Larry Loyie (1933-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1933, in Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada; life partner of Constance Brissenden (a writer). Ethnicity: Cree First Nations. Education: Attended residential school for First Nations has attended writing workshops.
Writer. Worked as a fisherman, logger, and native counselor in Canada. Co-founder, with Constance Brissenden, of Living Traditions Writers Group, 1993—. Military service: Former member of Canadian Forces.
Canada Post Literacy Award, 2001, for individual achievement.
Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for Us), (play), first performed in Vancouver, BC, Canada, 1994, published in Two Plays about Residential School, Living Traditions Writers Group (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada).
Fifty Years Credit (play), first performed at Carnegie Community Centre, Canada, 1998.
No Way to Say Goodbye (play), first performed for Aboriginal AIDS Conference, Alberta, Canada, 1999.
(With Constance Brissenden) As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer before Residential School, illustrated by Heather D. Holmlund, Groundwood Books (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
Also author of The Healing. Contributor, The Greater Vancouver Book, Linkman Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada); Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Experiences, 1979-2000, Heard Museum, 2000.
Work in Progress
We Were Only Children, a history of residential schools in the United States and Canada, for Groundwood Books; When the Spirits Dance, a children's book about the meaning of war in a First Nations context.
Larry Loyie is a member of the Cree First Nations of Canada who has dramatized his personal experiences in plays and books. Loyie told SATA: "My book, As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer before Residential School, was published by the prestigious children's book publisher Groundwood Books in 2002. In it, I write about a boy's traditional First Nations summer spent with his family in the bush before being taken to residential school. The book has received tremendously positive reviews.
"I was born in Northwestern Alberta and lived a traditional Cree life in my early years. I attended three years of public school before being taken from my family at the age of ten and put in an isolated residential school in northern Alberta. In the school, I suffered from loss of my family and my culture.
"At fourteen, I went to work on farms and in logging camps. For more than twenty-five years, I did jobs including fishing, logging, and native counseling. What stayed with me throughout these years was the longing for the traditional way of life I experienced as a child.
"After being handicapped in the mid-1980s, I began reading again and pursued my dream of becoming a writer and my vision of libraries full of books written by First Nations people. I went back to school to learn grammar and typing. I took a free creative writing class and wrote short stories. I got involved with the literacy movement and was co-editor of The Wind Cannot Read, an anthology of writing from new learners. My first
play, Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for Us), was based on my residential school years. It was staged in Vancouver, five federal BC prisons (1994), Weesageechak Festival in Toronto (1995), and in Alberta (1998). I wrote two more plays after that, about the media's view of First Nations people and about AIDS. My memoir for four voices, The Healing, has been performed more than forty times.
"For the past twenty years, I have traveled across North America, exploring First Nations traditions firsthand. In 1991, the year of literacy, I crossed British Columbia, interviewing native teachers for two radio documentaries. I often talk about residential school, literacy, and traditional life in schools, universities, conferences, and so on. With my life partner, writer Constance Brissenden, I started Living Traditions Writers Group in 1993 to encourage native people to write their stories in a true fashion (not just to make it sound good, or sell) through creative writing workshops.
"I have two books now in progress with Constance. We Were Only Children is a history of residential schools in the USA and Canada for children and adults. The second, When the Spirits Dance, explores the meaning of war. It takes place during the Second World War and is about the effect it had on my family.
"My goal is to continue building on the knowledge of traditional First Nations lifestyles through my writing. I especially want children to know about a beautiful way of life that is fast disappearing."
In As Long as the Rivers Flow, ten-year-old Lawrence spends the summer with his extended family living off the land and preparing for the coming winter months in the traditional way of his people. The story introduces young readers to Cree customs and craftsmanship while also giving a glimpse of the enjoyment a child takes in the wildlife and natural beauty around him. Lawrence helps to raise an abandoned baby owl and experiences a moment of terror when a huge grizzly bear rears before him on a path. At the end of the summer, a grim reality begins as Lawrence and his siblings are taken away from their loving family for life in a residential school. A reviewer for Books in Canada wrote of the work: "The story establishes some common ground with children everywhere." The same reviewer noted that the book is "an earnest, serious effort to preserve in memory a very different time and place, to recover the values of a way of life and pass them on, because that life has been largely destroyed." Pamela Sexsmith in Wind Speaker called As Long as the Rivers Flow "a poignant story" and "… a small masterpiece of unsentimental storytelling."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer before Residential School, p. 1468.
Books in Canada, November, 2002, review of As Long as the Rivers Flow.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 14, 2002, Susan Perren, review of As Long as the Rivers Flow.
Library Journal, October, 2003, Sean George, review of As Long as the Rivers Flow, p. 154.
Wind Speaker, December, 2002, Pamela Sexsmith, review of As Long as the Rivers Flow, p. 17.
Living Traditions Writers Group, http://www.firstnationswriter.com/ (December 6, 2003), author's home page.