Rita Joe

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Rita Joe
Born Rita Bernard
(1932-03-15)March 15, 1932
Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia
Died March 20, 2007(2007-03-20) (aged 75)
Sydney, Nova Scotia
Occupation Poetry
Nationality Canadian
Ethnicity Mi'kmaw
Genre Poetry, Memoir
Notable awards National Aboriginal Achievement Award, 1987; Member of the Order of Canada, 1989; Queen's Privy Council for Canada, 1992; Poet Laureate of the Mi'kmaq people
Spouse Frank Joe
Children Eight children; adopted two boys

Rita Joe, PC CM (March 15, 1932 – March 20, 2007) was a Mi'kmaw poet and songwriter, often referred to as the Poet Laureate of the Mi'kmaq people.

Born Rita Bernard in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, she was the youngest surviving daughter of Joseph (Josie) Gould Bernard and Annie (Googoo) Bernard. In 1942, she was orphaned.

In 1978, her first book, The Poems of Rita Joe was published. Over her lifetime she published six other books, including the autobiographical Song of Rita Joe,in which the poet outlined some of her experiences at the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

In 1989, Joe was made a Member of the Order of Canada; in 1992, she was called to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, and she is one of the few non-politicians ever appointed.

She married Frank Joe in 1954. They had eight children and adopted two boys. In the years before her death, Joe suffered from Parkinson's disease.


  • Poems of Rita Joe (1978)
  • Song of Eskasoni (1988)
  • Lnu And Indians We're Called (1991, ISBN 0-921556-22-5)
  • Kelusultiek (1995)
  • Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi'kmaq Poet (1996, ISBN 0-8032-7594-3)
  • The Mi'kmaq Anthology (1997)
  • We are the dreamers: recent and early poetry (1999, ISBN 978-1-895415-46-9)

Legacy and Influence[edit]

Rita Joe Memorial Literacy Day[edit]

Each year, Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni First Nation, Nova Scotia, holds a literacy day in Rita Joe's honour, with the "hope that students would be inspired to read, write, and create their own stories"[1] and revitalize the Mi'kmaq language.[2] The first Rita Joe Memorial Literacy Day was held in 2012. Festivities include a writing contest for students and visits and workshops from professional writers and artists.[2]

The Rita Joe National Song Project[edit]

Inspired by Rita Joe's poem, "I Lost My Talk," and her challenge for indigenous youth to "find their voices, share their stories, and celebrate their talents," Canada's National Arts Centre launched the Rita Joe National Song project. The project called on youth from five First Nations' communities in Canada to write, record, and create a music video for a song based on Joe's poem. The videos were debuted along with the premiere of the National Arts Centre Orchestra's "Spirit Prevails," also based on Joe's poem, in January, 2016, in Ottawa.[3][4][5][6] Reviewing the NACO's multimedia performance, Natasha Gautier stated, "The writing is eminently accessible but never simplistic or condescending. [Composer John] Estacio has a wonderful sense of orchestration, evocative but not cliché."[7]



  • "Indians have in the past been portrayed as the bad guys, I write the positive image of my people, the Mi'kmaq."
  • "When I started the first time writing, I was trying to inspire all minorities with my work. To make others happy with my work is what I wanted to do."
  • "My greatest wish is that there will be more writing from my people, and that our children will read it. I have said again and again that our history would be different if it had been expressed by us."[8]
  • "The positive outlook that I have worked on for so long now turns me off the negative. I look for the good."[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "3rd Annual Rita Joe Literacy Day | Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey". kinu.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  2. ^ a b "First Nations groups work to revitalize Mi'kmaq language". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  3. ^ "Rita Joe Song Project". nac-cna.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  4. ^ "NACO premieres work inspired by Rita Joe's poem of language lost". www.cbc.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  5. ^ "Voices lost and found: Young Aboriginal musicians pay tribute to Rita Joe at NAC". www.cbc.ca. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  6. ^ "NAC Orchestra to present works inspired by Alice Munro and Rita Joe". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  7. ^ "NACO review: Estacio's new score gives voice to Rita Joe's words and spirit". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  8. ^ Joe, Rita (1996). Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi'kmaq Poet. University of Nebraska Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780803275942. 
  9. ^ Joe, Rita (1996). Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi'kmaq Poet. University of Nebraska Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780803275942. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]