Behind the Scenes: Freeeeeedoooommmmmm!

I promise I will stop myself from painting my face blue and screaming this at the top of my lungs, but I do think it’s an important concept; important enough to not only recognize, but to follow through on. WordFest did just that on Feb. 22nd, in honour of Freedom to Read Week for our annual event with the Writers Guild of Alberta. We presented Judge John Reilly and his book Bad Medicine, which tackles some weighty subjects. Weighty as in, ‘we all know it’s bad but no one wants to talk about it’. I’m referring to the Aboriginal culture and people that are too often ignored as we turn a blind eye to their circumstances. What’s happening right now isn’t right or fair to them, so something has to be done, I’m just not sure what. This is one of the reasons that I love books, because they offer a glimpse into other lives, biases, and circumstances that we normally wouldn’t experience.

Don Gorman, Publisher for Rocky Mountain Books, with event host Russell Bowers from CBC Radio and Judge John Reilly.

What makes Aboriginal rights a touchy subject for people, and why is the Judge and his publisher so courageous by releasing a book about it? Well, for one thing Reilly is a white man and holds a position of power as a retired provincial court judge. Despite his enforced neutral position, he made a concerted effort to understand Aboriginal people and found that this affected the way he saw and sentenced them. Even further, he expressed his concerns and offered suggestions for improvement not only on the reserve, but off as well. He has been called a “voice for the repressed of the Stoney Nation”, but has also incurred his own fair share of criticism. Even while he is being attacked legally for his comments, he still stands up for what he truly believes is right, and is willing to endure whatever consequences come his way.  I was proud of WordFest for programming a controversial work such as this, and the buzz around the Auburn was contagious. Reilly’s unapologetic remarks were somewhat surprising to hear, but I’m happy that they came out, and based on the audience questions afterwards, I could tell that they would linger with everyone for awhile after they were uttered.  His unwavering belief in his actions was inspiring to witness, and I hope that all attendees came away with a better understanding of the difficult circumstances that Aboriginals face each and every day.

This is why freedom of speech and expression is important—so we can hear people’s thoughts on how and why we should improve things. The first step is admitting that the situation is unacceptable, and it’s people like Judge John Reilly that are the catalyst for change. His book is producing a much-needed dialogue, which can only help.  Reilly made the point that bad situations are always made better through thoughtful and respectful communication, and I couldn’t agree more. So let’s honour his Honour, and speak for what we believe in.

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