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, October 14, 2010

"Theatre that heals wounded communities"

From Beverley Haun, "Native Textuality" book review, published in Canadian Literature:

Taking Back Our Spirits, by Jo-Ann Episkenew, focuses on horrific past colonial traumas experienced by Native Canadians and current healing through personal and communal narratives. It begins with an accounting of historic government policies and practices, with a specific focus on the prairies, that displaced and marginalized First Nations. Episkenew then demonstrates how these physical exclusionary policies are also reflected in Indigenous peoples’ exclusion from the authorized story of the creation of the Canadian nation-state, resulting in a national collective myth that foregrounds and validates the story of settlers.

In the second part of her book, Episkenew considers the historic and continuing trauma experienced by First Nations as a result of these government policies, specifically removal from the land and residential schooling. She catalogues the repercussions down through time for parents forced to give up their children and children forced to live apart, being taught to discard their own languages and cultures as worthless. Into this bleak scenario, Episkenew introduces the hope of First Nations authors to use narrative, novels, autobiography, and community theatre as a healing anodyne for themselves and their own people. She explains how Indigenous life-writing helps Indigenous readers to heal from the trauma of colonization by recrafting their personal and collective myths.

... Episkenew makes the case for such texts to find a place in the Canadian school curriculum and a place for study in the academy, arguing that inclusion in curriculum has the potential to disrupt the Canadian settler myth for young Canadians and inclusion in the academy validates the importance of these texts as a vital part of the recalibrated collective voice of the country.

The final portion of Episkenew’s thesis is to demonstrate the importance of communal narrative participation—through theatrical production—performance, and attendance, to transform. This transformation is accomplished by addressing unresolved grief and trauma present in so many Native communities.

Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy and Healing

My comment: Jo-Ann Episkenew includes an extended discussion of Vera's play, "Strength of Indian Women," in chapter 5,  "Theatre that heals wounded communities." In her original text, she does not locate the grief and trauma solely in Native communities, as the reviewer implies, but as a reality contigent across boundaries and across Canada. An important element in Episkenew's work is reweaving that which Canadians are trained to consider quite separately, and thus, this book is Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 21st Gathering

My thanks to all the artists who came out to perform this evening.

Michelle Sylliboy
Alejandro & Ariadne

Janet Rogers
Wayne Lavallee

Arlene Bowman

Mark J McLeod

Thanks to Ariadne Sawyer & Alejandro Mujica-Olea for hosting and organizing this event, the World Poetry Lifetime Achievement Award honourees for attending, and to the Vancouver Public Library for making the space available for this evening.

Thank you to all who gathered to share poetry & song in Vera's honour.


Photos by Arlene Bowman & Mark J. McLeod.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

National Aboriginal Day: Tribute to Vera Manuel at VPL

Vancouver Public Library presents
World Poetry Reading Series

First Nations Celebration
Please join us as we celebrate the poetry of
First Nations peoples, featuring
a memorial tribute to
Vera Manuel
Secwepemc-Ktunaxa playwright, poet, storyteller
& healer.

Video Poem: • Su r v i v o r featuring poem by Vera Manuel
Video by Doreen Manuel, Soundscape by Sandy Scofield
Performances by diverse artists
Poetry, Music & Dance •

June 21
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Alma VanDusen
& Peter Kaye Rooms
Lower Level
Central Library
350 West Georgia St.

Admission is free
Seating is limited

For more information call 604-526-4729

World Poetry hosts:
Ariadne Sawyer and Alejandro Mujica-Olea

Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast

Photo by Chris Lock,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Healing Arts

"For years I used my poetry as a tool to help people to heal and never thought to publish it or to use it for any other purpose. As long as the words that came to me could help to open doors for others to get at their feelings and their own words that is all I cared about."

Vera Manuel, 2008

"VM: My people are very visual storytellers, and I come from that too. My father was a well known leader, and I used to see that when he'd tell stories. . . and my mother was a spiritual leader and I used to see that when she talked. And so my whole life I've been really working closely with my people, with the struggles that I see my people going through, generational grief things that people are struggling with. And I see that, when I started coming to it I see that they were silenced, you know, and there was no way to tell that story because the grief was so big, and a lot times they were so frozen, so numb, so I used to work closely, I still do work closely with people who are [...] survivors.

