Introducing Rita Joe

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

I’d like to introduce you to the first woman I decided to paint: Rita Joe.

Rita Joe captured and communicated the amazing and difficult threads of her life – thanks to an ability to write from her heart in unassuming yet compelling words. Her mother died when she was 5, she was orphaned by 10 and, at age 12, went to the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School where, she later recalled, she was constantly told “you’re no good.” She countered by picking up the pen, and writing, to challenge those messages. Often referred to as the “poet laureate” of the Mi’kmaq people, she empowered people and said her s greatest wish: that “there will be more writing from my people, and that our children will read it. … Our history would be different if it had been expressed by us.”

As mentioned in the last blog entry, she was on that list of women that the reference librarians sent along to me – and was someone of whom I had no real knowledge, understanding, appreciation.

Why, after 10 years in a Halifax newsroom, and 20+ years as a journalist, did I not know her story? Her name rang a vague bell but that was it. So I started digging around and discovered why Rita Joe was not only respected and remembered but loved.

She was a woman in touch with her heart, her soul. A person with the ability to remember what it is like to be a child. And someone who was able to pull thoughts and emotions from her heart and mind, scratch them out on paper and make that writing an unbreakable thread between herself and her reader.

Dr. Rita Joe

Dr. Rita Joe 1932-2007

I missed the chance to know her but here was my opportunity to connect with her, and her writing and poetry. And…that face! I fell in love with it as soon as I saw this photo on Dr. Daniel Paul’s website.

I think it would be great if, at the June portrait show at the N.S. Archives, I could get it together and have one of Rita Joe’s books sitting, open for perusing, alongside her portrait. We’ll see.

Turns out there’s a lot to do to get things organized for an art show. But this seems like an important detail: to have something representing the works of each of the Nova Scotia Nine, sitting alongside their portraits. To give practical feeling to their artistic, portrait presence. If it’s still a good idea tomorrow, it’s likely worth pursuing. We’ll see.

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One Response

  1. […] means more folks will learn what women like Viola Desmond, Margaret Marshall Saunders, and Rita Joe look like and did with their […]

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