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This article was published 7/7/2010 (4001 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg woman who took a spiritual journey with her pen and paper has landed a prize in Canada’s largest essay writing contest for aboriginal people.
Maria Starr, 27, recently earned a third place finish in the 19 to 29 age group category of the Canadian Aboriginal Writing Challenge.
The contest, presented by Enbridge Inc. and organized by The Historica-Dominion Institute, is a national storytelling initiative designed to educate Canadians about the defining moments in history that have shaped the nation and its aboriginal peoples.
Starr, who is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, is currently studying for a social work degree at the University of Manitoba.
This year was the third time that Starr, who has lived in the North End since she was six, has entered the national contest. And she’s clearly getting better with age and experience.
"I knew it was different this time because they called me instead of emailing," Starr said, noting that she placed eighth in 2006 and 2009 and this time picked up a $500 prize. "It was exciting to place third."
Starr submitted a story — Oshkabaywis — which follows the path of a young aboriginal boy as he explores his own spiritual beliefs and a world of mixed symbolism. The idea sprouted from a classroom discussion.
"One of my classmates pointed out that in every First Nation community there is usually a church with a steeple and a cross that is visible from a far distance; a constant reminder of the religious presence that once invaded but has now made its home in the community," Starr said.
"While on the other hand, one would have to look around to find the presence of a sweat lodge or any other ceremonial places within a community; a reminder of the fact that those types of places had to go into hiding for their survival."
Starr chose to combine both of these themes in her narrative, which explores how the male protagonist "who is actively involved with one point of view, discovers the other."
Drawing from some of her own experiences, Starr said she remains open to different forms of spirituality.
"Above all, it is the same god/creator that made us all and that is the fact that enters my mind when I am questioned as to what exactly my belief is," said Starr, who works as a co-ordinator for the kid camp at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre.
While her academic path should one day lead her into the field of social work, Starr said she also wants to continue writing.
Based in Toronto, The Historica-Dominion Institute is a non-profit organization that is mandated to inform individuals through a greater knowledge and appreciation of the history and heritage of Canada.
Jeremy Diamond, managing director of the institute’s national office, said the organization was "overwhelmed by the creative, brave and sensitive way that these young people tackle a broad range of topics."
Starr hopes that her story will soon appear on the organization’s website.
For more information, visit www.historica-dominion.ca.
The Lance community journalist
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Canstar’s senior reporter, he joined the team in June 2009 to write for The Sou’wester, which was then the new paper in the Canstar family.