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Western Perceptions: Writer’s Conference

‘Western Perceptions’, presented by Fort McKay First Nation, is Wood Buffalo’s first-ever writer’s conference, bringing together best-selling Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors to the community to share literary perspectives with the region. From December 8 – 10, 2022, the FREE three day festival will include workshops taking place throughout several locations in Wood Buffalo including Fort McMurray, Anzac and Fort McKay. The conference will conclude with a panel discussion and keynote address.



Brandon Mitchell is Mi’gmaq from Listuguj First Nations in Quebec and currently resides in the unceded Wolastoqiyik territory of Fredericton, New Brunswick. He carries a Diploma in Animation and Design from the New Brunswick Community College of Miramichi and holds a master’s degree in Education from the University of New Brunswick. He is the founder of Birch Bark Comics and creator of the Sacred Circles comic series, which explored his Mi’kmaq heritage through a contemporary lens. Brandon also sits on the board for the Mawi-Art Collective and sits as the Art Director for the Ni’gweg Collective.

He has authored six stories for Indigenous Story Studio: Lost Innocence, Drawing Hope, River Run, Making it Right, Emily’s Choice and Tomorrow’s Hope. He was approached to by the University of Alabama to script and illustrated Jean-Paul’s Daring Adventure: Stories from Old Mobile. He was also a contributing author of “Migwite’tmeg: We Remember It” for “This Place: 150 years retold” which recounts the events leading up to the infamous salmon raids that took place in Listuguj in the summer of 1981 by Highwater Press.

Brandon is also the creator and author of a new young readers series “Giju’s Gift” published by Highwater Press. In it, a Mi’kmaw girl battles an ancient giant and forms an unexpected friendship with a mythical creature, this is the first volume of an ongoing series of graphic novels inspired by traditional stories.


During the last thirty years of his career, Drew Hayden Taylor has done many things, most of which he is proud of.  An Ojibway from the Curve Lake First Nations in Ontario, he has worn many hats in his literary career, from performing stand-up comedy at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., to being Artistic Director of Canada’s premiere Native theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts. He has been an award-winning playwright, a journalist/columnist (appearing regularly in several Canadian newspapers and magazines), short-story writer, novelist, television scriptwriter, and has worked on numerous documentaries exploring the Native experience.

Drew has worked on seventeen documentaries, most recently, REDSKINS, TRICKSTERS AND PUPPY STEW and SEARCHING FOR WINNITOU. He has also served as a scriptwriter on many acclaimed series, including North of Sixty and The Beachcombers. His latest novel, Chasing Painted Horses, brings his total number of published works to thirty-three – and he has also just begun hosting Going Native, a TV series which explores a different and unique aspect of Indigenous identity in each episode.

As a playwright, Drew has proudly been a part of what he refers to as the contemporary Native Literary Renascence. An author of more than 20 plays (resulting in almost a hundred productions), his popular plays such as TORONTO AT DREAMER’S ROCK, ONLY DRUNKS AND CHILDREN TELL THE TRUTH, THE BERLIN BLUES, and COTTAGERS AND INDIANS have left their mark on the Canadian theatre scene.  The latter play is currently one of the most remounted shows in recent years.

The years of writing have brought him many accolades by his peers, including the Floyd S. Chalmers Award, Dora Mavor Moore Award  and the Canadian Author’s Literary Award, He has also been the recipient of many other varied honours; an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Mount Allison University, a Plaque of Honour on the Peterborough Walk of Fame, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award, Ontario Premier’s Award for Creative Arts and Design, and Victoria Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in Theatre, to name a few.

Oddly enough, the thing his mother was most proud of was his ability to make spaghetti from scratch.


Michael Mankowski is a Screen Writer and Director. He was born and raised in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. Owner and operator of Alien Kow formerly known as Wood Buffalo Productions, an Alberta, Canada based award winning production house. Michael is a graduate of University of Lethbridge Bachelor of Management and Vancouver Film School 3D & Animation Program.

Over the years, Michael has achieved many accomplishments including the 2017 Media Arts Buffy award. He has also produced passion projects on the side such as, God’s Acre, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, was the winner of the Best Short Film award at the Alberta Film and Television Awards in 2016. Most recently, he created Back Home Again which was the winner of the Best Animated Short Film at the 2021 Edmonton International Film Festival.

Back Home Again was inspired by real testimonials that Michael recorded (while working with the Canadian Red Cross) of individuals who experienced the forest fire, evacuation and the road to recovery. Extensive health research was utilized in the creation of the film, script and content including research from the University of Alberta, CMHA and a number of other studies related to mental health and resilience in disaster/post disaster situations.


Dene Plews is an Indigenous Storyteller from the Fort McMurray #468 First Nation. She writes everything from contemporary romance to YA fantasy, screenplays for short films, songs and poems, but her heart belongs to the short stories she crafts after dark in the comfort of her kitchen. Dene draws her inspiration from the woods around her home. From the sandy trails nestled in the jack pine corridors of Blueberry Hill to the snaking rivers and grand lakes where Slew Sharks lurk. Dene has a passion for folklore specific to her Cree roots and tells tales of ravenous monsters that stalk the forests of the Treaty 8 territory. Story teaches us the value of culture and lessons handed down from generation to generation.


