Author David A. Robertson shares his favourite Winnipeg cultural spots
David A. Robertson (supplied photo)
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Author David A. Robertson shares his favourite Winnipeg cultural spots

The Governor General's Award-winning Indigenous author talks up Winnipeg's best and brightest local arts and culture

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Robert Ballantyne
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Winnipeg-based author and graphic artist David A. Robertson has undeniably had a great year. Best known for his writing and graphic novels about Indigenous people and their history, Robertson received his greatest recognition yet last month.

When We Were Alone tells the story of a conversation between a young child and her grandmother, or “Nokom” in Cree. The grandchild asks questions about her Nokom’s heritage and she shares pieces of her past growing up in a residential school (cover art)

In November, his first illustrated book for children, 2016’s When We Were Alone, won the Governor General’s Award for young people’s illustrated books (he shared the award with the book’s illustrator Julie Flett). This year, he also released his latest book, Strangers, and he’s hard at work on its follow-up.

Strangers is a young adult supernatural mystery,” Robertson tells Popjournalism. “It’s the first entry in a trilogy called The Reckoner. I’m currently hard at work on book two, which will be released in October 2018.”

Until then, we asked Robertson what makes his hometown such fertile ground for creative people such as himself.

Why do you think Winnipeg is a great place for creative people to grow and thrive?

David A. Robertson: Winnipeg is an incredible place for the arts. And while my area is literature, I know the music scene is strong and diverse, and I believe this to be true across multiple artistic disciplines. There is a wealth of Indigenous writers in Winnipeg: from Katherena Vermette to Rosanna Deerchild, from Niigaan Sinclair to Jordan Wheeler, from Duncan Mercredi to Jen Storm, from Beatrice Mosionier to Warren Cariou, and the list goes on. One of the factors that make this place so alive and vital is that the city dictates a closeness that is hard to ignore. Winnipeg is a small city, and it’s impossible not to know, connect with, bump into, other creatives. We do feel a sense of support from one another because of this. It is also an area that has a difficult, rich, and important history, and I think there’s an importance that writers feel here to tap into, and share, that history. Importance, and maybe, urgency.

Who is your favourite homegrown Winnipeg talent right now?

My favourite homegrown Winnipeg talent is Iskwé. Even though she lives in Hamilton now, she grew up here. She is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter, and nobody else sounds like her. She has this wholly unique mix of electronic-jazz-soul that often has a subtle infusion of Indigenous flavour. What is not subtle about her work is the social activism she participates in, using her music as a platform for this. This activism centres around important historical and contemporary Indigenous issues in Canada. She is one of those rare performers that is even better live. She has a powerful stage presence, and equally powerful voice. I’ve had the pleasure of writing a graphic novel with her called Will I See?, which accompanies her song about Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), “Nobody Knows.” Everybody should hear her, and if she’s in your town, go see her. Trust me!

Oodena Circle is an Indigenous landmark located at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba (supplied photo)

What are some of the cultural highlights in Winnipeg?

Well, all I can do here is talk about the places that I go to with my family. Some of them are obvious, like The Forks. There is a ton to do there, whether in winter or summer, both inside and outside. In particular, there is a monument near Oodena Circle that honours our Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Oodena itself is a key location to visit in this place. It honours the over 6,000 years of history of Indigenous peoples in the area. I would also, in the surrounding areas, take a time to visit and reflect in The Bannock Point Petroforms in Whiteshell Provincial Park. Petroform sites are sacred areas that hold great significance to First Nations peoples. Check ahead of time, however, if there are ceremonies taking place.

What are some of your favourite local restaurants?

As a vegan, my options are particular. But Boon Burger is really, really good. Sweet Impressions has great vegan options too for dessert after Boon Burger. And in my family, we have a history of eating Indian food, and have visited Indian Palace on Ellice Avenue most often.

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