For Tunchai Redvers, her first book is like a flower. Specifically, the fireweed that lends its name to her collection of poetry.
“The fireweed is that first plant that grows after an area of land has been devastated by fire. It’s often referred to as the phoenix of flowers because it will literally grow or rise from ashes. And so the significance of that fireweed is that no matter the devastation and hurt in life, you’re able to regrow,” she says.
The 25-year-old from Hay River and Yellowknife delves deep into her own history in the collection of poems. Some short, some long, they’re all starkly evocative of the experience she had growing up as part of the Deninu K’ue First Nation and as a Two-Spirit person.
“The book itself is, essentially, my own personal story—the first, I would say, 23 years of my life encompassed. So that includes my hardships, my traumas, my healing and growth and learning, as well as my sense of wanting to share that healing connection with others,” she says.
This isn’t the first time she’s hoped her work will reach people—Redvers is the co-founder of We Matter, a national Indigenous youth organization focused on mental health.
“What we do is, basically, offer messages of hope, love, and strength for Indigenous young people who might be going through a hard time. So I find it incredibly important to be honest and vulnerable in our own experiences and in our own challenges,” she says.
It’s why her poetry and prose is so blunt, to the point of being unflinchingly honest. She writes in stripped-down lines about self-esteem, her struggles with her own body, lateral violence, her family and more. Printed without titles, the final sentence—sometimes just a word, printed in bold—rockets the meaning of the poem into the reader's gut. The form of her poetry lends itself to the meaning and vice versa. Fireweed is a book aching to be read aloud.
Spanning topics from bullying to reconnecting with culture and heritage lost through colonization and trauma, the poems are broken up into four chapters, each following a cycle of the fireweed plant. Redvers writes in a rhythmic style that sounds like she speaks.
“My hope is through the book, by going deeply into those personal parts of my life, that I’m showing others that it’s OK to be personal; it’s OK to be vulnerable. My hope is that walking through my own personal healing journey I’m able to encourage or inspire others.”
Published by Kegedonce Press, the book came out of stacks of poems and other writings she had amassed as part of her own journey. She didn’t necessarily start out writing for other people, but somewhere along the way, it became obvious to her the personal needed to become public.
“Even before I published this book I would share my writing and I would share my poetry through my personal channels, like through my social media, my blog posts, through different publications,” she says. “I constantly have folks reaching out to me directly to say thank you for sharing this. And so, for me, that was just an indication of how important it was for me to actually publish this book.”
She’s hoping her poetry inspires others to use art as an outlet for their own healing. Just like the fireweed she has tattooed on her arm, she’s hoping her work will plant seeds in the broader community.
“What’s most powerful about the fireweed is that once that fireweed grows after an area has been burned by fire that it signals to the rest of nature that it’s time to re-grow. It’ll start to spread seeds and once the fireweed grows then other things will begin to grow again.”