Rita Joe (1932 – 2007)

Rita Joe
© Daniel N. Paul

Rita Joe was a poet and songwriter, known as the Poet Laureate of the Mi'kmaq people. Born in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton Island, Joe lost both parents by the age of 10. At 12 she entered the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School on Nova Scotia's mainland. Forbidden to speak her own language, she endured years of abuse before leaving at age 16. Joe's poem, "I Lost My Talk", recounts her suffering at the residential school, her language being forcibly taken from her, and her subsequent efforts to re-learn it. It wasn't until the 1970s that Joe began to write. She published seven books in total and gained a wide audience for her simply worded yet emotionally charged and eloquent works of poetry. In 1992, Joe was named to the Queen's Privy Council of Canada, one of the few non-politicians ever appointed. She received numerous awards and honours, including the Order of Canada.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.
- “I Lost My Talk”

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