Mi’kmaq Elder Daniel Paul is an outspoken champion for First Nations People. His first book, We Were Not the Savages, is now in its third edition.
Chief Lightning Bolt is Mr Paul’s first foray into fictional history and is an attempt to portray how the Mi’kmaq people lived, in particular their way of life and culture pre-contact with the Europeans. It is the story of young Lightning Bolt and his growth from an infant born to Little Bear and Early Blossom to an aged, respected Grand Chief among the entire Mi’kmaq nation. Along the way, Lightning Bolt proves to be exemplary in every way, even when it comes to warfare, which is a last resort among the Mi’kmaq when attempts at a peaceful reconciliation fail.
Lightning Bolt…. reflected upon his experiences in battle. It left him with no doubts that warfare was an affront to the Great Spirit’s laws and to the dignity of humanity. He became a preacher for peace. In future Seasons, when circumstances beyond their control forced his country and allies to go to war, he fought vigorously and valiantly for the right of his People to remain free, but he never took any joy in ending another human’s life.
It is for his abilities as a negotiator and as a problem-solver that build respect for Lightning Bolt among the Peoples, not his abilities as a warrior, although these do not go unnoticed. Time after time, he is selected by the People to lead them when a Chief dies.
At one point, an Englishman is found washed up on the beach, half-drowned and the only survivor of a shipwreck. He is taken into Lightning Bolt’s teepee to recuperate and have his broken bones set. Early Blossom helps to nourish him back to health, and when able, is allowed to freely walk about the village. Lightning Bolt approaches him with an offer to become one of their people, since up to this point he has been their prisoner. William finds their interpretation of ‘prisoner’ vastly unlike the one he knows. He thinks to himself:
“Prisoner status? If only, in youth, I had been lucky enough to have been a prisoner with these kind people.”
William decides to stay, since he really has no way back to Europe and what awaits him there would be a life of servitude and poverty. He is named Flaming Hair (since he has red hair) and becomes a prominent member of the village and plays a key role when, near the end of the book, Europeans are seen on the shores of their land.
Some of Mr Paul’s critics (of which there are a number due to his outspokenness) may see this novel as a way of promoting his agenda that the Mi’kmaq were not savages, as has been taught in history books throughout time, but their way of life was organised, peaceful and had an aversion to war and conflict of any kind. His detractors may be right in this instance, but history shows that Europeans, and the way First Nations Peoples have been treated since the arrival of the White Man, has been anything but just and fair.
I enjoyed reading this novel, but I found the speeches, mainly by Lightning Bolt at his inaugurations and at ceremonies for Chiefs that have died, long and drawn out. They cover pages at times, were repetitive and redundant, and so I skipped over them. The action scenes were glossed over, and not described in any detail, I assume so as to downplay any emphasis on violence. I was hoping to find Chief Lightning Bolt more exciting to read like Rick Revelle’s Algonquin Quest series since they deal with life in pre-contact times as well, but it was not to be. As a means for advancing Mr Paul’s platform, it certainly proves worthy, but for enjoyment or for any insightful historical cultural material on the Mi’kmaq People, I found it lacking.