These days I’ve been thinking about the importance of being able to recognize your self and your people in the literature you are reading and that’s one of the most important offerings from Jesse Thistle’s memoir From the Ashes. Of course, his story should be read by all non-Indigenous people who want to understand the impacts of intergenerational colonial trauma among Indigenous people living in Canada today. But to me, it’s more valuable as a story that will be recognized by many Indigenous people who have carried and still carry the impacts of Canada’s treatment of them and their relations.
Thistle has written a memoir that reflects back to members of Indigenous communities some of the experiences common to many us and our families. This can be hard — I put off reading the book until I felt ready for this reason — but it is an important step toward healing. Thistle’s memoir also offers a story that describes a path through trauma by sharing how he taught himself first to live and then to thrive.
We all want the non-Indigenous in Canada to begin to understand just how difficult it is to grapple with intergenerational trauma and why so many people struggle in different ways for their entire lives because of it. But, I think that the teachings in Thistle’s memoir are directed at Indigenous people who have experienced the kind of disconnection he did. That’s what the book is about: the disconnection from self, culture, and family that is the result of years of cultural genocide against Indigenous people; it reflects the kinds of personal struggles that are the result of those government policies, including drug addiction, alcoholism, violence, and suicide. The story he tells is the story so many of us in the Indigenous community have seen play out in their own lives, families, and communities.
Thistle is Métis-Cree from Saskatchewan and I found myself leaning into some of the details about growing up Métis in western Canada because I am from a Métis family from Alberta. The little details are familiar: the mix of the cultural backgrounds of relatives; the different ways members of the family identify their background; discussion about who “looked the most ‘Indian’”; the way some members of the family struggle to understand the meaning of their cultural backgrounds. Thistle shows the deep disorientation felt by many Métis who’ve been disconnected from their land and their culture for generations. But, as Thistle shows, the culture is still there and healing is possible.
Everyone’s talking about Jesse Thistle’s memoir From the Ashes. It’s been on the bestseller list and featured by Canada Reads 2020. It is a must-read: Thistle tells his story beautifully, directly, and with the self-compassion he learned in recovery. It took incredible courage to write.
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