Author Therese Greenwood’s memoir of the Fort McMurray wildfire, What You Take With You: Wildfire, Family and the Road Home, was a Finalist for the 2020 Alberta Book Publishing Awards from The Book Publishers Association of Alberta (BPAA). Nominated in the Trade Non-fiction category, What You Take With You: Wildfire, Family and the Road Home was published by the University of Alberta Press. An eyewitness account of the Fort McMurray wildfire and evacuation, the book is also about the physical and emotional artifacts we carry with us in times of crisis.

Therese’s short crime fiction has appeared across Canada and the U.S. and she won the 2019 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for her story “Buck’s Last Ride” in Kill As You Go, her 2018 short story collection. She is a three-time Finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award, Canada’s top mystery writing prize, and has co-edited two short crime fiction anthologies.

Therese has also worked as a reporter and editor and spent a decade as a weekly CBC Radio correspondent. Her feature stories and columns have appeared in publications ranging from the Globe and Mail to Cottage Life, and she has a Master’s degree in journalism.


DAY 1 (December 8, 2022)

December 8, 2022 will each feature a one-day invite-only workshop for high school students and youth in Anzac who are interested comic book and graphic novel creation. Mi’kmaw comic writer Brandon Mitchell will lead the workshop from concept to completion. If you are interested, please contact Programs Coordinator, Hanna Fridhed at or (587)-674-1625 ext. 104.

DAY 2 (December 9, 2022)

During the day, Mi’kmaw comic writer Brandon Mitchell will be leading another one-day invite-only workshop for high school students and youth located in Fort McKay. If you are interested, please contact Programs Coordinator, Hanna Fridhed at or (587)-674-1625 ext. 104.

The evening of December 9 will feature a public documentary screening of ‘Searching for Winnetou‘ directed by Drew Hayden Taylor. Searching for Winnetou explores the controversy surrounding cultural appropriation of Indigenous culture in an innovative, hilarious, unnerving, yet inspiring way. For years Drew Hayden Taylor, prolific playwright and author of dozens of Canadian-Indigenous books, has noticed a high proportion of German tourists visiting Canada, many who have come looking for a real “Indianer” experience (what Germans call the North American Native lifestyle). Inevitably, almost every one of these Germans will relate stories of Winnetou: Germany’s most famous, but mythical, Apache warrior. The film is a fascinating exploration of “cultural appreciation vs appropriation” from the perspective of one of Canada’s most beloved Native writers.

Register to attend this screening via Eventbrite. (Click image to register)

DAY 3 (December 10, 2022)

9:00 AM – 1:00 PM GRAPHIC NOVEL CREATION WORKSHOP This workshop is open to ALL residents in the Wood Buffalo region who would like to explore, learn and work with graphic novel design. Mi’kmaw Comic Writer, Brandon Mitchell, will lead the workshop from concept to completion. All materials will be provided. (Click image to register)

3:00 PM – 8:00 PM PANEL DISCUSSION, Q&A & KEYNOTE ADDRESS This first-ever Writer’s Conference will be starting with a panel discussion and Q&A Session followed by a catered gathering by Meals and Things and a Keynote Address given by Drew Hayden Taylor. Planned by festival co-directors Frederick McDonald and Therese Greenwood, this event is open to ALL writers, readers and literary enthusiasts.

This unique event will look at the idea of the ‘Western Hero’ and ‘Indian’ stereotype in popular media and how artists, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, deal with these subjects. Each artist will have an opportunity to discuss and share their perspective on either of the subjects or both.

Attendees must register on Eventbrite for the conference as space is limited. (Click image to register) 

The three-day event is made possible by presenting sponsor, Fort McKay First Nation. Arts Council Wood Buffalo would also like to thank our additional sponsors: Suncor, Syncrude, Teck, APE Maintenance and Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries. 

A special thanks to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and the Canada Council for the Arts for their continuance in their support of the arts.

Western Perspectives Co-Directors

The festival is jointly organized by an Indigenous and a non-Indigenous artistic director:

  • Frederick McDonaldCo-Artistic Director Fred McDonald is a member of the Fort McKay First Nation and is presently a full-time artist in the Wood Buffalo Region of Alberta. Despite his many travels, work experience and exhibitions, Fred’s heart is still with the community where he was born and he continues to be an active member of the Fort McKay band. Always a leader, Fred has also been the Chief Executive Officer of the Fort McKay Group of Companies and was resident of the Northern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association. Whether presenting art workshops for students of all levels or running a multi-million-dollar company, Fred keeps himself grounded through his family ties and his children are his inspiration for everything he does.
  • Therese GreenwoodCo-Artistic Director Therese Greenwood’s short fiction has appeared across Canada and the U.S. She won the 2019 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and is a three-time finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award, Canada’s top mystery writing prize. She has worked as a reporter, editor, and broadcaster, and has appeared in publications ranging from the Globe And Mail to Queen’s Quarterly to Cottage Life. Her memoir of the Fort McMurray wildfire, What You Take With You: Wildfire, Family and the Road Home, was published last year by the University of Alberta Press. Her website is