For the next three weeks I’m going to be travelling in Canada, as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Outriders project. They’re sending five Scottish writers on trips across the Americas, each linked with a local writer, to travel and write about what they see, hear, discuss. We were able to define our own projects, and as well as ongoing blogging and so on, there’ll be events about the project at this year’s August festival. It’s a dream project!
My journey will start in Montreal, travel west by train to Winnipeg, then north by plane to Churchill on the edge of Hudson’s Bay, before returning to Montreal to perform at the Metropolis Bleu literary festival. We might be sneaking in a visit to Edmonton right at the end, too. For the first half of the trip, I’m going to be travelling with the multi-talented writer Katherena Vermette. I came across her work listening to the CBC podcast Unreserved — she’s won major literary prizes and has been discussed a few times there. Both her poetry collection North End Love Songs and her novel The Break explore, lyrically, beautifully and unflinchingly, Métis life and experience in Winnipeg, women’s community and solidarity, living through trauma, and the richness of urban and rural landscapes. Read them!
As a writer in Scots and Orcadian, who’s been very engaged in the political situation in Scotland, there are two main ideas I want to carry with me as I travel. The first is minority and marginalised language, particularly indigenous language, in a Canadian context: what are the differences and connections between those cultural and political movements and the minority language movements in Scotland and Europe? How does that play out differently in a settler-colonial/decolonizing space from in a coloniser space? What learning and solidarities might there be, if any? The second is to look starkly at Scotland’s role — and particularly by home Orkney’s role — in settler-colonisation. At a time when Scotland is re-examining its political constitution and role in the world, particularly when it’s positioning itself as a beacon of liberality in an increasingly reactionary world, it seems to me critical that we confront and acknowledge our colonising past and present. I grew up with stories of Orkneymen sailing across the Atlantic to join the Hudson’s Bay Company, of John Rae being the true “discoverer” of the Northwest Passage, and I want to see what those stories look like from the other perspective, and try to bring some of them back with me.
Those are the ideas I’m planning to carry. But I know the trip’s going to be challenging and shaking, and I’ll find much more to put down, pick up and think about along the way. I’ll be writing occasionally here as I go, and you can follow along on Twitter and Facebook as well. And if you happen to be along my route and want to meet and talk, say hello!
30-2: Edmonton (TBC)