Jules’ Tools for Social Change: Glass Beads by Dawn Dumont

Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics.


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Dear Reader,Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics.This month’s featured writer is Dawn Dumont, author of Glass Beads, published by Thistledown Press. Glass Beads is a collection of short stories that centre around four First Nations people over two decades in the 1990s and early 2000s. In addition to this book, Dawn writes and edits for a number of publications, and is also a comedian, performing across North America. Her first novel, Nobody Cries at Bingo, was also published by Thistledown, in 2011.From the publisher: “As the four friends experience family catastrophes, broken friendships, travel to Mexico, and the aftermath of the great tragedy of 9/11, readers are intimately connected with each struggle, whether it is with racism, isolation, finding their cultural identity, or repairing the wounds of their upbringing.”Read on for Dawn’s answers to my questions about the book, humour, and First Nations culture.’Til next time,JuliaJulia Horel: Why short stories? The stories in Glass Beads are chronological and follow the same set of characters. Why did you choose to write short stories and not a novel?Dawn Dumont: That is how the stories came out, which isn’t a very satisfactory answer, I realize. When I was editing the book, I saw that the nature of short stories captures how I connect with the First Nations people in my life. Our lives tend to be more nomadic, contact is often intermittent — years go by without communication — then boom, you’re in the same place and hurriedly catch up in frantic, entertaining, saddening, humorous conversations. I consider such conversations lucky accidents, because the truth is I don’t know where many of the people I grew up with are. JH: There are several large chronological jumps between stories, and as a reader, I found myself really wanting to hear the details of what had happened in those gaps. At the same time, it often hit me that although many things had happened, not much had changed overall in the lives of the characters. Are the gaps meant to emphasize that? Are there any other reasons for them?DD: That frustration that the reader may feel with not knowing what’s happening to the characters in the intervening years — that is what it feels like to be First Nations and lose contact with the people you care about because of poverty, dysfunction, and just not having great communication skills. (I’d be the first to admit, I’m guilty of that.) JH: Who is Glass Beads for? What do you hope readers get from it, and is it different for different readers (Indigenous and non-Indigenous)?DD: I always write for myself so I guess Glass Beads is for someone who knows and loves First Nations people and is searching to understand how racism, society, mainstream culture and the renewal of First Nations culture affect us. From a monetary standpoint, I wish I could write what non-Natives wanted to hear about First Nations people, like about wise old elders that can fix complex traumas with a couple plants and a handful of wood shavings. But that is not what my life is about, or many of the First Nations people I know. If you read my books, then you will learn about a different kind of magic. Like the magic in resilience. Or about miracles like loving your dysfunctional family so much that you search for them your entire life and that when you find them, you reach out for them gently so as not to scare them off. JH: You’re a comedian, and you’ve used a variety of media (stand-up, novels, plays, essays, social media and more). How does comedy fit into your identity as as Indigenous artist?DD: I like making people laugh. I have difficulty taking myself too seriously. I’ve certainly tried, mind you. For a little while on Facebook, I was posting dreamy poetic statuses about nature and life and then my neechi friends started teasing me so I gave that up quick. I am happiest when I’m riffing with another person about serious stuff — so I guess humour is my attempt to find riffing partners. Humour is fun in a world that we cannot control — I’d rather have fun than be sad.JH: Although you’re a stand-up comedian, Glass Beads isn’t humourous. Why not? DD: Hey! It’s a little funny. There are some laughs that arise naturally from the exchanges between the friends. But yes: the focus was on something else in this book. These days I don’t have a lot of time — I work full time, I have a toddler, a messy boyfriend, two columns and like two friends that I try to see at least once a month — but I still want to write books. Glass Beads is based on characters that I have known for a long time — at least twenty years — so when I was thinking about what to write next, I thought these characters would be an easier choice because I knew them so well and I was confident that I could tell their stories authentically.