25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Celu Amberstone

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Celu Amberstone

Celu Amberstone spoke to Open Book about her new book The Dreamer's Legacy (Kegedonce), discovering her Irish and Cherokee roots and the biggest misconception about Indigenous literature.

Celu recently had a story published in Walking The Clouds, an anthology edited by professor Grace Dillon. For more information about Celu's story "Refugees" and other works in the anthology, visit the University of Arizona Press.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, The Dreamer?s Legacy.

Celu Amberstone:

Though marketed for young adults, the book may appeal to older readers as well. Tasimu, the novel?s protagonist, is a youth who can call down the power of the northern lights, but he is also a boy troubled by the mystery surrounding his birth. Before he can determine the truth of his parentage, gold is found and soldiers come north with orders to remove his people from their arctic home. Can Tasimu discover who his mysterious father is, and can he master his gift, and help his people survive their terrible journey? Read and find out.


Playwright Drew Hayden Taylor said that The Dreamer?s Legacy, ?takes a familiar story of the colonization of Indigenous people, and gives it a new and exotic twist.? Was that your intention?


Not consciously, but when I create the alternative worlds for my stories, I often seem to draw upon both my people?s blood memories in their creation. In the 1830s Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their homes when gold was discovered on their land.


What do you find rewarding about writing fantasy?


Writing in the Fantasy and SF genre allows me the opportunity to explore troubling issues in our own reality without the restraints and predictable outcomes of our mundane world. In my opinion, much of Aboriginal Literature today is still ensnared within the modalities of colonialism. So, in order to pass beyond these restrictions, some Aboriginal authors, like myself, have found it necessary to create whole new worlds, or journey to the stars.


Your background is Cherokee and Scots-Irish. Tell us about the time you first became interested in exploring your Cherokee roots.


I can?t remember a time when I wasn?t interested. I loved my grandfather?s stories. He and my Aunt Grace were the first ones to teach me about herbs and some of our Indigenous cultural traditions. But because of my father?s work and my eye problems, I grew up mostly in an urban area. I often spent summers with my grandparents, though, and when I came home to the city, I sometimes conducted disastrous projects in our backyard. Projects like the time I tried tanning a deer hide, and stunk up the garage for months afterwards.

While in my teens, I learned to pow wow dance and that eased the pain of my elders? dying. Later I lived in the Canadian bush, which taught me many things. Through my dancing and travelling, I?ve been fortunate to find other elders to guide me in our sacred spiritual ways.


Have you even been interested in exploring your Scottish and Irish roots and writing stories about it?


Oh yes, definitely. I?ve written several unpublished novels, SF mostly, in which a Celtic-like tribal people have adventures on far-away planets.

As a person of mixed parentage, Métis in the broader meaning of the word, I finally realized that in order to become a whole and healthy human being, I couldn?t go on hating a part of myself. I looked at what I valued in my Cherokee ancestry, and then searched for similar things in my Celtic heritage.

I read Irish history and Mythology and discovered that the Irish and Scots were also an indigenous people. Though much earlier in their history, they had been colonized just like the Cherokee. This was an exciting revelation to me. It helped me to integrate the two halves of myself.


What do you think the biggest misconception is about First Nation?s literature?


That it?s only for Indigenous people, and that only Indigenous people will be interested in reading it. Publishers are often very conservative in what they think the public will buy. For many years academic institutions kept Native Literature alive. Unfortunately, the target audience wasn?t necessarily Aboriginal peoples but White academics.

With the introduction of Indigenous publishers like Kegedonce and Theytus, that?s changing. More young Indigenous authors are writing for and about their own communities. This is a good thing, in my opinion. If students can read about brown-skinned characters just like themselves, they will be inspired to learn and maybe write their own stories someday.

Today our children absorb the mass cultural values depicted in tales like, Star Wars, Batman and Lord of the Rings. I believe the concepts of good and evil depicted there are simplistic polarities compared to the teachings of our Aboriginal heritage. Having the advantage of being bilingual?or at least bicultural, Aboriginal writers can think, ?Outside the box.? Our fiction is alive with new possibilities. It is fiction that can offer new insights to our troubled world.


What writers inspire you?


I was one of the German Measles babies born in the 1940s and have been legally blind since birth. I began getting books on tape, from various blind organizations when I was still in grade school. I have been a voracious reader ever sense. I don?t own a TV.

I believe that works of SF/F can be as well-crafted and profound as any award-winning literary novel. I enjoy reading books by Ursula Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Carol Berg, and Patricia McKillip, all award winners. In SF, I like Octavia Butler, Rebecca Ore and Joan Di Vinge, because they write about well-crafted alien cultures, and their protagonists aren?t white, middle-class males.

As for Aboriginal writers, I haven?t read as many as I would like, because they don?t get recorded often for the blind. But from what I?ve read I love Richard van Camp, he is one of the most powerful voices in Canadian Lit today. Maria Campbell, Joy Harjo, Eden Robinson, Daniel Justice, Drew Hayden Taylor and Lesley Marmon Silko also inspire me, to name just a few.

Celu Amberstone is of mixed Cherokee and Scots-Irish ancestry. She was one of the only young people in her family to take an interest in learning Traditional Native crafts and medicine ways. This made several of the older members of her family very happy while annoying others. Legally blind since birth, she has defied her limitations and spent much of her life avoiding cities. Moving to Canada after falling in love with a Métis-Cree man from Manitoba, she has lived in the rain forests of the west coast, a tepee in the desert and a small village in Canada's artic. Along the way she managed to also acquire a BA in cultural anthropology and an MA in health education. For the past 10 years she has been a frequent contributor to the SF Canada professional writers website. Her latest novel, The Dreamer's Legacy, published by Kegedonce Press. Celu loves telling stories and reading. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia near her grown children and four grandchildren.

For more information about The Dreamer's Legacy please visit the Kegedonce Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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