For his 26th published title in 26 years, Fort Smith born Richard Van Camp chose to write about the very thing he has dedicated his life to – storytelling.
‘Gather’, Van Camp’s newest book is part storytelling manual, part manuscript of what he calls miracle stories, interviews with people who have passed away and then come back to life.
“They’re beautiful stories, and they renew your faith in the universe and humanity,” he said.
Van Camp said his goal with Gather was for it to be a book you would give to a grieving friend, “it’s filled with a lot of answers about life, I think, I hope.”
In collecting the miracle stories Van Camp said he is “in awe of” he describes working up the courage to ask his mother about her experiences in residential school.
When she was five, Van Camp’s mother Rosa Wah-shee, was taken from her family in Behchoko and flown to Fort Smith.
To hear about her experience, Van Camp said he “didn’t think he could love her more than he already did.”
“My heart actually bloomed with pride for her, and it still does every day.”
As a teacher, one of Van Camp’s writing assignments is to get the story they need for peace. His mother’s residential school experience is one story that had always haunted him, Van Camp said.
“I wanted to illuminate why Canada is the way it is,” he said. “We are still in the shadow of those residential schools and the world needs to understand, Canadians need to understand, other Indigenous communities need to understand that what our parents went through, is really unforgivable.”
To illustrate his point, and the point of powerful storytelling, Van Camp describes the 100,000 kids taken from their homes – a strong image on its own – “now think about how quiet the communities were without the laughter of children.”
“I can’t imagine it,” he said. “I can’t.”
“But we’re here and we are a people have incredible dignity, and a people of incredible forgiveness.”
On top of honouring those who share their stories with him, in Gather Van Camp creates a “how-to” for becoming a better story teller.
“Great storytellers remind you that all storms pass,” he said. “Storytelling, is really just great visiting, and we all are craving a great visit right now.”