Blog: I’ve Never Been a Professional Writer

Feature Image: Alaskan Pollock, Alison Bremner

Dream jobs are for white people. I live in a scarcity driven economy. “No people of colour, except a handful of men, are making a living off writing in Canada,” someone I respect deeply once said in a workshop. It’s true. I’ve waited tables, served drinks, cleaned hotels rooms, and even had a few jobs on the sly. But the one thing I’ve never been professionally is a writer. Yes, I’ve sold stories, poems, and meditations as a “freelance writer.” I’ve always had a day job, though. That sneaky, posturing thing many of us “professional writers” neglect to admit (and to the detriment of those who come behind us, in my opinion): that often writers are not paid a living-wage, and cannot sustain themselves off of their crafts from a few hundred dollars here and there (if their story doesn’t get slashed, that is). Many “professional writers” neglect to tell you about that trust fund, their dad’s condo that they stay at for free, or the plethora of other self-sustaining circumstances that fuel their craft.  So, when I say I’ve never been a professional writer, I mean it in the same way a white cisgender man would probably says that he is a professional writer. I’m working on it, though. I swear.

Anyways, I’ve never been a professional writer. That is, until now.

I’m so humbled to have my work recognized by the Indigenous advisory committee, all people who I respect a great deal. As I transition from youth to the adult’s circle this year (a gender neutral version of women’s/men’s circle), I’m feeling a lot of gratitude towards the Indigenous mentors who supported me throughout my youth. Folks who saw and understood my work, helped me cultivate and grow it, and trusted me. I hope I can honour that trust by remembering to pay it forward to the next generation.

When I started working in arts administration, I’m sure it seemed like I struggled to make my own bottom line. Because, while I do live in a scarcity driven economy, I also live in a gift-giving economy. Indigenous gatherings aren’t festivals, shows, or curations—they’re ceremony. My work is ceremony, a gathering of kin both new and old. Though it’s not laid out on a blanket or presented in a basket, as Chrystos has would say: my work is a gift-giving ceremony and it’s not complete until you’ve taken every last bit.

Above all, artists come first. Artists provide us with inspiration, life, love, resistance, community, ceremony, and so much more; and for this, artists deserve to be compensated—not exploited. I have never been silent about Canada’s sick system of arts administration, publishing, and galleries, which remain inaccessible and exclusionary to diverse Indigenous peoples. My work has always represented all we misfits of the good Indian art world. The queers, gender weirdos, feminists, and bratty baby girls who you might not see in the National gallery, but whose work is way ahead of that place anyways. Artists who create not for huge sums of money, but because of the fierce need to create. My work will continue to be by and for these people. In all honesty, I think my hire is telling because it means that the Canadian art world is ready for these voices to break through, as well.

As nîtisân Sasha Simmons said once, “Thank creator [thank creators] for music, dance, fashion, and all other forms of art/culture I experience with my body before my intellect.”