"So I use theater as a way to get them to be able to put words to their experience, and I ask them to develop, and start telling me, a little bit about their story. I ask them to show it to me. And so I started to get interested in that way, and I used to write it down like poetry, when somebody would tell a story, I'd get that image stuck in my head. I remember this one woman talking about how, when she was a little girl, she used to be so quick she would catch fish with her hands, and then something happened, she lost that. And so I get an image like that and I start working with it, and working with the person with that image.

"The first play that I wrote, "Song of the Circle," it was the first time I had actually written a play, and I didn't know anything about Act One or Act Two or anything about character [...], and I was asked to write this play for this youth conference, and I just started to write and all these characters came up from my experience. People that I knew of and some of my own experiences came in [...] And I saw how powerful it was for healing, for people to be able to see their experiences, and what a powerful tool it was. So I got excited about it, and that's how I started.

"I did that play for awhile, and it was shown at different places, but I felt like that wasn't enough. It seems like as I was evolving, the ideas would get bigger. The first play had to do with the place that I was, and I wanted to move further along that. And so the history of residential schools is something where there's lots of silence, and people have a really hard time talking about that history. And so I wanted to [...] a passion in my heart to write a play about residential school.

"And all of that came from stories my mom told me. Listening to her stories over the years, you know we'd go on trips and she'd just be talking and talking -- she'd be talking to keep me awake cause I was the one who was driving -- so she'd talk and talk and a lot of times she'd tell me the same story over and over, and I'd think, "doesn't she remember she told me that story back in [...]" And we'd be going along and she'd tell it to me again. And she told me so many stories, and sometimes she'd tell me really deep stories that I know was coming from someplace was inside her, that she'd been holding onto for a long time. And she'd tell me these stories and I decided I was going to write this play called "The Strength of Indian Women," and that's all I had was the title. But I was going to write this play about the strength of Indian women.

"And when I started to write, I don't think the idea of being a playwright or storyteller, that I had planned it that way, I always think about it that I was chosen to do that, because I had this gift to hear what this girl said. And so when I write "The Strength of Indian Women" a lot of those pieces, like Maria, it's a long piece, a long monologue, that's exactly what came out, and I heard the accent of the woman who was speaking, and I was writing and it was like she was talking as I was writing . . . then I'd get up to walk around and cry for awhile because that's what was happening [...] and then I'd go back to writing, and I wrote it all down, and then I never touched it again, I didn't change anything [...]

"And so that's how it is a lot of times when I'm ready to write, it comes out like that, and it's just such a sacred experience that I was really concerned about where my words are going to end up, what's going to happen to them because it was a sacred ceremony that brought them, and they are connected to ancestors, to the ancestors' stories. I always thought about it that way, and I always think that I could wake up tomorrow and quit writing. So every day I have to say thank you for it, for that gift, because when it comes out of me, it releases hundreds of years of oppression, coming off of me, and I think that that's a real gift, and that was such a big responsibility to care for the people.

"So I've been asked to do another play about residential school in Canada, that is this Aboriginal Community Foundation that's been set up, and the issue of residential school is front and center [...] and I've been asked to write another play about residential school that would take it into a bigger scope, not just women but the men's experiences, and families, and how it broke families. So that's already starting to come, and I'm really excited about that. But I don't know how long I'll be doing that. I write poetry too, I write lots of poetry, short stories sometimes. But I travel to a lot of really remote communities in the north and I work with Native people and black people, and I use this way a lot, it's a big part of what I do."

Vera Manuel, 1999

2008 quote, excerpt from Vera Manuel's poetic statement, published with a short biography and her poem, "The Catholic Church," in Rocksalt: An Anthology of BC Poets, Mother Tongue, 2008.

Two plays about residential schools by Larry Loyie & Vera Manuel, book cover image provided by Larry Loyie & Constance Brissenden of Living Traditions Writers Group, my thanks for permission to share. While the book was very successful, it is now out-of-print.

