This debut poetry collection from Lisa Bird-Wilson reflects on the legacy of the residential school system: the fragmentation of families and histories, with blows that resonate through the generations.
Inspired by family and archival sources, Bird-Wilson assembles scraps of a history torn apart by colonial violence. The collection takes its name from the federal government’s complex organizational structure of residential schools archives, which are divided into “black files” and “red files.” In vignettes as clear as glass beads, her poems offer affection to generations of children whose presence within the historic record is ghostlike, anonymous and ephemeral.
The collection also explores the larger political context driving the mechanisms that tore apart families and cultures, including the Sixties Scoop. It depicts moments of resistance, both personal and political, as well as official attempts at reconciliation: “I can hold in the palm of my right hand / all that I have left: one story-gift from an uncle, / a father’s surname, treaty card, Cree accent echo, metal bits, grit– / and I will still have room to cock a fist.”
The Red Files concludes with a fierce hopefulness, embracing the various types of love that can begin to heal the traumas inflicted by a legacy of violence.
Praise for The Red Files:
“Indeed, the duty towards truly authentic reconciliation to which Bird-Wilson calls the reader is made plain in her poem “The Apology”: “you apologize for having done this / thing that is still in the doing”. In creating this powerful testament to the humanity of those who have suffered at the hands of colonialism, the author has made a resolute call for the rectifying of wrongs which continue to this day, to this country’s shame. At a time in which discussions of what reconciliation is and should be are ongoing, Lisa Bird-Wilson’s The Red Files is a powerful, timely call to action.” Ethan Vilu, Nod Magazine
“One achievement of The Red Files is that it dares to make palpable not only truths of the traumas Indigenous peoples experienced from genocide and attempted genocide, but it conveys the vulnerability of Bird-Wilson’s own questioning around the process of reconciliation. The collection continues to invite readers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to experience parallel journeys. In “Sweep,” one of the final poems, the speaker says, “I have to live with the memory: …/ and the question/ what does it mean to be full of grace/ … and make things out of your hands” (75)”. River Volta Review of Books
Reviews/Interviews for The Red Files: