Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

I Count Myself Among Them by Richard Van Camp

The Fourth Stage of the NAC was a full house as Canadian poet and Carleton University’s Armand Garnet Ruffo took to the stage to introduce his dear friend Richard Van Camp. He talked about the many accomplishments of the writer including his phenomenal novel The Lesser Blessed , now a film which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the many awards and accomplishments Van Camp has achieved through his writing. Ruffo recounts a recent conversation with Van Camp in which he said that he likes words that he can feel, stories that stir his blood which is exactly how Armand Garnet Ruffo introduces the radio play the audience is about to be a part of.


Host Shelagh Rogers of CBC Radio then took to the stage to discuss her recent time spent observing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where she learned exactly how important it is to hear Aboriginal stories from Aboriginal writers themselves which is part of the reason that Van Camp’s work is such a staple of CBC’s The Next Chapter, aside from it’s sheer brilliance. The radio play was an incredible journey, the only way I can think to describe it, the audience was taken on by actors Craig Lauzon, Chris Cound, Russell Bull, and Leela Gilday. A phenomenal cast who were able to bring the vivid images of the story to life, along with the help of the woman who adapted the story for radio, Reneltta Arluk. The central character of the story, Flinch, is a Dogrib man who has found himself caught up in a drug dealing gang and on one of his drops he encounters two men who lead him to a community of Aboriginal people who call themselves “The Not Even Counted.” When he meets these people he comes to realize that the path he’s been on has lead him to this moment and it is through them that he discovers his true power and his destiny that will lead his people home.


After the play ended, Van Camp and Rogers took the stage together to discuss channeling, storytelling, and hardening nipples. Van Camp describes the way in which the story was brought to life on paper, he united the ideas of all the horrible gang killings that were taking place while he lived in B.C. With a story from his home town newspaper about a man he knew all his life who narrowly avoided being incinerated by lightning. The reason he felt it would be amazing to turn into a radio play is, he says, that radio is what connects Canada, more than television can. His characters, like Flinch just come to him and he channels all their thoughts, emotions, feelings and ultimately ends up with a story. They key, Van Camp says, is trusting what it is that his characters want to do.


When asked about the theme of transformation in his work, Van Camp tells the audience the Dogrib creation story, and a story of his own encounter with one of the last shifters. But something that really struck him during the time he was writing the short story that the play is based on, was something a friend of his said concerning ninjas. Van Camp has a fascination with them, and his friend was asking why, and then reveals that she knows her own secret about ninjas. Van Camp asks what this secret is, and he hears her say “you have to die first before you can become one,” something his friend tells him she never said. It was in this moment of channeling that he found a kind of transformation that lies behind the story. Flinch must die in order to gain all of his powers and the life he envisions for himself with his wife and children. In an extremely poetic ending to the night, Van Camp told Rogers that he felt it was his job to braid heaven and earth and to bring peace to people’s lives through his writing. Which is exactly how the audience felt after having watched his incredible story of transformation performed as a lice radio play.