In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier (40th Anniversary Edition

In Search of April Raintree is a book that I had planned to read for many years, but postponed reading. With the release of the 40th anniversary edition approaching, the time could no longer be postponed. I read and responded to the text as a non-Indigenous person, and having read it, can only feel respect for those whose story it is. I hear so many voices, see so many faces, rising from my years in the classroom. They know this story, in all its pain and its dreams, and Beatrice Mosionier has offered them a voice. I am grateful that the opening warns that the content may be triggering to some readers and invites contact with the crisis support numbers provided. The book is not simply cast into the world; there is a sense that it is shared with compassion, empathy, and love.

“This novel was first released when very little Indigenous literature was being published”

Katherena Vermette in the Foreword speaks of how it was for Indigenous readers finally to discover a book that reflected their own lives. This novel was first released when very little Indigenous literature was being published; she tells how Beatrice Mosionier ran Pemmican Publishing and wrote and published the story she wanted to tell.

April and Cheryl Raintree of Winnipeg are Métis children whose parents love them deeply but struggle with alcoholism. Little April’s home life, although unpredictable and sometimes frightening, is familiar, and it feels safe to her. When she and her sister are taken to an orphanage, April feels lost. Family visits are a source of joy and sorrow for her, as she longs for the visits while dreading their completion.

Her first foster home is supportive and loving, but April continues to yearn for home. As her foster mother’s health fails, April is moved to a new foster home, where she is bullied and abused, and her cultural background is despised. Her classmates also torment her sister Cheryl, but Cheryl’s foster mother, of Métis descent herself, supports her. Cheryl, to April’s dismay, now champions her Métis heritage. April, though, begins to resent her parents: It is because of them that she is stuck there, she decides, and she hates them for their lies. She learns to hide her heritage, not wanting to be associated with the people on the streets or with the “savages” who “tortured the missionaries.”

When Cheryl comes to live with April, the situation deteriorates. Cheryl resists the lies she is taught about Indigenous people in school and stands up to the family at home. Resistance, she is warned, proves she is bound for reform school, and a life of drugs and prostitution (Typical of “Native girls”) is seen to lie in the future. In education, we call this “self-fulfilling prophecy”: You expect it and anticipate it until you force it to happen. As an educator, I grieve, but unfortunately am not surprised.

 When April plans to run away to the city and contemplates surviving there, she speculates, “I bet all those girls who ended up on Skid Row just wanted freedom and peace in the first place. Just like me.” This sums up so poignantly a tragedy that should not be true, but it is. It still is.

As April develops a White lifestyle, she drifts away from her sister. She is increasingly uncomfortable with Cheryl’s Métis identification and finds the programs that excite Cheryl somewhat pointless: Other people, April claims, are still going to look down on Native people. (Ironically that is what she is doing. It is, perhaps, a learned behaviour.) Living a White lifestyle, however, will not protect April, and Cheryl’s idealism and hopefulness is perhaps the source of Cheryl’s downfall.

Point of view is well-managed: In the opening chapters we see the world consistently through six-year-old April’s eyes, and as April grows up, her maturing voice is reflected in the narrative. Description is masterful: When the girls independently seek their parents, the grinding poverty, the squalor, and the sense of loss are so vivid, so real. As are the moments of affection and love. The author enters the characters completely: When April is gang-raped, the horror of her total isolation, her complete helplessness, and her ensuing rage sink into the reader and grip deep.

Although Beatrice Mosionier’s story is often painful, it is important reading — for those in the struggle and those who would be their allies. Rosanna Deerchild, Host of CBC’s Unreserved, describes In Search of April Raintree as “tender and brutal, authentic and unapologetic, heartbreaking and hopeful.” (“Praise for In Search of April Raintree”) That, in essence, describes the book.

Set against the backdrop of the sixties scoop, In Search of April Raintree transcends time and place. The stories are still happening. The hurt is still there. This is great literature because it rips right into the soul and forces us to confront the darkest realities of colonization. We are pulled down into the darkest moments of April’s despair, and yet — we are uplifted. The acronym of the title (of which I was unaware until Katherena Vermette mentioned it in the Foreword) is suddenly perfect, and we dare to hope that each will soar.

Born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Beatrice Mosionier is a Métis writer best known for her novel In Search of April Raintree, first published in 1983. A school edition, April Raintree, followed in 1984. Most recently, she wrote the foreword for Overcome, Stories of Women Who Grew Up in the Child Welfare System, by Anne Mahon. She has written several other books, including a play and a short film, and she is the former publisher of Pemmican Publications. She now lives in Enderby, British Columbia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HighWater Press; Fortieth Anniversary edition (Sept. 12 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774920913
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774920916