Carrying It Forward: Essays From Kistahpinanihk by John Brady McDonald

CARRYING IT FORWARD: Essays From Kistahpinanihk is a set of independent but interconnected essays that invite us to re-evaluate our perceptions of the world. Writing from his perspective within the colonized world, author John Brady McDonald sees his role as that of a warrior, defending those who cannot defend themselves. At the same time, there is guidance here, and an opportunity for all sides to reflect and move forward.

In the introduction, the author establishes his purpose: to express his thoughts and feelings on the teachings that he has been given, hoping to share these in an entertaining, educational, and respectful way. He acknowledges that how he sees the world is not necessarily how others see the world, and that others might take exception to what he has to say. He accepts responsibility for his words and for the actions and reactions that his words can cause. He acknowledges his vulnerability and the boundaries he establishes to guard this vulnerability. There is an earnestness here, an intensity and honesty that establishes the tone for the essays he shares in this collection.

“There is an earnestness here, an intensity and honesty that establishes the tone for the essays he shares in this collection.”

The essays address questions regarding culture, geography, history, language, and racism arising from colonization. They are never dry or tedious, and neither condemn nor exult. He typically begins with a story that leads into the theme in question and then explores the theme or event, simply and succinctly, from all sides. His analyses do not dictate a position we must take, but they are persuasive. As we read “The Verdict”, for example, the tragedy of Colton Boushie is vividly before us, a call from the heart for justice for Colton Boushie and all those who are victims.

The author examines aspects of his life and family history within the context of colonization. In “The New North Territory,” he reflects on the challenges and shortcomings of the region, yet he is rooted there; it is home. He writes of the stereotypes based on language and education in “The Educated Savage”: it seems incredibly ironic that although he has been denied his original language, when he expresses himself well in English, he is seen as “acting White.”  This is but one of the ironies he identifies here. His description of the profound emotions stirred by his first writing are powerful; such moments might be cathartic, but they are brutal.

“The West Flat” brings home the reality of the residential schools; they are not simply heartbreaking events of the past, but are right here, present and immediate. “Not THAT John A.” reveals not just the history behind his own name, but the power that is in a name, to be an instrument of shame and an instrument of hurt. He writes elsewhere of his time in England and his love of many things British and reflects on what this means in terms of his stance on decolonization. We learn in his reflections about his grandfathers that some stories are meant to be private, a theme echoed in his descriptions of the stories behind the elements of his regalia. His essay on Canada Day is a moving expression of grief. In each instance, his own position on the topic is very clear, but he never forces his view on the reader, never dictates our response. The suggestion, however, is clear.

He honours his Indigenous and his Métis roots, yet he does not shy away from some of the awkward moments associated with history. He delves into the current trends in claiming heritage and establishes parameters for being Métis; he sees it as not just a cultural yearning, but a strong connection to the culture, language, history, and community.  On this point, I would like to see further analysis for those whose cultural associations may have been ruptured several generations back, but this is a broad topic and would require its own book. I appreciate the guidelines established here.

He sees into the struggles and the possibilities of “those kids,” the ones automatically designated as failures. When he writes of his parent being monitored in the store with his light skinned children (because he might be a kidnapper, after all), or the way the indigenous youth is followed in a store, he challenges us all to examine our biases. His observations and his retellings resonate with me, for we see these things that he is describing. We see them, but do we stand up?

His writing style is simple yet intricate. The crushing disappointments in a writer’s life and the gripping pain of PTSD come through. We feel the cold fear arising from that time on Parliament Hill in January 2022. This is honest writing that reaches out to us, inviting our participation.

This book is a call to action. It is vivid and intense, and a compelling read. Some will find his views controversial, but there is opportunity for dialogue here. We are not being indoctrinated or learning fresh anecdotes or gathering statistics. Instead, we are led into the world to see key issues from many sides, to reflect and decide. When he asks us why we remain silent, perhaps it is time to apply these strategies to our own lives, take a stance, and then move forward.

About the Author

John Brady McDonald is a Nehiyawak-Metis writer, artist, historian, musician, playwright, actor and activist born and raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He is from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the Mistawasis Nehiyawak. A noted polymath, John lives in Northern Saskatchewan.​

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Wolsak & Wynn (Nov. 22 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989496598
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989496596

Anne M. Smith-Nochasak grew up in rural Nova Scotia and taught for many years in northern settings including Northern Labrador,  the focal setting for her second novel. She has retired to Nova Scotia, where she enjoys reading, writing, and country living. She has self-published two novels through FriesenPress: A Canoer of Shorelines (2021) and The Ice Widow: A Story of Love and Redemption   (2022).