Michael (Mike) Calvert is an alumnus of the Creative Writing and Journalism program at VIU. He graduated in 2013 and went on to pursue his Master of Publishing degree at Simon Fraser University. He is Chair of VIU’s Aboriginal University Bridging Program, Interim Chair of VIU’s Indigenous Commitments Committee and an Academic and Career Preparation faculty member.
Mike is a first-generation Indigenous learner who began his journey in VIU’s Adult Basic Education program, where he regained his passion for writing – a passion that had remained dormant for nearly 20 years. Since that first English class back in 2009, Mike has gone on to contribute his works of poetry and storytelling to VIU’s Portal magazine, Synergy Magazine, The Navigator newspaper and Canadian Hot Rods magazine. His work has also appeared in In Our Own Aboriginal Voice volumes I and II. Mike also edited Michelle Sylliboy’s Kiskaleyi—I Am Ready, which won a national Indigenous Voices Award in 2020. He’s been working for the past two summers with VIU’s Indigenous Youth Camp, Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem, to help participants discover the power and potential of finding their voice.
You’ve done quite a bit of editing with Indigenous voices; what’s important to you about that work?
The awareness of Indigenous voices is growing, and the perspectives of Indigenous peoples are being sought out on a wider scale than we’ve previously witnessed. As a global community, we’ve moved so far away from Indigenous and holistic values of being in relationship with the land and with one another. This is where Indigenous voices are key, at least in part, in helping to access and reconnect with those relationships. The work I’ve seen come from young Indigenous writers and poets has been some of the most powerful work I’ve been involved with; they write from their lived experience and they write from their heart. Many young writers today don’t filter themselves, and I think that can be a beautiful thing when done in a good way. When I do this work with emerging writers, it’s important to me to help build their confidence to strengthen their voice and to help them know their voice is important in our world.
You teach an Indigenous Literature and Composition course here at VIU. What has it been like to teach Indigenous stories to classes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students?
It’s been an incredible personal journey for me to teach students from all backgrounds about the truths of Canada’s past through the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. We need to know the truths before we can understand what we’re reconciling here. It isn’t easy for our young people to hear the history of what has happened to get us to this place and time, and why so many of our old people have struggled and why so many of our young do as well. By writing about this history through academic pieces, through discussion and through written reflections, students are able to process these teachings and grasp how to move forward toward this concept of authentic and meaningful reconciliation. But it’s not enough to do this one Indigenous English classroom at a time; we need to inspire these students to use their voices in their homes, amongst their friends and in public spaces if we are going to make significant change to regain some of the perspectives of the first people of this land. Our youth will need to lead this charge, so providing them with the knowledge and a strong voice to achieve this gives me hope for the future.
What’s next for you in terms of sharing your own voice?
Thank you for this question. I need to be reminded I have a voice I want to share as well. I love creating stories. My passion for the work I do with students, and the mental and emotional energy that occupies, hasn’t left me with a lot of capacity to pursue the sharing of my own stories these days. Though I do have a collection of stories being worked out in my mind that chronologically explore the Métis experience from first contact (from both the European and First People’s perspectives) through to present-day (perhaps even dystopian) Métis identity. I do love creating story, so I’m hopeful I can make time for more of it in the future.
Mike is happy to share a short story with VIU Blog readers, titled