Friday, August 23, 2019

Darrell Dennis examines First Nation assumptions in new book

November 4, 2014 by Erin Blondeau, contributing writer

Assumptions are made quickly, often without factual information to back them up. Especially about First Nations people. Darrell Dennis knows this as well as anyone, and the Los Angeles-based writer’s new novel, Peace Pipe Dreams: The Truth About Lies About Indians, explores these assumptions.

“People really are willing to believe the first thing they hear,” chuckles Dennis, who also is a comedian and actor. He’s on a mission to spread the real truth about First Nations, blasting biases that “non-natives” have gotten wrong.

Darrell Dennis is out to shatter assumptions (photo provided).

In Peace Pipe Dreams, Dennis takes time to debunk the misconceptions surrounding the word “Indian” and the ignorance that goes along with it.

“As a result from my experiences as an actor, I really felt that there was a need to bring awareness and positive portrayals of the Native people,” he says.

Dennis got his first acting gig on a hit Vancouver-based television series called Northwood when he was 17. He went from living on an isolated reserve near Williams Lake to acting on national television, being on the receiving end of plenty of racism along the way.

“It was a series of experiences like that all my life that frustrated me and angered me, and sometimes just made me laugh outright at just how many misconceptions there are about our people,” recalls Dennis.

He toggles between cold-hard facts and light-hearted humor in the book, making it an interesting read. Every page is loaded with information, but instead of leaving the reader feeling confused and bitter, it’s a refreshingly amusing read.

“People really grabbed on to that approach, as opposed to being preached at, or being yelled at,” says Dennis. “I think that’s more of an effective message to send to people.”

Peace Pipe Dreams picks you up and plops you directly in the shoes of natives, experiencing racism from the colonial era to the ’90s. Dennis forces the reader to ask questions that feed the soul: if you could change the word “Indian,” would you? What is an Indian, anyway? Does it mean First Nations, indigenous, or does it really mean a person from India?

Although humor is well constructed throughout the novel, Dennis understands that there is a line of respect for his people and knows not to cross it.

“One of the hardest chapters to write was about residential schools,” says Dennis. “It’s really hard to strike that balance of humor and seriousness.”

Dennis Darrell (speaking at the Victoria Writer’s Festival; see website for info)
Thursday, November 6 to Saturday, November 8
victoriawritersfestival.org

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