The Narrows of Fear, known as Wapawikoscikanik in Cree, was the site of a massacre in 1729 of Cree women and children by the Sioux. The Cree retaliated and killed all but one of the Sioux attackers. This area in northern Saskatchewan near Deschambault Lake is where the story takes place.
We meet an engaging cast of female characters: an elder named Nina who shares the wisdom of generations past; Sandy, a journalist, who is visiting her biological family which she found only the year before; her sister Charlene who has recently lost her husband; and Mary Ann who is struggling with hidden painful memories. Together they are working on healing and rebuilding. Men include the recently widowed Gabriel; his son whose sexual identity troubles his father; and John Wayne who embodies the struggle between good and evil.
GoldenEagle shares many aspects of Cree culture such as smudging ceremonies, making drums, the pleasures of cooking, and the comfort of Wihkaskwapoy, the wild mint tea. Spirituality and connection to the land are present in almost everything the characters do. A cardinal is a sign someone who loves you is visiting from the spirit world. A man with horns might come to the rescue and Little People keep children from harm. Messages come during the night on hind legs.
Women are key to spiritual connection. Nina makes ribbon skirts which “are considered sacred, a symbol of resilience and survival because they touch the ground and connect to spirit.” Wearing these skirts, the women attend a moon ceremony. They will “sing to Grandmother Moon and ask for guidance.” And reflecting the dichotomy of two faiths, a woman travels with a St. Christopher medal and sweet grass.
There is a recognition that women are the leaders and nurturers. Nina says:
Our men, so many of them, are damaged. It’s our women who rise above. Always have. We are the ones who raise the sons and daughters while these men run away, creating even more children and then abandoning them, too. … Fact is, we can no longer wait for the leaders. We are the leaders. We are the teachers. As women.
As befitting its name, this book does not shy away from hard truths. Some passages are difficult to read, especially knowing that they reflect the truth of Indigenous people. These include the impacts of separating families, abuses of foster homes and residential schools, bans on cultural practices such as smudging, loss of language, and the forced relinquishment of Indian Status to obtain education or jobs. Pain plays out in reliance on alcohol, and sometimes rape and other violence. GoldenEagle makes these consequences real in the lives of her characters but also leavens the story with much good-humoured banter.
The book is a story of people not merely surviving but surmounting the challenges they face. Narrows of Fear is an important contribution to Indigenous literature. Highly recommended.
*The Narrows of Fear has won the Indigenous Peoples’ Writing Award for 2021 (Saskatchewan Book Awards).
Carol Rose GoldenEagle is Cree and Dene with roots in Sandy Bay, northern Saskatchewan. She is an award-winning published novelist, poet, playwright, visual artist, and musician. Her works have previously been published using the surname, Daniels. She now chooses to use her traditional name. She is the author of the award-winning novel Bearskin Diary (2015) and the recently published Bone Black (2019). Her debut poetry volume, Hiraeth, was published in 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2019 Saskatchewan Book Awards. As a visual artist, her work has been exhibited in art galleries across Saskatchewan and Northern Canada. As a musician, a CD of women’s drum songs, in which Carol is featured, was recently nominated for a Prairie Music Award. Before pursuing her art on a full-time basis, Carol worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in television and radio at APTN, CTV, and CBC. She lives in Regina Beach, Saskatchewan.
- Published: October 30, 2020
- ISBN: 978-1-77133-789-2 – $22.95
- ISBN: 978-1-77133-790-8 – $11.99
- Paperback: 240 pages
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