Radio — Activism and poetry: Halifax’s first Indigenous poet laureate

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Rebecca Thomas. She is a Mi’kmaq woman, an activist, and a poet, and she is also the first Indigenous person to be the poet laureate of the Halifax Regional Municipality.

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Growing up, Thomas thought poetry was “the worst.” She always hated that unit in high school, and she just didn’t get much out of the poetry that they read there or the way it was taught. Her relationship to poetry began to change a few years ago when, in the context of a professional development workshop in her workplace, she was encouraged to write and submit a piece of creative work. A chance conversation with a colleague pointed her to the poetry of El Jones, a spoken word artist in Halifax and the city’s previous poet laureate (as well as a guest on Talking Radical Radio in October 2013). Watching videos of Jones’ performances showed Thomas that poetry could be something very different from stuffy, rigid rhymes on a page, and Thomas decided to try her hand at writing and performing poetry for herself. Her first effort was well received, and she was hooked.

While poetry is something she came to as an adult, Thomas has always been someone to speak her mind when it comes to injustice. As a youth, it took the form a refusal to be silent in the face of stereotypes or unfairness in the course of everyday life. With her reconnection to the Mi’kmaq culture that colonial Canada had denied her as a child, it was the Idle No More movement that brought her to a more collective and confrontational mode of activism. From her very first forays into spoken word, her poetry has been another extension of this impulse to speak for justice. Most of her work focuses on the experiences and struggles of Indigenous people — from missing and murdered Indigenous women, to cultural appropriation, to residential schools, and much more. She still performs when she can at rallies and protests and community events, but the role of poet laureate gives her access to many new kinds of spaces too. She is making full use of this opportunity to go into all the sorts of elite institutions to which a poet laureate is invited, and in those places she speaks these hard truths to groups of people who have rarely been made to confront them before.

Thomas speaks about poetry, activism, and the relationship between them, and performs her poems “Pennies” and “Redface.” To learn more about her work, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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