Vera Manuel devoted her life to encouraging others to free ourselves through the use of our personal voices. Telling the truth is disarming, speaking your truth is a generous and healing gift.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reconciliation Through Poetry

March 2014:
I have been participating in an unusual project, Reconciliation Through Poetry, which was conceived as a thank you gift in honour of Chief Robert Joseph. Five local poets received out-of-the-blue invitations to accept a commission, to write a poem to the theme of reconciliation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that each poet received the request with a great deal of emotion and sensitivity, and went through a reconciliation process unique to each person, where he or she is at in life as a person and as a poet, and then what this outrageous request was commanding of us. For some, there was an almost karmic ring to the invitation: for others, minds flipped through a list of "more political" poets, who might have been more appropriate to the task. In other words, all of us had to engage with the question, "Why me?" in order to arrive at the yes or no response required of the email.

No doubt for Chief Robert Joseph, "Why poetry?" might have flickered through his mind, when the idea was first raised in discussion, following perhaps the "Why me?" of accepting the award in all of it's affiliated aspects.

January 2015:
Vancouver's Year of Reconciliation has drawn to a close, and the call for nominations for a new Jack Blaney Award recipient ends next week. Reconciliation Through Poetry participants have received the framed excerpts of our poems that were on display at both the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver City Hall over the past year.

The full poems, with bios of poets and of Chief Robert Joseph-- the person whose exquisite contributions to collective dialogue and peacemaking we were called together to honour-- are all available online for those who wish to read more deeply into the project.

About Chief Robert Joseph

The Poems:

Among the many poems read, videos viewed, conversations held, and papers reviewed in preparation for writing the poem that I wrote in honour of Chief Bobby Joe, there is one academic paper that I particularly admired, that I would like to share here. For me it is important because it engages with the question, why Canadians don't care: it is a matter of functionality, the function of our collective way of doing things that sustains the malfunction of the collective. The way out is, as Vera Manuel well knew and as Chief Robert Joseph affirms, through speaking truth.

I don't feel finished with this project, or even with my own poem, but I do like the excerpt that has returned to me in the mail:

the wreck of the self-deceptive nation
struggling toward transformation, we are
coming into being

writing a new song of wholesome
on the stinking bones of our
undefended regret

heat of transformative anger shed
the colonial project unmasked, interrupted

Rita Joe: I lost my talk
Chief Robert Joseph:
 Am I a human being?

Looking forward to further evolutions of the reconciliation through poetry possibilities. 

Vera's poetry and her legacy work to the same ends: personal as well as collective healing through reconciliation of disparate stories into shared truths.

Three poems by Vera Manuel

Sunday, December 1, 2013

AWCWC Book Sale, Winter Words ~ 14 Dec 2013

In Salish Seas, writers are collected around two fires. 

The Men's Fire opens with the words of Chief William K’HHalserten Sepass (1841-1943). 

The Women's Fire opens with the words of Vera Manuel, Kulilu (1948-2010). 

Contributors include 13 contemporary visual artists and 27 writers.


AWCWC members will also bring our books, cds, dvds to sell, direct to the public. Some participating artists include Cease Wyss, Wil George, Sandy Scofield, Wanda John-Kehewin, Joanne Arnott, & more to be confirmed.

Location: 1571 W 6th Ave @ Fir St, Vancouver BC
One day only! Saturday December 14th 2013
12 noon to 9 pm

Friday, September 20, 2013

Three poems by Vera Manuel


Brown-skinned people are enslaved
To add colour to white people’s lives
To create bureaucracies to administer
Poverty, grief, delinquency, and struggle,
To give white people a worthwhile cause
To carry forward in the next century
All those Indigenous, Aboriginal, natives
Who dared survive life inside
The boxed-cage created by grief.

Brown-skinned peoples’ true history erased,
Title and rights set aside
To make way for
Vivid, romanticized, more appealing
Convenient tales of the noble savage
Who fought and lost valiantly
To the great white founding forefathers
Of this stolen land;
“Indians” as backdrops to the grand exploits
of explorers, discoverers, colony-builders
of a history that only just begun in 1492
on this ancient land of our ancestors.

