Ojibway healer’s family rejects meeting with Joseph Boyden

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The daughter of Ron Geyshick says she has no interest in speaking with Canadian author Joseph Boyden who is facing criticism over similarities found between a passage in one of his pieces and a story published years earlier by the Ojibway healer and storyteller from Lac La Croix, Ont.

Sylvia Geyshick said she was “surprised” and “hurt” after it emerged a Native studies doctoral student uncovered similarities between Ron Geyshick’s Inside My Heart, an autobiographical story published in his 1989 book Te Bwe Win, and Boyden’s Bearwalker short story, which was written in 1997 and published in the 2001 book, Born with a Tooth.

Boyden denied he copied from Geyshick’s story in a statement sent to APTN National News. The award-winning author said he heard the tale from an “old man” named Xavier Bird in Fort Albany and around Moosonee, Ont.

In an interview this week with the CBC program As It Happens, Boyden said he wanted to get in touch with Geyshick’s family and apologize.

Geyshick’s daughter, Sylvia Geyshick, doesn’t believe Boyden’s claim that the same story her father wrote was also floating around in Cree communities on the other side of the province.

“How could anyone do that?” said Sylvia Geyshick, in a Facebook conversation with APTN from Kenora, Ont. “He’s a jerk, sorry that is what I think of him.”

She remembers her father writing in the early mornings, at the kitchen table.

“My dad always wrote in his spare time, or early in the morning when he would first wake up,” said Geyshick.

Geyshick said she believes Boyden would try to use any conversation with the family for his benefit.

“Speak to him for what? He might turn this around, as to what I am saying,” she said.

During his interview with As it Happens, Boyden said he wanted to tell Ron Geyshick’s family he was sorry for hurting them.

“Look at my work, it is not copied from someone else or stolen from someone else,” said Boyden, during the interview. “But I will sit down if the Geyshick’s allow it and I will speak with them and I will apologize that I had hurt them. That is how I live and that’s who I am.”

Ron Geyshick died in 1996.

In the CBC interview, Boyden maintained Xavier Bird, who also died in 1996, told him the story of the medicine man who received powers after lying sick on a couch for several days in a room with a door bolted by knives. He also said he received the “blessing” of Xavier Bird for use of his name as a character in his writings.

Xavier Bird is a character in Bearwalker and a principal character in Three Day Road, Boyden’s breakthrough novel.

“I, to this day, honour and credit Xavier Bird by naming my first literary child after him; something that he was happy with and gave me his okay and his blessing and his permission,” said Boyden, who admitted during the interview he held no written records of this permission.

During the CBC interview, Boyden said he also recently spoke with Xavier Bird’s younger brother Louis Bird about the issue, but would not disclose the contents of the conversation.

Louis Bird, who is a renowned storyteller and story-holder from Mushkegowuk Cree territory, which spans across Ontario’s James Bay and Hudson Bay coastal region in the north and northeast, has been skeptical about Boyden’s claims concerning his older brother.

In an interview Wednesday with APTN from his home in Peawanuck near the Hudson Bay coast, Bird said he spoke with Boyden over the telephone twice, once last week and again on Tuesday.

“He phoned me last Thursday or Friday. At that time, he just wanted to say that he mentioned my brother because he enjoyed his stories. That is all he said at the time,” said Bird. “Yesterday he phoned me again…and he says, ‘I did get permission from your brother and he gave me his blessing and I told him that I wanted to write a story about him, I did get permission from him.’”

Bird said he wasn’t convinced by Boyden’s version of events.

“I sort of wondered how many times did he talk to my brother and so I phoned my brother’s daughter and asked her if (Xavier Bird) has ever actually sat down with Joseph Boyden to speak about his life and his knowledge. So, she says, ‘Once, I think, but he spoke only about his trapping and his past hunting life, that is what he told Joseph Boyden, but nothing else,’” said Bird. “I know that much. I don’t know how much truth there is about giving him the blessing about the story…. Why doesn’t he just say, ‘I made a mistake?’”

APTN tried to contact Boyden, through his Kitchener, Ont., lawyer Brian Kelly, but there was no response as of this article’s posting.

The similarities between Ron Geyshick’s Inside My Heart and Boyden’s Bearwalker were first uncovered by Chuck Bourgeois, a doctoral student at the University of Manitoba. Bourgeois shared his findings with APTN which were sent to Judith Doyle, the co-author of Te Bwe Win.

Doyle said she believed the similarities between the two passages were “beyond coincidence.”

Boyden has strenuously denied copying Geyshick’s story. The author claims he only discovered Te Bwe Win after APTN contacted him about similarities between the two texts.

“Keep in mind too, Bearwalker, the story you’re referring to, is a 6,000 plus word story and APTN brought it to my attention that there are a few paragraphs in that story, in my story—that happened in flashback—and I think there’s maybe 60 words or something that are the same. But it’s striking, obviously, the specifics of them,” said Boyden, in the CBC interview. “This was, again, an oral story that was floating around in the mid-1990s up north. You know, the story of the Lord and his two helpers. The men in black suits, I remember these details. Like, I was thinking about Pulp Fiction at the time and the two helpers in their black suits as John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson.”

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5 thoughts on “Ojibway healer’s family rejects meeting with Joseph Boyden

  1. He should’ve gotten a record of permission. Every writer knows that. Still sounds fishy to me.

  2. Years ago I lived in Blackfoot territory, Lethbridge, Alberta, to be specific. I know the name “Born With A Tooth” belongs to a family of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Did Boyden obtain consent of the family to use this name?

  3. I’m sure if the story was floating around someone must have a recollection of it. Otherwise it doesn’t sound very truthful.

  4. This situation is familiar to Bible scholars who talk about a common source for the gospels. In other words, two writers used the same source for their information. This led to some identical sentences and ideas in their gospels even though one gospel writer did not copy from the other gospel writer.

    1. Oh, so you’re a Pulp Fiction fan too. Samuel Jackson’s character quotes this passage from the bible:

      “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.”

      Guess which one Boyden resembles. It’s not the righteous, the shepherd, the weak, the brother keeper or the finder of lost children.
      Why on earth are people attempting to fart catch for Boyden?

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