Michael (Mike) Calvert is an alumnus of VIU’s Creative Writing and Journalism program. He graduated in 2013 and continued his master’s degree in publishing at Simon Fraser University. He is Chair of VIU’s Indigenous University Transition Program, Acting Chair of VIU’s Indigenous Commitments Committee, and a member of the Academic and Career Preparation Faculty.
Mike is a first-generation Indigenous learner who began his journey in VIU’s Adult Basic Education program, where he rediscovered his passion for writing – a passion that had lain dormant for nearly 20 years. Since that first English class in 2009, Mike has continued to contribute his works of poetry and storytelling to VIU’s Gate magazine, Synergy Magazine, The browser newspaper and Canadian hot rods magazine. His work has also appeared in In our own native voice volumes I and II. Mike also edited Michelle Sylliboy’s book Kiskaleyi—I am readywho won a National Indigenous Voices Award in 2020. He has been working for two summers with VIU’s Indigenous youth camp, Thuy’she’num Tu Smun’eem, to help participants discover the power and potential of finding their voice.
You did quite a bit of editing with native voices; what is important to you in this job?
Awareness of Indigenous voices is growing and the perspectives of Indigenous peoples are being sought on a larger scale than we have seen before. As a global community, we have strayed so far from Indigenous and holistic values of relating to the land and to each other. This is where Indigenous voices are essential, at least in part, to help access and reconnect with those relationships. The work I have seen coming from young Indigenous writers and poets has been one of the most powerful works I have been involved with; they write from their lived experience and they write from their heart. A lot of young writers today don’t filter themselves, and I think that can be a beautiful thing when done right. When I do this work with emerging writers, it’s important to me to help them build their confidence to strengthen their voice and help them know that their voice matters in our world.
You teach a course in Indigenous literature and composition here at VIU. What was it like teaching Indigenous stories to classes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students?
It has been an incredible personal journey for me to teach students from all walks of life the truths of Canada’s past through the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. We must know the truths before we can understand what we are reconciling here. It is not easy for our young people to hear the story of what happened to bring us to this place and time, and why so many of our old people struggled and why so many of our young people struggled . By writing about this history through academic pieces, through written discussions and reflections, students are able to process these teachings and grasp how to move forward towards this concept of authentic and meaningful reconciliation. But it’s not enough to do one Native English class at a time; we must inspire these students to use their voices in their homes, among their friends, and in public spaces if we are to make meaningful changes to recapture some of the perspectives of the first inhabitants of this land. Our young people will have to lead this charge, so providing them with the knowledge and a strong voice to do so gives me hope for the future.
What’s next for you in terms of sharing your own voice?
Thank you for this question. I need to be reminded that I also have a voice that I want to share. I love creating stories. My passion for the work I do with students, and the mental and emotional energy that fills it, hasn’t left me with much capacity to pursue sharing my own stories these days. Although I have a collection of stories in the making in my mind that chronologically explore the Métis experience from first contact (from the perspective of Europeans and First Peoples) to current Métis identity ( maybe even dystopian). I love creating stories, so I hope I can devote more time to them in the future.
Mike is happy to share a short story with VIU blog readers, titled