1999 excerpt, NAWPA Author's Roundtable, March 1999. "an informal discussion that took place in King Library at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio... participants included...: Rebecca Howard (RH); JudyLee Oliva (JLO); Diane Glancy (DG); Monique Mojica (MM); Shirley Huston-Findley (SHF); [Vera Manuel (VM);] Marcie Rendon (MR); Paul Jackson (PJ); LeAnne Howe (LAH); Victoria Kneubuhl (VK)."  Follow NAWPA links for full discussion.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Great Blue Heron

Walking the beach, thinking of Vera
Nicole Schabus shares these beautiful images of 
Great Blue Heron

English Bay
12 March 2010

My thanks to Nicole for her beautiful letter, and permission to share.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Strength of Indian Women: In the News & Among the Scholars

Storyteller Theatre travelled to many communities in the US and Canada, performing The Strength of Indian Women and sharing not only the stories woven into the play, but the need and desire for compassionate storytelling by survivors of traumatic oppression and cultural genocide.  The play was performed locally at the Women in View Festival, receiving very positive reviews.

If you click on the images above and below, you should be able to read two reviews, written by Catherine Whipple (source unknown), and Mary Pierpoint (Indian Country, read full review here).

Some of the books and essays in which Vera Manuel's plays and playwrighting are discussed include:
Click on any title above to find out more about these books and articles, and how to read more about the impact of Vera's plays.


Vera's play is published in full in this book:

Online article & discussion:

My thanks to Joyce Johnson, for providing the images of the reviews/news clippings.

Friday, March 26, 2010

World Poetry Cafe -El Mundo de la Poesia Radio Memorial

World Poetry Cafe - El Mundo de la Poesia
Time: 9 pm - 10 pm,  Tuesday, March 30th 2010

Vera Manuel Memorial
World Poetry Café Radio Show 
30 March 2010, 9 pm PST to listen.
CFRO 102.7 FM
Satellite: Star Choice 845
Listen on the internet:

 Together, we will create a universe of love
 Juntos creamos un universo de amor

Dear poets and participants,

Please join us for the radio show, World Poetry Cafe
and bring a poem by or to Vera.
We will talk about her life and read her poems.
Also, we will talk about the tribute to Vera at
Vancouver Public Library, on June 21st.

Compartiendo poesia, notas creativas, entrevistas, y mœsica.
Bienvenidos a ustedes el publico, los auditores, que son las
estrellas de la noche, que brillan e iluminan el firmamento.
Los poetas son los embajadores de sus paises, quienes leen
en dos lenguajes.  Sharing poetry, creative tips, interviews,
and music. We welcome you, the stars of the night, our public,
our radio listeners. The poets are the ambassadors of their
countries, who read in two languages.

Consult Creativa Ariadne Sawyer and
poet Alejandro Mujica Olea,
for more information, and to take part.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Vera first set foot on a stage...

Vera first set foot on a stage when she joined the Chilliwack Players Guild in 1965. She was 17 and she was bitten.  She was a member of the Junior Guild and even when she wasn’t actively involved in a production, there was always something about being in that space that drew her back -  to pitch in wherever she was needed, watch as a play came together in rehearsal or just hang out amongst so much talent. She loved to feel the suspense of waiting for the show to begin and then feel the power and pleasure of reaching out to an audience, and absorb that creative energy that surely only theatre people bleed out of their pores. 

She loved every minute. The Guild was a family and she was home.  There was friendship, there was mentorship and there was the seed of what she would become: a storyteller with her own production company, a writer, an acclaimed poet, a playwright and a healer. She used her gifts, honed through her theatre experiences with the Guild, to spend over 20 years touring North America with her own special theatrical brand of counseling.  She used drama and poetry to help those silenced by trauma to recover their voices, to tell their stories, and to return any “secrets” they had gathered into the common pool of shared knowledge and memory, so that the burdens of history could be shared by the community and the individual’s heart lighter and more free.  She touched so many with her humbleness, her joy of life, her love for her family and friends, and her spiritual clarity: her wisdom was there whenever it was needed.  
She will be missed but Vera (Kulilu Palki – Butterfly Woman) Manuel will be held in the hearts of so many for so long.   

