A third-generation residential school survivor, poet and attorney Francine Merasty will be a featured author at the next virtual Electric Mermaid event.
Electric Mermaid: Live Reads from Char’s Landing takes place online via Zoom on Friday, April 16 at 5:45 p.m.
Merasty is the author of Iskotew Iskwew: Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl. She is a Nehithaw Iskwew from Opawikoschikanek ochi, a reserve in Northern Saskatchewan. She is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and a fluent Cree speaker.
After she graduated from high school, Francine Merasty went to university to get her BA in psychology. She went to work for a First Nations organization working with health, education and welfare and returned to university to earn a law degree and become an attorney.
Merasty’s work found its voice when she took her first job out of law school, working for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as a statement taker and legal counsel.
“That work was so devastating,” she said.
As a statement taker, she spent time sitting in hotel rooms, interviewing the family members of murdered or missing women.
“I did this work for six to eight months – it was really working on me,” said Merasty. “I tried to get into therapy, about the stuff I was hearing, to help me cope – I was busy traveling, so I started writing poetry, just started writing. I think my body was responding in a positive way, rather than going through this horrific stuff, I’d be writing. When you’re writing poetry, you engage all the senses. You go deep into memories, thoughts and words – it takes you away.”
She’s since had poems published in The Polyglot (Indigenous Languages Issue), Alaska Quarterly Review and Briarpatch. She’s been honoured by the Indigenous Voices Awards and as a speaker at the Empowering Indigenous Women Conference in Saskatchewan.
Her book of poetry, Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl, is due out this spring with Bookland Press, and a version in Cree is expected this winter.
Merasty is a third-generation survivor of Canada’s residential school system: her grandmother and her father were also taken into the residential school system.
Merasty currently works for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan. She lives in Saskatoon.
Electric Mermaid artistic director Jacqueline Carmichael said she’s grateful Merasty will share her voice with the Electric Mermaid audience.
“Francine’s poetry is very powerful, and her story remarkable,” said Carmichael. “We’re very grateful she’s going to be with us. So many Indigenous women and men were impacted by the residential school system, it’s important that we listen with respect to those who are able and willing to share their words.”
Feature reader Michelle Butler Hallett will also read from her latest book, Constant Nobody (Goose Lane Editions March 2021).
An online Zoom event set for the third Friday of each month, Electric Mermaid: Live Reads from Char’s Landing is free to attendees at www.charslanding.com. Writers who would like to read their own work in the curated open mic can sign up at ElectricMermaidReads@gmail.com for a spot of up to five minutes.