Duncan’s Danika Smith is being recognized nationally for her writing skills.
The 18 year-old member of Cowichan Tribes placed fifth in the junior writing category of the latest annual national Indigenous Arts & Stories contest, which received more than 950 submissions this year.
Smith won for her poem “Where I’m From.”
Her success in the contest is timely as National Indigenous Peoples Day was celebrated on June 21, and June is National Indigenous History Month.
Smith said she was inspired to write the poem from treasured cultural experiences and memories she has from the past three years of her life, including times she joined her community on tribal journeys in canoes, when she did Tzinquaw dancing and singing, and when she was in elementary school.
“Writing a poem to me, it means to acknowledge the beautiful things that go on around life, to be in the moment that the particular actions happen,” Smith said in her author’s statement.
“My poem is about just some of the experiences that I was a part of along my journey.”
Smith said she was surprised she had done so well in the contest when she was informed recently by email.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been recognized for my writing,” she said.
“I may submit more of my writing to the contest next year. I want to be a photographer when I finish school, but now I’m thinking of doing some writing on the side as well.”
The Indigenous Arts & Stories contest, which is open to aboriginal youth aged six to 29, is organized by Historica Canada, the largest independent organization in the country devoted to enhancing awareness of Canadian history and citizenship.
More than 3,000 emerging Indigenous writers and artists from every province and territory in Canada have participated in the contest, the largest arts and creative writing competition for Indigenous youth in the nation, since 2005.
With so many submissions this year, it was considered the toughest year for the competitors in the program’s 15 year history.
Winners were selected by a jury of notable Indigenous authors, artists and community leaders, including John Kim Bell, Ryan Rice, Drew Hayden Taylor, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Shirley Moorhouse, Bonnie Devine, Brian Maracle and Maxine Noel.
“We are always so impressed, but not surprised, by the calibre of work submitted to the Indigenous Arts & Stories contest,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada.
“This contest continues to showcase the eloquence and talent of Indigenous youth throughout Canada, and we are proud to provide a platform to amplify their stories.”
The first stanza of Smith’s poem gives the reader a sense of her most cherished memories.
“I am from the pounding on the deer skin, from sounds of clinks of small paddles,” the poem begins.
“I am from the smell of cedar wood burning (orange bits in the air, too hot to the touch, yellow and brown on the ground.) I am from the vague grey fog in the air, with tears coming slowly down my cheeks. The cold air embracing me with open arms, the cries of men and women loud enough for me to hear across the room.”