June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, we will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.
June 25: Today, we celebrate Waubgeshig Rice
Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation on Georgian Bay in Ontario. He now calls Sudbury home with his wife and two sons.
Rice says his love for storytelling started when he was a child.
“My passion for storytelling came from the elders and family members in my community who were reconnecting with Anishinaabe culture when I was a kid. Back in the 1980s there were significant initiatives in Wasauksing to bring back ceremonies and celebrations that had long been forbidden. I was very fortunate to be raised at that time, and it was the stories that really made me interested in my Anishinaabe heritage.”
Rice says the most important thing his family has taught him is to be humble and respectful.
“I’ve tried to carry myself that way through my life. We are all part of a community, and we have to work in a good way with others to create positive outcomes for everyone.”
“I also applied those principles to my journalism on a daily basis. That always meant taking myself out of the story as much as possible to ensure the people featured have the space they need to speak their truth. And I also did my best to ensure they felt safe and comfortable in sharing their story, and that they had the time to do so.”
Rice discovered his love for journalism as an exchange student in Germany in 1996. He wrote articles about being an Anishinaabe teenager in a foreign country for newspapers in Canada. In 2002, Rice graduated from the journalism program at Ryerson University. He worked in different news mediums, before joining the CBC where he spent the majority of his career. In 2014, Rice was awarded the Debwewin Citation for excellence in First Nation storytelling. The award, given out by the Anishinabek Nation, recognizes those who report about Native and First Nations issues. In 2018, Rice took over the hosting duties of Up North, CBC’s afternoon show for northern Ontario.
For many Indigenous people growing up, it was rare to see or hear Indigenous representation in mediums like television and radio.
“Being a journalist was important to me because I felt that mainstream media had generally failed Indigenous communities in Canada by not telling their stories properly. […] So once I got into the profession, my goal was to help everyday Indigenous people get their stories out into the world.”
I saw myself as a conduit for them to speak their truth and educate other Canadians about the realities of Indigenous life. I always considered it a great responsibility, and I felt very honoured whenever someone entrusted me with their story. Thankfully over the course of my career I witnessed many improvements in coverage of Indigenous issues and communities, but there’s still a long way to go.”
While working as a journalist, Rice also became an accomplished author with his 2011 book, Midnight Sweatlodge, and Legacy in 2014. Rice also penned Moon of the Crusted Snow, which was published in 2018.
“Moon of the Crusted Snow is a novel about a world-ending event through the perspective of a northern Ontario First Nation. A communications and power outage hits the community, and residents soon discover it’s a widespread catastrophe. Because many people in the community are still closely connected to the land, they’re able to adapt to this new reality. But others have become accustomed to modern amenities like reliable hydro and food shipments, so panic eventually sets in. Then some unexpected visitors arrive from a city to the south, further complicating their new reality. It’s a sort of post-apocalyptic story that flips the script on the genre by looking at how Indigenous nations that have already endured an apocalypse can build a new future.”
Earlier this year, Rice announced he was stepping away from his hosting role at CBC’s Up North to focus on writing the sequel to Moon of the Crusted Snow. Rice said he is excited to start writing it.
“I can’t wait to revisit this world and these characters. They have stayed with me in many poignant ways for a long time, and I believe they deserve more of their story told.”
The sequel is expected to be published in 2022.
Click here to learn more about Waubgeshig Rice’s story and his books.