exploring the theme of identity.

“I really wrote this book out of an intense and deep, deep desire to know who I was,” she remembered during a stop at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Prince Albert Campus on Monday. “As an adopted Indigenous person, this was really important to me, and I think it’s a very primal need. It’s a human need for all people to ask those questions.”

In March, Bird-Wilson will have plenty of company as she continues to ponder those questions. Her short story collection, titled ‘Just Pretending’ was recently selected by the Saskatchewan Library Association for the annual One Book, One Province tour.

Bird-Wilson hopes it will get people thinking about their identity, regardless of who they are or what their background is.

“Identity, it isn’t just an Indigenous question,” said Bird-Wilson, who has both Cree and Métis heritage. “Someone who’s adopted Indigenous, like myself, we aren’t the only people asking that question. It’s a human question. It’s a broader question.”

A lot has changed since ‘Just Pretending’ came out in 2013. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released their findings and recommendations in 2015, and earlier this year the Saskatchewan government officially apologized for the ’60s Scoop.

Bird-Wilson said those acts have helped bring recognition and understanding to sensitive issues a cultural loss that hasn’t been given the attention they deserved, while. It’s also helped her see her own work in a new light.

“I think things have changed in terms of awareness, and even in terms of my ability to articulate more clearly what I think is at the heart of this book,” she explained. “That’s taken me time to figure out, because I literally just wrote these stories. I wrote them one at a time, without really having an audience in mind, but I wrote stories that I knew I would liked to have read.”

‘Just Pretending’ deals with some intense topics and discussions, but Bird-Wilson says it’s still exciting to be on tour. Being recognized by One Book, One Province is an honour, she says, especially considering her book came out several years ago. When the SLA gave her the opportunity to reignite the discussion, she couldn’t say no.

“It’s pretty hard to pass up the idea that your book is going to be ‘the’ book that’s (being) promoted all across the province for a full month, and everyone’s reading it,” she chuckled. “It’s pretty exciting to be a part of.”

One Book One Province is an annual campaign organized by the Saskatchewan Library Association that aims to increase literacy and create a reading culture in Saskatchewan. Prince Albert was the first stop on the 2019 provincial tour. Bird-Wilson will also give public readings in Rosetown, Saskatoon, Swift Current and Moose Jaw. ‘Just Pretending’ can be found in Saskatchewan libraries and book stores.