February 20, 2023 is Heritage Day in Nova Scotia and this year’s honouree is Rita Joe.
Elder Rita (Bernard) Joe was a member of the We’koqma’q Mi’kmaq Community and published author. Her first collection of poetry, Poems of Rita Joe, was published in 1978, and she would go on to publish six more books. Please browse our collection to discover Rita’s work and borrow one of her books.
Over the course of her life she received many accolades and honours. She was a member of both the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. She received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and was awarded a number of honorary doctorates. Rita Joe is often referred to as the “poet laureate” of the Mi’kmaq people.
Elder Rita was instrumental in paving the way for other Mi’kmaq authors. Her greatest wish was to see more writings would come from her people and “that the children would read it”. Due to her life’s work, this wish has come true. Elder Rita has inspired many other Mi’kmaq authors to continue writing poems, stories, written words, and plays.
In this YouTube video from George Paul, you can listen to Rita Joe and Mi’kmaq basket artist Caroline Gould speak about their respective work and Mi’kmaq culture. In Rita’s own words: “If we are going to write beautiful stuff about Native culture, it has to be us. We have to do that. And there are so many good writers in our community, and other Native communities.”
The National Truth & Reconciliation Commission used her written work “I Lost my Talk”, in their report. Her inspiring words and love for writing is not forgotten and the following poem continues to inspire many people.
I Lost My Talk by Rita Joe
I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.
You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.
Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.
So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.
If you would like to learn more about Rita Joe and her work, here are some places to start:
Rita Joe, Author – Tepi’keteuk Mi’kmaw Archives
2023 Honouree: Rita Joe | Nova Scotia Heritage Day – Government of Nova Scotia
Rita Joe – The Canadian Encyclopedia