Joyce Johnson and Joanne Arnott, posted with permission of authors
Newsclipping images provided by Joyce Johnson

Monday, February 8, 2010

Where Poetry Comes From

Poetry became my way of telling a story about subjects too painful to talk about within my family, community, tribal groups and nation. Poetry gave me license to say out loud everything that others were afraid to tell. An elder told me once that "poetry is a gentle way of talking about painful things."

For years I used my poetry as a tool to help people to heal and never thought to publish it or to use it for any other purpose. As long as the words that came to me could help to open doors for others to get at their feelings and their own words that is all I cared about.

Both my parents and most people of their generation were residential school survivors. My father also spent a significant portion of his adolescence in a TB hospital. When I was a child no one talked about the past, but I grew up in a home full of silence, shame, violence, incest and rage. The way I survived was to keep silent like everyone else, but I always wrote poetry. When I look back on it now I realize I was not as silent as I thought, between the lines the stories are all there. Poetry helped me to find the words to tell,to connect and to resist my tendency to isolate. In the telling I have gained many allies. Poetry is a powerful source of healing.

My father was an orator who could hold the attention of huge groups of people with his passion and commitment to the land. My mother was a storyteller who passed on knowledge about the Kootenai culture and land. Their gift was their ability to speak from the heart where poetry comes from.

--Vera Manuel

Photo by Mona Fertig, Rocksalt launch in Vancouver
Poetics statement published in
Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry Edited by Mona Fertig and Harold Rhenish Mother Tongue Publishing 2008

My thanks to Mona Fertig for permission to post photo and excerpt.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In Loving Memory of Butterfly Woman

In Loving Memory of Butterfly Woman
Kulilu Palki – Vera Manuel

Remembering Vera

Thursday, February 11, 2010
7-10 PM

Simon Baker Room
Aboriginal Friendship Room
1607 E. Hastings St.
Vancouver, BC
V5L 1S7

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Ah, the secrets are being swept ashore again
In great crashing waves they come
Pressing down upon me
Insinuating themselves
Into every corner of my being.
My body betrays me,
Remembering all those shameful places
Where my mind refuses to go.

I want to die, to drown in it
To be carried away
To a place where nobody
Knows my name
But that cruel ocean won’t claim me
Instead she spits me out naked
Gasping on shore
Gasping for breath
Gasping for life.

I know I cannot hide behind those secrets anymore
I can’t bear this life of loneliness
The isolation that separates me
Because I think I am different
And all those shameful secrets
Are all my doing
I’m ashamed to live
While they, dead or dying,
Carry the horrible secret to their grave
Trusting I will do the same
I am, after all, the dutiful daughter,
The loyal niece,
keeper of the secrets,
the family pride.

I know I must tell them or perish
If I don’t tell them I shall die
But I’d rather cut out my tongue.

A woman without a tongue has no safe place in this world
She is expected to be silent
Devoid of emotion
Kneeling at the feet of men
A woman who knows her place
Is following behind
Lying beneath
Legs spread
Mouth opened
Ready to receive
That insidious embrace
That tongue down the throat
Without protest
Feigning pleasure
Not grief.

No one can crawl inside the heart of a woman without a tongue
A woman without a tongue has to pretend she has no heart.

What I know about life, about love, I could crush you with it.
(I know too much about life
And too little about love)
I have loved people without them ever knowing it
I have loved them from a distant place
On the periphery of their lives
Where I’ve always placed myself
A safe distance away
So I am not a burden
And love can’t get to me
Past that wall of secrets
That surrounds me
I have loved you.

Copyright Vera Manuel

My thanks to Doreen Manuel for permission to share this work.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

World Poetry Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, our beloved Secwepemc-Ktunaxa writer Vera Manuel

Dear World Poetry Members and supporters,

Our beloved World Poetry Lifetime Achievement Award Winner and committee member passed away last Thursday.

We will miss her so much. She had a way of giving hope even in the darkest moments.

We will be doing a radio memorial for her in March and a memorial for her in June when we celebrate First Nations at the VPL.

When I talked to her about our June 21st event: WP Celebrates First Nations, she said: “Don’t worry Ariadne, I will be there. It will be fine.”

I was worried about the date and how to bring everyone together that night.
She will be there that night.

