Singer and writer Andrea Max has written a memoir about her experience living and working in Mattagami First Nation.
Max, who grew up in Sudbury and now lives in Barrie, said she always wanted to be a singer and a songwriter but her parents “pushed” her toward a teaching career. After she received a degree in literature and a degree in education, she applied to be a teacher of a multi-grade classroom in Mattagami First Nation.
Titled When A Witch Arrives, the non-fiction book describes her first impressions, experiences and struggles as she had no cultural knowledge before arriving in the community.
“I was very unaware of how the politics on the reserve worked and how to navigate the system that was foreign to me,” she said. “There were a lot of things I didn’t understand when I first got on the reserve, there were a lot of cultural differences.”
She said the book is about breaking down stigmas about Indigenous people and also includes her thoughts and ideas as she was going through a spiritual journey.
“By naming it When A Witch Arrives, it’s also breaking down that stereotype of people having a preconceived notion of what (a witch) means.”
Max moved to Mattagami in 2013. She said she didn’t have any expectations but when she saw the community, she knew she would stay there for a little while.
She had about 13 children from Grade 4 to Grade 8 in her class. Along with teaching school curriculum, she said she was also teaching students to connect more with themselves but soon she realized she had to follow her own dreams.
“If I’m doing something and I’m trying to teach them how to follow their dreams and have confidence and do what they want to do and I’m not actually doing that, then I’m not teaching them anything that’s concrete,” she said. “Because I’m not doing what I’m trying to teach.”
Max wrote the book in three weeks about two years ago while she was in Santa Monica, California. The book also contains lyrics from her songs which can be listened to on her YouTube channel.
While she was in Mattagami, she also met musician Trevor Little Eagle McKay who is now her partner. Max said her best memories from living in the community are about the people and their kindness.
“I’m so glad I had an experience working at Mattagami. The things that the children taught me and the people about community, helping each other and even the mindset and how to be a more grounded person, those lessons I took with me where I travelled,” she said. “And it’s not something you would just get from visiting a First Nation, it really had to do with the fact I was staying there and I was a part of the community even if just for a short time.”
The book will also be a first in a trilogy series as Max is starting to work on a second book titled When A Witch Leaves.
She is planning to do book signing in the upcoming weeks and release an audio book version featuring her songs.
Having worked in Mattagami for about a year and a half, Max quit her job and moved to Timmins where she opened ACM Arts providing therapeutic music sessions for people with autism, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A year later, she moved to Toronto and then started travelling across the United States as she was pursuing her dream of being a singer.
The book can be purchased on Amazon.