Sitting with Charlotte by Gregory Scofield

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324 pages hardcover, illustrated in colour
Manuscript available fall 2019


Canada: Doubleday, fall 2021


Author (Photo: Credit)
(Photo: Janzen Photography)

Gregory Scofield is Red River Métis of Cree, Scottish and European descent, whose ancestry can be traced to the fur trade and to the Métis community of Kinesota, Manitoba. He has taught First Nations and Métis Literature and Creative Writing at Brandon University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and the Alberta College of Art and Design. He is currently Associate Professor in the English department at Laurentian University in Sudbury, where he teaches Creative Writing. Scofield won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1994 for his debut collection, The Gathering: Stories for the Medicine Wheel, and has since published seven further volumes of poetry as well as a memoir, Thunder through My Veins (1999). In 2016 he was awarded the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize for his lifetime body of work. Scofield has served as writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and Memorial University

Coming soon: Gregory Scofield’s out-of-print 1999 memoir, Thunder Through My Veins, about his childhood, will be updated and rereleased under the Anchor Canada imprint in 2019.

Sitting with Charlotte
Stitching My History Bead by Bead

a memoir by Gregory Scofield



Award-winning Métis poet Gregory Scofield’s second memoir, Sitting With Charlotte: Stitching My History Bead by Bead, is an act of reclamation, celebration, and defiance that traces the story of his female ancestors, bead by bead, through photos and text, to document his Cree and Métis history while offering insights into the culture and community that he has so passionately written about for decades.

Scofield recently discovered information about members of his maternal family line, going back several generations to his great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Garston Yorkstone, a Cree woman, who became the wife of his great-great-great-great grandfather Peter Henderson, a Scottish Hudson’s bay Company employee. His book consists of sitting down to do beadwork with the spirits of each of these women, the beadwork leading to stories about them. It alternates between photos of Gregory’s beadwork and of the women, to text of the stories that the beadwork inspired. The book moves back and forth between the tactile and the intellectual, between beadwork and storytelling. Just as how beadwork begins with an outline—such as the outline of a flower—each story starts with a big picture and then fills in the finer details, beginning with the discovery of each of the women in his lineage as he sits down to bead with their spirits in order to fill in their complicated, and often painful histories, honoring his relationship to them and their narratives. It results in an expanding pattern of linked flowers—much like a garden of stories.


Part of Gregory’s family can be traced back to George Atkinson Sr., Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor at Eastmain, Quebec, who had a “country wife,” a James Bay Cree woman named Necushin. Their daughter, Sarah, Gregory’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, went on to marry James Whitford, another HBC employee, who moved his family down to York Factory and then onto the Red River Settlement in Manitoba. During this time in the early nineteenth century there were two distinct groups of mixed-bloods in the Northwest: the French Métis and the Scottish/English half-breeds. Gregory’s family was known then as half-breeds, a term that has been changed today to the more appropriate term, Métis.

Moving to more current relationships, Gregory explores his loving but sometimes troubled relationship with his mother, a former addict, whose early life included the sex-trade and various psychiatric interventions. Gregory also explores his mother’s life with his father, a petty criminal from Winnipeg whom Gregory never met but later comes to discover much about.

As a young boy, Gregory is introduced to his adopted aunty, a Cree/Métis woman who had a similar life to his mother’s. She takes Gregory as her nikosis—her son—because she lost all three of her own birth children. Through her, Gregory is given the gift of the Cree language and traditional Cree teachings. She also teaches Gregory about his place in the world and how to do traditional floral beadwork, providing him a prideful sense of identity and community. Young Gregory existed almost entirely within a woman’s world, experiencing the violence and racism, the hopelessness and crushing poverty of his mother and aunty. However, through beadwork his aunty teaches him patience and pride, instilling in him a lifelong love of language and storytelling.

Beadwork Beadwork

Beadwork among various First Nations communities varies greatly in style and composition. Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, western Métis developed a unique style of beadwork reminiscent of fine European tapestries. Métis craftswomen often incorporated European artistic elements into more traditional forms of beadwork. This unique form of beadwork earned the Métis and half-breeds the name “The Floral Beadwork People,” a name that is believed to have come from the Sioux. More recently beadwork, along with storytelling, has become a part of reclaiming one’s history and culture for both men and women. Currently, there are a number of very talented male beadworkers among many First Nations and Métis.

The concepts of family and community have always been at the core of First Nations and Métis identity. Oftentimes, as it was practiced in the days before colonization, family is not determined by blood but rather by unique circumstances and kinship ties. Wealth was understood not as a matter of material accumulation, but rather as a measure of the richness of family and community. In Sitting with Charlotte, Scofield explores his connections to the women of his blood, the women of his heart, and to a nation that predates Canada and that is woven deeply into the establishment of this country.

Beadwork01 Beadwork03



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