A growing orange fire raged outside a humble sweatlodge. A tall, lanky young man in a heavy dark work coat and jeans stood beside the fire holding a pitchfork and keeping a watchful eye. His much shorter cousin in a similar getup was there to hold the flap open to the lodge’s doorway. It was midnight and glowing embers carried high through the midwinter air as the fire crackled. There were five young men and three young women — ranging in age from late teens to late twenties — standing in a line waiting to get in; towels wrapped around their shivering naked bodies. They wore boots to protect their already trembling and frigid feet from the snowy ground, a thick crust that was broken with each step to reveal a fine white powder underneath. Each held a shaker to keep rhythm with the songs they’d sing inside. The women standing at the front of the line all wore their hair down and so did the young men who had long hair. The blistering orange glow seemed to illuminate their various natural tans — from beige to bronze to almond brown — and the fire danced in their slanted brown eyes. They slowly made their way towards the small dome, about four feet high and twice as long in diameter. An elder sat inside, awaiting them.
I’m pleased to announce that in May Theytus Books will release my fiction debut called Midnight Sweatlodge. It’s about the modern-day Aboriginal experience through the eyes of a group of very different young people that share similar hardships. They take turns telling their stories in a midnight sweatlodge ceremony in the depths of the bush on their reserve, far from their struggles in the contemporary outside world. From depression to drug abuse to identity confusion, each has a battle to overcome, and for most it’s a matter of survival. They wrestle with their own desire to understand their traditional past and reconcile it with their seemingly bleak future. Few realize the first step in that healing is sharing and letting go. For some, it’s already too late.
This project essentially began as a short story collection. Since high school, I’ve enjoyed writing short fiction in my spare time – primarily based on my experiences and those of my friends and relatives growing up on the reserve. There were a few I was particularly proud of, and I decided to pursue getting them published. In 2004, I pitched a collection idea to the Canada Council for the Arts, who generously bestowed a writing grant upon me to develop and refine it. From there, the stories eventually became part of one narrative. After sitting on it for a few years, a few friends implored me to submit it to publishers. In early 2009 I mailed a handful of manuscripts across the country, and Theytus was kind enough to take it on. They paired me with one of my literary idols – the illustrious and immensely talented Jordan Wheeler – to edit and further polish it.
This has been one of my life’s goals and I’m extremely happy that it’s finally coming to fruition. I hope you’ll check it out when it’s in print. Stay tuned for more details. Miigwetch.