Brown-skinned children stolen, stripped,
Torn-down, ripped apart, emptied out
Fashioned into colonizing tools of self-hatred,
Taught to be ashamed to be brown
By a brown-skinned colonial education
That ensured the belief that white is right,
That brown-skinned people
Belong at the end of the line
To ensure privilege
To colonizers, settlers,
And future generations
A sense of entitlement
in their colonized world.

Brown-skinned people’s sacred ceremonial
Beliefs, objects, medicines, rituals
Stolen, filtered, processed, packaged, sold,
Swallowed up by a New Age Movement
Of lost souls searching for something better
Than Christianity to believe in;
Waya waya waya ho,
Twist and shift its spirit to fit
Waya ho, waya ho, waya ho,
With explicit instructions of how to,
For a high price, even if you’re white,
Become a medicine man, pipe-carrier, shaman,
They adorn mantle places and makeshift alters
For white people to comment on and play with.

Brown-skinned peoples’ lives
Bound to its’ history and the earth,
Thrive on resisting the evils of genocide,
Become more resilient, determined,
Refuse to die,
Makes supreme life sacrifices
In prisons across the land,
Birth activist babies
Who in turn
Raise up their fists in recognition, to the sky,
In unity give the warriors’ cry,
There is no end to resistance
And that is the truth about colonization.


I am a product of colonization
In this land called Canada
I am the result of cultural oppression
By church and government
I am a survivor of forced assimilation
And genocide
I am First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous
Person of this land.

Yet, I do not speak the language
Of my ancestors
I know little about the customs and traditions
Of my people
I have never fasted up in the mountain
I have no song, nor dance
No Indian name to define me
And for most of my life
I could honestly say
I don’t know who I am.

When I look around my world
I see my people
In this land of riches
Confined to small spaces
Forced to fight every day to protect
Traditional territory
Living lives of poverty
Similar to third worlds
I find my rage stirring inside me
I feel robbed
A sense of injustice.

When I look around my world
I see the hearts and backs of my people
Breaking beneath burdens
Of unresolved grief
Nightmarish memories
Of childhood trauma
Residential school, foster
And adoptive homes, TB sanatoriums
Physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual
Abuse and shame
I feel the rage stirring inside me.
When I allow my ears to listen
To voices of other people of this land
Who have no mercy
No love, no compassion, no understanding
Of its’ unjust history
Who come for freedom, opportunity,
Adventure, riches,
I feel my rage stirring inside me,
Who stand on the graves of my ancestors
And carelessly say:
“why can’t those Indians get it together?
They live off our tax money you know.”
I feel my rage stirring inside me
Camouflage for powerlessness and shame
Anaesthesia for grief
A sense of injustice.

I feel unsafe in the white world
To speak my views out loud
Or to share my culture
Uneasy, mistrustful,
Afraid those white people
Will steal the very words I speak, steal the
The sacred circle, sacred stories, songs and dances,
Wear our names
Copy our art and sell it
I get nervous when they write things down
So I tell them straight
“you can’t write it down.”
I fight hard inside myself
To see the human beings that they are.

I am a product of colonization
The result of cultural oppression
A survivor of genocide
I carry the burden
Of all the unresolved grief
Of my ancestors
In my heart, on my shoulders, in my gut.

In this lifetime
I have committed myself
To fight for Justice.
My brother tells me
It is injustice that is our enemy, not white people,
remember we are fighting on the same side as
Geronimo, Mandela, Ghandi and King.”
We take responsibility for our rage
We fight on the same side
For justice.

When I See Injustice

When I see injustice
In this world
When I see child abuse
Women violated
A fire rages inside
That wants to burn free
That wants a voice
Loud and

Aches to break through fear
Break through every fist
Every cruel word, vile look,
Every panting evil sin
That crawled inside my soul
To silence me

© Vera Manuel
Selected by Emalene Manuel &
shared with permission