The camp where Beatrice Lepine spent much of her first 17 years nearly went up in flames this summer.
She followed the weather reports and accounts brought back by firefighting crews for months, waiting for news of the area on Great Slave Lake where she grew up, and then she wrote a story about it called Fire and Fish.
“Every day I’d see the fire moving,” she said. “The title came from that connection of past and present to this land.”
Fire and Fish won first prize in the 2014 Great Northern Canada Writing Contest put on by Northwords. It’s second time she has submitted a piece of writing, but the first time she has won.
Lepine said she has been writing journals for years, but never for public consumption.
“I talk to so many people, and so many of them have stories practically bursting out of them,” she said. “But they’re worried that they can’t write well enough. I tell them it comes with practice. We have to give voice to what’s rattling around in our heads.”
More than the honour of winning, she said she has been honoured to tell her own story and encourages others to do so as well.
“It’s time for us to write our own stories,” she said. “For years, others have been writing about us, and we need to take over.”
Ruth Bowen, the new executive director of Northwords, said that is the fundamental purpose of the organization, and that while she plans to continue in the footsteps of previous directors, she would like to renew efforts to get communities outside Yellowknife involved in more writing programs.
“I’m really keen to expand outside Yellowknife and hear stories from all over the territory,” she said. “There has always been an issue getting people in the communities involved.”
Last year’s Northwords festival sent one headliner to Fort Smith in an effort to increase engagement there.