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The Poetry of Myra Pierre | A DTES Small Arts Program Story

Líl̓wat artist and residential school survivor Myra Pierre finds healing through poetry
The Poetry of Myra Pierre | A DTES Small Arts Grants Recipient

Written by Laura Walker

Photography and video by Marina Dodis

WATCH: Myra Pierre recites "Eagle Feather" and shares about her history as a residential school survivor >>

The Poetry of Myra Pierre | A DTES Small Arts Grants Recipient

Every year, Vancouver Foundation’s Downtown Eastside Small Arts Grants program helps emerging artists working and living in the Downtown Eastside to advance their art practice. Among those talented artists is Myra Pierre, whose newly published collection of poetry A Rising of Voices and Other Poems presents an intimate and heart-wrenching journey of her life as a residential school survivor.

Her poetry not only provides a glimpse into her life living through the school’s brutality and the destructive aftermath on her family and culture, but demonstrates her beautiful, resilient soul and the importance of family and community as part of the process of healing.

Born in Mount Currie into the Líl̓wat Nation, Pierre’s traditional name, Ka’zez’semaka7, means “Busy Hands” — a celebration of her creative personality. “When I received the name I got so excited because it encompasses everything I am. I’m always busy making something,” says Pierre. “I like beading, cedar weaving, and pine needle weaving. I can’t get enough of any of them.”

At the age of seven, Pierre and her older brother were taken away from their family and sent to a residential school in Sechelt. “It took four years before we were able to come home,” explains Pierre, recounting the heartbreaking experience. “A lot of us got banged on the head, slapped or punched. We weren’t allowed to look at our family across the way. There was a lot of hitting and punishment over nothing.”

The emotional wounds inflicted on Pierre and her family during her time away persisted even after she and her brother were able to rejoin their family on the Lower Mainland. However, her art and creativity offered an outlet for expression. Her son was two when Pierre moved with her family to Vancouver, and it was then that Pierre’s experiences and feelings started coming out in the form of poetry.

“When my kids were little I didn’t really think anything of it. I just started writing,” she explains. “It kept accumulating. I had scrap book after scrap book. Sometimes I would write on any paper I could find and I’d put it in my book. Later on, I would end up editing them.”

Now, with help from a $1,000 Downtown Eastside Small Arts Grant and the support of the Learning Centre at Carnegie Community Centre, Pierre’s poetry has been curated into A Rising of Voices and Other Poems.

Since the book’s publication, Pierre has been sharing her poetry through book launch events with public readings at various branches of the Vancouver Public Library.

“A lot of people who hear my residential school poems are pretty touched,” says Pierre. “You can see it in their faces while I am reading. They have tears with me. Different cultures, even youth, it really touches them. I never expected people to feel the way I feel, to feel the pain.”

While her poetry expresses painful feelings and difficult experiences, it also offers a relentless hope toward healing. In A Rising of Voices, the title poem of the book, Pierre explains: “It’s about my parents. My mom was deaf, so in this poem it’s like magic. At the end of the poem she is in the spirit world with my dad and she’s shaking a rattle . . . my mom can hear.”

Through Pierre’s warm, open expression and willingness to share, A Rising of Voices and Other Poems stands as a new opportunity for education about an all too real history, offering collective healing and opening the door to building community and the sharing of cultures.

The 2019 DTES Small Arts Grants program is now accepting applications until November 22. Only artists who live or work in the DTES are eligible. Visit the DTES Small Arts Grants website for more detail.

A Rising of Voices and Other Poems is available to borrow from the Vancouver Public Library.