Early Life and Education
Brian Maracle was raised on the Six Nations Grand River Territory Reserve (see Haudenosaunee) in Ohsweken, Ontario, until he was five when his father, a carpenter, established a contracting firm and moved the family to the state of New York.
Maracle attended school in western New York and southern Ontario. He earned a BA from Dartmouth College in 1969 before going to work for Indigenous organizations in Vancouver during the 1970s. In 1980 he relocated to Ottawa to study journalism at Carleton University, graduating in 1982.
Writing and Radio Career
Maracle was a journalist in the 1980s, writing for the Globe and Mail and covering Indigenous issues for mainstream and Indigenous media. He also hosted the CBC Radio program Our Native Land, which began in 1965 and ran for 21 years, the first national radio program focused on Indigenous culture and issues. The program was produced by a team composed entirely of Indigenous people and reported on Indigenous literature, art, culture and political activism.
In 1993, Maracle’s first book, Crazywater: Native Voices on Addiction and Recovery, was published. The book is the compilation of 200 interviews, channelling traditional oral history, conducted across the country by Maracle during three years of research. The interview subjects are exemplified by the book’s 75 people who represent a cross-section of society that includes First Nation, Métis and Inuit men and women, young and old, drinkers and abstainers, residents of reserves, city dwellers and street people, and professionals and welfare recipients. The importance of the book is in the voice it gives to the Indigenous perspective on alcohol and drugs, which comes long after the dominant white culture—academics, social scientists, government authorities and medical experts—has expounded on the issue. Maracle declares his intention as wanting to round out the stereotype of the “drunken Indian” to facilitate understanding of the damage wreaked on Indigenous peoples by their relationship with alcohol.
After the book came out, Maracle left Ottawa and moved back to his reserve. His experiences in returning led Maracle to write Back on the Rez, finding the way home which was published in 1996. It is aptly divided according to the four seasons. He recounts the struggles of an urban dweller assimilating to life in the country while he struggles with understanding the Mohawk language. As an outsider, he exhibits a measure of objectivity in his observations of the social, political and spiritual life of the reserve, pointing out how the dominant white culture has played a significant role in destroying Indigenous identity and culture, but noting also the flaws in Indigenous society and how the community is torn between white culture and tradition. His participation in reserve life is a lesson in Indigenous history, culture and spirituality that Maracle shares with his audience. The book is the story of the Six Nations (Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora peoples) but many of the cultural traditions, such as the clan system and matriarchal and matrilineal society, apply to other First Nations.
Mohawk Language Revitalization
After Maracle moved back to his reserve, he began to learn the Mohawk language and, with his wife Audrey, established a full-time adult immersion language school, Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa, in 1998. Maracle eventually all but abandoned his writing career to devote himself to revitalizing the Mohawk language, employing his skills to host a radio program called Tewatonhwehsen! (Let’s have a good time!) and writing a blog in Mohawk. (See also Indigenous Languages in Canada).
In 2012, Maracle’s new media collaboration with his daughter Zoe Leigh Hopkins was presented at the 13th Annual imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival. Their sound art piece, Karenniyohston – Old Songs Made Good, blends oral language and sound art in a 30-minute adaptation of five national and cultural anthems from Canada, the UK and the US.
Honours and Awards
Brian Maracle was twice a finalist for the Gordon Montador Award in non-fiction writing, has won a National Radio Award and received the Six Nations Community Treasure Award in 2008. In June 2015, Maracle received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Wilfrid Laurier University.