Interview by Leigh Kotsilidis
Matthew James Weigel (he/him) is a Dene and Métis poet and artist pursuing an MA in English at the University of Alberta. His words and art have been published by people like Book*Hug and The Mamawi Project, while his first self-published chapbook “…whether they took treaty or not, they were subject to the laws of the Dominion” is held in Bruce Peel Special Collections.
It Was Treaty / It Was Me feels almost like a collage. Drawing on government records, archival images and his own family history, Matthew James Weigel blends prose and poetry to look how John A. Macdonald and his government used treaties to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands. Weigel juxtaposes the machinations of the Canadian government with other versions of the story; official history bumps up against memories recorded in the body, exposing corruption and violence. “I wake up at 6am to a weight on my chest. / I massage it until it says the word treaty,” Weigel writes. This body memory is inextricable from land and water. “Did you know that when you wrote this down the river would remember it?” In recounting these histories, Weigel re-situates them. Under a picture of Queen Victoria’s throne, he writes: “I have acquired and used this photograph without permission. It has been digitally altered to suit my needs.” Another photo, though, remains beyond his grasp – an image of his family, held at the archives of the University of Alberta. These are not just questions of what happened, but who gets to tell the story of a past that bleeds into present. Sometimes, the most important act is to bear witness. “Dreamt I was a river again,” Weigel writes in the final poem, “2020: witness (continued).” “A thread of a glacier unwinding itself in slow motion, / slow enough to dip hands in and drink.”