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Of Laughter and Healing – A Hilarious Approach to Indigenizing & Reconciliation:
Louise B. Halfe - Sky Dancer's awâsis - kinky and dishevelled

Louise B. Halfe - Sky Dancer's awâsis kinky and dishevelled
Louise B. Halfe - Sky Dancer, awâsis - kinky and dishevelled
Toronto: Brick Books, 2021.

Award-winning Cree poet Louise B. Halfe – Sky Dancer tells the stories of awâsis (which means illuminated child), weaving tales of child-like humour and Indigenous resistance in her latest collection of poetry, awâsis – kinky and dishevelled. The Cree language has no pronouns for gender, so the shape-shifting awâsis is simply allowed to be and to play in their complexity—as a trickster, a healer, a joker, a nuisance, and an inspiration. Halfe prioritizes the authentic expressions of awâsis regardless of the confines of language or respectability, revealing an unapologetic mischievous trickster of an alter ego.

Halfe’s book opens with a quote full of foreshadowing from Picasso: “We are all born children– the trick is remaining one.” awâsis brings to life the gender-fluid, shape-shifting, label-rejecting Cree stories inspired by Halfe’s people and Elders. Maria Campbell’s joyfully intimate introduction follows the quote as she describes the humorous approach of awâsis: “This is all about Indigenizing and reconciliation among ourselves. It’s the kind of funny, shake-up, poking, smacking, and farting we all need while laughing our guts out.”

awâsis is introduced in the poem “otâcimow- The Storyteller” as a playful child with an uncanny sense of humour, “He-she is a she-he / who loves a slippery, stretchy yarn.” Halfe also positions awâsis as the fascinating yet mysterious Indigenous existence that is incompatible with colonizers: “awâsis, awâsis. I’ve heard / the settler is confused / about your shape-shifting.”

Fluidly capturing the essence of gender in the Cree context, awâsis simply exists at the centre of decolonial expressions and Indigenizing narratives. “Remember when” serves to visibilize this concept of gender shape-shifting: “When you see her today / she’s the man on stage, her bulge / straining against her ballet tights.” The same poem ends with a stanza on the Cree understanding of gender: “In nêhiyaw [Cree] country, when people speak / of a man or woman, / they know that spirit / is neither and is all.”

awâsis represents a genuine remorseless Indigenous form of existence while Halfe’s use of language and narrative threads the same Indigenizing tapestry. Cree words are translated on the right margin of Halfe’s pages, providing the reader an interpreted experience into these deeply rooted stories. However, it is made clear that the reader is being offered a privilege as awâsis unapologetically connects to reconciliation within Cree communities. The collision of Cree and English is clear in “English Is Not the First Word” when Halfe describes awâsis’ personal mixed vocabulary: “awâsis would bless everyone / and shout, ‘Ladies and genitals, / peas be with you!’” Halfe shares these stories of Indigeneity so transparently that one might feel like they are eavesdropping on a private conversation or listening in on an inside joke.

Halfe balances the elements of humour and the trickster spirit with wise storytelling and knowledge sharing, furthering the imagination of futuristic Cree narratives. “Growing Out” demonstrates the futurity of awâsis as a living being within Halfe: “Thought is alive and travels great distances, / The kêhtê-ayak [old ones/old people] say we are the inheritors. / awâsis still lives.”

awâsis- kinky and dishevelled is honest in its storytelling, hilarious in its infallible tongues of expression, and radically healing in its expressions of Indigenizing resistance.

 

Originally from Malaysia, Amanda Jeysing is a storyteller and freelance writer now based in Ottawa who uses her passions for food, writing, and dance to share her contributions to amplying decolonial narratives of freedom

 

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