Writing Prompts

Word Prompt: Release | Story Prompt: from the book “Life in the City of Dirty Water” by Clayton Thomas-Müller

Write It Out: Instruction Video

‘It would be impossible to understand the thrill of ceremony for us without remembering that for generations most of it was deliberately suppressed. Across Turtle Island, our traditions of potlatch and Sundance, our songs and drums and traditions, were outlawed.

Many survived in disguise. I remember the tea-box dances in Puk as a kid. our ceremonial gift-giving was illegal, but square dancing was not, so families would spend months preparing traditional gifts, which they would pack up into tea boxes. Then they would dress up in their moosehide regalia and spend the night dancing and exchanging gifts. In ways like this, my people managed to keep the ember of tradition burning secretly.

But imagine what it would be like having your traditions torn from you, disgraced and outlawed. Imagine your own most dearly cherished traditions — say, Christmas. Now imagine that one day, in your childhood, you were snatched away from your family, supposedly for your own good, and forbidden from celebrating Christmas ever again. No stockings or carols, no trees or presents, no turkeys. Certainly no mass. And no English. And especially no joy, no Christmas spirit, no fellowship, no sense that everything is OK.

Would that change you?

Now imagine trying to recreate all that, years later, from the words of a grandparent. Instead of simply inhabiting your traditions, you would be returning to them. Rediscovering them. Even when you had them back, though, they would not be the same. It would be a sweet relief to have them back. You might cherish them all the more. But you would be forever haunted by the years you had wandered through life without the meaning they offer.

Joy, lingering grief, pride, relief. All these converge as we reclaim our traditions. We are still picking up the pieces. But they are making us stronger, more whole.’


This September 30th, on the second annual Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I reflected on what I might offer. How I might help. You may have noticed that I do tend to focus on indigenous and/or Canadian stories and poetry in my writing prompts, and that is intentional.

Growing up near the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, I had many unanswered questions about the school – and more importantly, about the kids who went there. Why did I almost never see them playing outside? Where were they? Where did they come from? Why couldn’t I play with them? Simple questions, a child’s questions.

I did have one, only one, opportunity to play with some of the kids, and I wrote about it here and here. My questions today are quite different from when I was a child, and I know it’s my responsibility to find the answers to most of them. I promise to keep reading and educating myself about what happened back then, and to share my learning. Action feels so much better than guilt.

Thoughts? Feel free to share them here.

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