These remarks are excerpted from M. T. Kelly's speech of acceptance at the Governor General's Awards ceremony, in Calgary last February. His novel, A Dream Like Mine, won the award for fiction
We put up at the foot of a great chain of mountains. . . all the snowy cliffs to the southward were bright with the beams of the sun, while the most northern were darkened by tempest . . . (When we reached the heights) our view was vast and unbounded... the eye had not the strength to discriminate its termination.
IF ANYONE had a sense of place, of Canada, it was David Thompson, and the wonder he felt pervading this part of the country in 1798 has not diminished for a visitor today. That's why I'm so pleased to receive this Governor General's Award here in Calgary. It seems no one can come to this part of the country and be unaffected, as evidenced by the great body of literature that has come out of the West. To me, this is a place of very ancient history, of impersonal, brilliant fight, of echoes and stories and hauntings.
I'm also pleased that these Governor General's Awards are associated with the Olympic Arts Festival and the Olympics. I believe that it matters that the arts be declared officially important, and we have had our troubles with the place of the arts in Canada ?? writers feeling so marginal that they become half mad with bitterness.
I remember one of the first readings I ever attended. When the writer was in full flight, one of the reluctant sponsors of the reading came forward and interrupted. "Scuse me, uh, scuse me. Three?one Leafs!" How times change.
Of course that's nothing to what happened in a newly independent and insecure Ireland, which seemed puzzled about what to do with W. B. Yeats after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. The Irish Times sent the horse handicapper to interview Yeats, and the first question was, "Now tell me, Willie, and tell me true. What were the odds on ya?"
I would also hope that awards like this will encourage the larger publishers to publish More serious literature. There are problems with Canadian publishing, as everyone in this room knows, and if the literary presses remain the spirit of the country, in one sense a whole generation of writers has been rendered mute. They can't get to their audience.
Because of the themes of A Dream Like Mine I cannot conclude without speaking of the land claims of the Lubicon Lake Indians. They also have to do with a sense of place, but with much more than that. I am not one of those for whom literature or poetry ?? in W. H. Auden's words ?"makes nothing happen," flowing "on south/ from ranches of isolation." I believe that to change people's minds ?? and governments are people ?? we must not rely solely on economic or other arguments, but must create a sense of imagination. The Lubicon Lake Indians ?? all Native peoples and their cultures ?? are not simply artifacts to be displayed in museums or societies that are part of our multiculturalism and are interesting from an ethnological point of view. They are people and cultures from whom we can learn another way of looking at the world. This is not misplaced pantheism or aesthetic luxury; it is essential if we are going to continue on this planet, if we are going to leave our children anything that is wild, anything that is beautiful. Listen to these Indian voices, harken; they seem to me the very breath of the Americas.