Anyone who would like to participate in either event, let me know.

Creative blessings.
Ariadne and Alejandro
So sorry to hear the world has lost another poet....

How sad, Vera had such a life of pain -- these last years. I kept hoping that medical science would find an answer to her inflammation.
She was wonderful, and will be missed.
best, Bernice
Bernice Lever
I'm sorry to hear about the loss of a good friend and great cultural force, Ariadne.

I will keep you and the Manuel family in my thoughts,
Sorry to hear this..
all my best
Neil ( d.n. simmers)
Hi Ariadne,
I will like to participate in this. Thanks and please pay my condolences to her family.
Ariadne – I am sorry to hear of your loss. Bless you and yours
Lo siento Ariadne y Alejandro y el Mundo de la Poesia., una estrella mas que parte a bello cielo azul y un lugar vacio en el Mundo de La poesía, asi es la vida del que ama la poesía deja este mundo, lleno de huellas y recuerdos que quedan plasmados en un papel, de los bellos momentos que no volveran.
Que en paz descanse.
Hi Ariadne:
Sorry to hear of this loss. I will be happy to participate if you think I should, however I have no first nations ties and am not sure if I need First Nation Ties.

please add my sincerest condolences to Vera Manuel's family. I can still hear her ringing words of betrayal waged against her people, their culture, their very identity.


Dear Ariadne, thank you for the update.

I am so, so sorry to hear about Vera Manuel. What a huge loss!!
Our love and prayers are with Vera's family in these difficult moments.

She will be missed by all the poets, writers and everyone whom she touched with her loving soul and creative heart.

May she rest in peace.
Lucia Gorea

submitted by Ariadne Sawyer


reminisce & farewell

Back in the middle nineties when I was finding my balance in the offerings of a local Aboriginal organization, Urban First Nations in New Westminster, Vera came by to do a seminar on using writing as healing. She spoke so powerfully and tremendously with her lightning-bolts-of-truth (in the form of poetry), I was much eased. I had a few books published, and a long time interest in writing and healing, but that didn’t stop me from being incorrigibly shy. I wondered if I should talk to her, let her know I was a writer, too, and that I loved her poetry, but the time passed and I said nothing.
Our paths crossed again a decade later, through the beautiful STRONG WORDS: A Celebration of Aboriginal Poets & Poetry gathering, Nov 2008, and the launch of ROCKSALT: An Anthology of BC Poets the same autumn. This time we became friends, and took on a few projects together. She introduced me to the World Poetry community of which she was a founding member, and her long-time friend Ariadne Sawyer, and we joined forces with other local indigenous writers, forming the Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast.
Vera always fills me with a feeling of joy, her poetry so centered and true, her personal beauty both shining and radiant.
Joanne Arnott

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Tribute to Vera Manuel

Vera Manuel passed away last week, leaving an important legacy as writer, poet, playwright, storyteller and as someone dedicated to using her cultural knowledge in the healing of Aboriginal people.

Her play, Strength of Indian Women was staged through-out North American and published as in the anthology Two Plays about Residential Schools (along with Larry Loyie). Her work was honoured with inclusion at the Native American Women Playwrights Program, housed at Maima University, in Oxford, Ohio. Her poetry has appeared in various publications, most recently in ROCKSALT: An Anthology of Contemporary B.C. Poetry.

She was given a Life-time Achievement Award by the World Poetry organization here in Vancouver and the Aboriginal Writer’s Collective will be arranging the publication of her work in the near future. She was most recently Poet-in-Resident with the Aboriginal Media Lab.

She was the daughter of cultural leader Marceline Paul and political leader George Manuel Sr. She is survived by her loving dog U’tspo and 4 loving brothers; Arthur, Richard, George Jr., and Ara; her 4 loving sisters; Emaline, Doreen, Martha and Ida; and her numerous loving nieces and nephews. Predeceased by her Mother, Marceline Paul, Father, George Manuel Sr, and Brother Robert (Bobby) Manuel.

Family statement published in The Georgia Straight.

If you would like to submit stories, poetry, images in celebration of Vera's life and work, these will be gladly accepted for posting on this site at this address