University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Lee Maracle
Lee Maracle. Photo by Hill Peppard

Wisdom of the Elder

After surviving a difficult childhood, teacher and writer Lee Maracle provides counsel to others at First Nations House

As the traditional teacher at U of T’s First Nations House, Lee Maracle doesn’t stand up at the front of a classroom and lecture. She doesn’t teach a course. Instead, she helps individual students – some of whom are struggling with the issues that can arise with moving from a reserve to a metropolitan city.

Maracle, who grew up on a reserve in North Vancouver, was one of the first native children to attend an off-reserve school. It was an onerous trail for a six-year-old to blaze. “At school I was a ‘dirty little Indian’,” she recalls. Maracle and her 22 siblings had lots of love in their family, but no electricity, no running water and little food.

When a childhood suicide attempt failed, Maracle began to believe her ancestors must have a plan for her. Her ancestors were right. In 1975, Maracle became one of the first Aboriginal authors in Canada to be published. She followed her memoir Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel with six novels, a poetry collection and countless short stories. In her writings, she takes the reader inside Aboriginal family life for an intimate view of ancient native beliefs colliding head-on with Canada’s dominant culture.

Maracle, who is a member of the Stó:Lō Nation, has made numerous contributions to the University of Toronto. She is an instructor in the Aboriginal Studies program, and has served as a visiting professor with U of T’s Women’s Studies program. And previous to her appointment as First Nations House’s traditional teacher in 2008, she was its inaugural writer-in-residence.

The ability to communicate ideas in essay format is integral to success in most post-secondary education programs. Since Aboriginal stories are spoken or sung, as writer-in-residence Maracle encouraged the students to find their writing voice by asking them to first speak the story they want to set down in their essay.

In her current role, Maracle’s office door is always open and students wander in to ask her advice about academic, traditional knowledge or personal problems. Sometimes, she performs an ancient smudging ceremony for students. “Smudging is one way we communicate with our higher power, our ancestors,” explains Maracle. “The ceremony reminds us that we are magnificent in our near-relevance, but we’re part of something huge.”

Maracle is magnanimous with her counsel. “I’m willing to help anyone – native or non-native, student, staff, faculty,” she says. “There’s not many of us who escape the business of trauma.”

Recent Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. 3 Responses to “ Wisdom of the Elder ”

  2. Wendy McConkey says:

    Some words for Vera, Edna and especially, Lee

    Oh beautiful Woman of the Earth
    ground me
    connect me
    remind me
    that my Spirit Soars
    and my Spirit Soars
    with yours
    and All Creation.

    Lead me back
    to Courage
    to Love
    to Grow
    to Be
    One with my Dream.

    Is this why we came, those years ago
    in search of the Truth
    buried so deep
    beneath the ashes and the tears
    beneath the fear and the grief
    the Simple Truth
    waiting patiently
    waiting. The Truth
    the Simple Truth
    waiting so patiently.

    The Simple Truth
    set free with the Drum
    the Simple Truth
    set free with the Song
    the Simple Truth
    set free with the Dance
    the Simple Truth
    set free in the Joy
    The Simple Truth
    set free
    to soar
    in All Creation.

    Beautiful Women of the Earth
    silenced for so long
    my Spirit Knows Your Pain
    Your Spirit knows My Pain
    you share your Vision
    I see my Vision
    you ground me
    connect me
    remind me
    that my Spirit Soars
    and my Spirit Soars
    with yours
    and All creation. ~

  3. Audrey says:

    I am interested to learn more about this story. What would be the best way to get in touch with Lee Maracle and ask her specifically about the food culture of First Nations?

  4. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Lee Maracle can be reached at Lee [dot] Maracle [at] utoronto [dot] ca