Jesse Thistle is Métis-Cree and an Assistant Professor at York University in Toronto. He is a PhD candidate in the History program at York where he is working on theories of intergenerational and historic trauma of the Métis people. Jesse has won the P.E. Trudeau and Vanier doctoral scholarships, and he is a governor general medalist. Jesse is the author of the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada published through the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, and his historical research has been published in numerous academic journals, book chapters, and featured on CBC Ideas, CBC Campus, and Unreserved. His award-winning memoir, From the Ashes, is a #1 national bestseller, a CBC Canada Reads finalist, and an Indigo Best Book of 2019.
Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Jesse Thistle, author of From the Ashes
1) Congratulations on the success of From the Ashes. What motivated you to write a memoir? Have you always been drawn to that form of writing?
I wrote my memoir because I was asked to after a Toronto Star article by Jesse Winter about my academic successes was published. The article covered my life on the streets, crime, and with addiction and charted my rise in education to become a decorated scholar. After the piece came out I was contacted by a lady at Simon and Schuster named Adria and went down to talk to her about the possibility of writing my memoir. In the interview, I made it known that I’d been doing my Alcoholic Anonymous steps, writing out my addiction in small journal and blog posts. I sent the posts to S & S and they signed me to a book deal. So, that is all the book really is, a collection of my AA steps, which is why they appear in such short-hand, brief chapters.
2) Your research and academic focus is on the historical trauma experienced by the Metis people. What is your advice to educators who want to engage with these difficult parts of Canada’s history and the legacy of racist policies today?
I think those teaching about Indigenous trauma and homelessness in Canada should read the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness I co-authored at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. The Definition breaks down the different drivers of Indigenous homelessnesss like landlessness, dispossession, loss of housing, worldview, and culture. I think people should start here before they pick up my book, or say someone like Richard Wagamese, because those different domains of homelessness are covered in our work.
3) It seems we are at a unique time in which many Canadians want to understand our history in ways they haven’t before. Do you feel hopeful that we are at a transition point?
I do think we are at some sort of crossroads. Like we are teetering on real change. It started, really, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2014, which was riding on the social unrest Idle No More brought. Before 2014, Indigenous issues just didn’t have the same impact as after it. That makes me hopeful; Residential Schools, and all the pain they were, have been recognized and Canada is now beginning to heal. I think the TRC was just the first kind of truth-telling, here, in the “North,” and that there’s a lot more to reveal and come to terms with.
We are in an era when many Indigenous scholars are coming forward and telling Indigenous history and life from our perspective. As the years roll on, I am sure they will bring new truths, new revelations, new issues we need to hear and grieve as a country. But change is happening, and it is change that seems to be gathering momentum.
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