Ottawa’s newest poet laureate Albert Dumont using the power of words to strike back at racism

April is National Poetry Month and Ottawa’s newest poet laureate officially kicked off his duties Wednesday reciting his poem Resilience to start a city council meeting.

Albert Dumont is an Algonquin man from Kitigan Zibi Anishenabeg First Nation, about 150 km north of Ottawa on the Quebec side.

Dumont told APTN News he is honoured to be chosen for the two year term position and said he will do his best to erase bigotry and discrimination in Canada’s capitol city.

Dumont said Ottawa residents are living in a time where a lot of people are disheartened and discouraged and said they need to be spiritually and emotionally uplifted.

“Trust me, when it comes to pain, there’s no pain greater than emotional pain,” Dumont said.

The theme for this year’s poetry month is resilience and is focusing on the battle against climate change, promoting mental health and ending systemic racism.

VERSe Ottawa is the non-profit organization tasked with promoting the poetic art scene in the national capital, as well as administering  the city’s Poet Laureate Program.

Every two years two are chosen: one French speaking and one English speaking.

Dumont was selected from a list of Indigenous and non-Indigenous local poets who have participated in VERSe’s annual international poetry festival. They say he was chosen due to his literary accomplishments and his use of poetry as a spiritual healing tool.

The festival regularly showcases Canadian Indigenous poets of which they said there is a growing number.

“For an Ottawa-based organization like ours, the appointment of an Algonquin poet as one of the city’s literary ambassadors should be considered normal, if not expected,” VERSe President Herbert Lussier told APTN in an email.

He said the mandate of being poet laureate will contribute to Dumont’s tool box used to teach, inspire and communicate the rich experiences of the region’s Algonquin people.

Herbert called the poet the pride of his community and of First Nations people living in Ottawa.

At the city council meeting Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said poetry plays an integral role in Ottawa culture and especially during the current pandemic. He said this year’s poetry month theme, Resilience, will prove as a much needed reminder of the city’s capacity to recover from difficulties.

The office of the mayor sent APTN this statement:

“We are very honoured to recognize Mr. Dumont, an Anishinaabe elder, as Ottawa’s English-language Poet Laureate. This is an important moment as our city is located on the traditional unceded lands of his ancestors, and his inspiring stories resonate with so many individuals, not only of Indigenous descent, but from all walks of life. We are proud to share his work with the residents of Ottawa and Canada.”

Dumont’s first work commissioned by the city is the poem he read at the council meeting Wednesday appropriately titled Resilience.

It speaks of a bird struggling up against a strong wind.

“A little bird flying against oppressive winds, sent forth by thunderous voices united in their desire to keep the little bird broken in heart and spirit,” Dumont’s poem reads.

He told APTN of the story that inspired it. Decades ago when he was working as a bricklayer and suffering from alcoholism he recalls working with a man full of hatred. Dumond said the man was openly prejudice against certain ethnic groups.

On a brick laying job the two men looked up and noticed a bird beating its wings fighting the wind with all its might but making now ground. The man told Dumont if he were that bird he would have turned back long ago.

“The little bird wasn’t giving up you know against the storm,” Dumont said to APTN. “And that’s what I try to tell kids about rejecting hatred and racism.”

Dumont has published numerous works of poetry and his most recent book which came out in 2018 is called Sitting by the Rapids

He said his next order of business in his duties as poet laureate will be to speak with the city’s less fortunate and his next poem will bring attention to the struggles of Ottawa’s homeless population.

Reporter / Ottawa

Originally from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the eastern coast of James Bay, Quebec, Jamie has lived in Ottawa since 2015. Trained in journalism at Carleton University, he has worked as a freelance print journalist and as a writer/researcher for the Cree unit of CBC North out of Montreal. Jamie was hired as the reporter/correspondent for the Ottawa bureau in October 2019.