Category Archives: Indigenous Titles

The Rick Revelle Interview 2.0*

Rick was born in Smith Falls Ontario. He belongs to the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. His books include, I Am Algonquin (2013), Algonquin Spring (2015), Algonquin Sunset (2017) and the final and fourth book in the series, Algonquin Legacy, which is now available. The series takes place on both sides of the St Lawrence River Valley and the Great Lakes and to the Rocky Mountains during the years of 1320 to 1350s. It follows an Algonquin Native family unit as they fight to survive in the harsh climate of warfare, survival from the elements and the constant quest for food of this pre-contact era. His readers are introduced to the Algonquin, Anishinaabe, Lakota, Mi´kmaq, Mohawk, and Lakȟóta, languages as they are used in the vernacular in the four novels. He lives in Glenburnie, Ontario.

For those not familiar with your work, can you talk about your artistic path?

I started writing this series of books when I was 55 years old. As an Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) person who reads as much historical non-fiction as I can lay my hands on I soon realized that there was nothing written about my own ancestors. After seeing the movie Apocalypto I knew how I wanted to write my novels. So I started doing intense research and created an Omàmiwinini family unit that lived in the 1300’s pre-contact and wrote about how they survived on Turtle Island from the ravages of warfare, starvation, nature’s elements and the animals that they tried to hunt for survival.

What inspires you to write about your People, and what new discoveries does each book bring?

I could not find anything written about my people. There was lots written about the Anishinaabe, Blackfoot, Cree, Haudenosaunee, Lakota, Ouendant (Huron), etc. So. I decided to change this literary error and write the books myself. Each book brings the reader to a different part of the country that they can actually visit. They are introduced to the Native communities that lived in these areas. The legends that they believe in and the cultural differences and the ways that they co-existed within their lands that may have been different from the Omàmiwinini people.

Where have you visited across Canada and what are your favourite memories of different parts of the country?

In doing my research I travelled from Newfoundland to South Dakota, Manitoba and all the lands in between. I visited every major museum in all these provinces and states and created friendships to aid in my research and storytelling. The only regret is that I could not travel while I wrote Algonquin Legacy. COVID put a hamper on that, but the three provinces that this book took place in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta I had travelled to before. When I needed clarification on certain research items I got on the phone and called people in these provinces.

Favourite memories would be some of the museums I visited:

  • The Rooms in St Johns Newfoundland
  • Thunder Bay Museum in Thunder Bay Ontario
  • The Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg Manitoba which has to be #1 on my list.

How important is talking to young people to you? You do a lot of work with schools and your work is studied in the classroom. What responsibility do you take on in this role?

I have a unique collection of furs, weapons and artifacts from that era that takes up six- 6-foot tables. I visit schools and talk to all classes from JK to Grade 12. I call my collection my Native Tickle Bag and Tickle Trunk; these things transport everything I have. I guess you could say I am a travelling museum. A great majority of the students have never seen the items I have and each piece that I have has a story connected with it. The children and teens get to touch and handle everything I bring into the schools which makes a great sensory experience for them. For the Grade 6’s and up I read passages from my books. The grade JK to Grade 6 students pepper me with questions. The older classes not so much, but you can see they are taking everything in and they are learning from my presentations.

What are you most looking forward to with the release of Algonquin Legacy this fall?

I am looking forward to the ending of the travels of Mahingan’s family. Plus I am looking forward to a new beginning of stories. The final chapter has an Easter Egg of what is coming in the future from myself and Crossfield Publishing.

What is your preferred method of writing – is it all on computers, notebooks, etc?

I write in a scribbler. I find my pen can keep up with my fast-moving ideas. If I get 30 pages written that way once I do the research and put in dialogue I will double that to 60 or 70 pages. I love writing on trains and buses. I have a favourite bar here in Napanee, Shoeless Joes, that I wrote the whole outline for my next novel which is now completed; The Elk Whistle Warrior Society. In fact, I am going there this afternoon to work on the 2nd book of that series.

What advice would you give an eager first-time author wanting to publish their first book?

  • Write what you are passionate about.
  • Do your research.
  • Get your ideas down on paper and use that as your base.
  • Know what your first and last chapter are.
  • Never ever self edit. Do not sweat the commas, periods and sentence structures too much, that is what editors make their living on, fine tuning our ideas that we have on paper.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

My absolute three favourite Historical authors are:

  • James Willard Schultz (1857-1947) who lived among the Blackfoot and wrote many books on his experiences.
  • Richard Berleth who wrote Bloody Mohawk a non-fiction account of the French and Indian Wars
  • Thomas B. Costain who wrote The White and the Gold.

You wrote about Turtle Island – what was the most fascinating aspect of this region in your opinion?

How my ancestors lived pre-contact there. No jails, no alcoholism, no diseases. The land was untouched and the people here treated the land with great respect. The land and all the animals ensured their survival.

An Elder once told me that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were:

  1. Guns
  2. Alcohol
  3. Disease
  4. Religion

For more information on Rick Revelle and his work, visit https://crossfieldpublishing.com/product/algonquin-legacy-by-rick-revelle-book-four-conclusion-an-algonquin-quest-novel/

*Editor’s note: Rick was first interviewed for The Miramichi Reader in 2015: https://miramichireader.ca/2015/11/rick-revelle-interview/


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Introducing: Mercedez Tate, Indigenous Poet

Tansi, my name is Mercedez Tate* and I’m a 17-year-old Plains Cree woman from Poundmaker Cree Nation, Sask, on Treaty 6 territory.
I’ve always had a strong bond with words, especially writing and singing. I often felt unheard during my childhood so writing really helped me to find my voice and use it for others who are still finding theirs.
I focus mainly on social commentaries as well as descriptive and narrative poems, in relation to struggles and inequalities that we, as Native people, have been confronted with. The two poems you are about to read highlight intergenerational trauma, life on the reserve; as well as missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Three topics we can all relate to, even if we don’t know it yet. Thank you for reading.


Where the Wild Kids Are
By: Mercedez Tate – Asinīy Iskwew

There’s a place just down the road 
Hidden deep within the hills
A place without adults, just babies having kids
Imbued with all the maybes that this world could ever offer 
A village that vanishes in the valleys, where the wild kids wander
 
There’s a tiny tone of tension that circles over head 
That feeling of unfairness when we crawl into our beds 
A place with lacking resources, not enough luck to go around 
It’s a place that is my home, where the wild kids are found. 
 
But without those inequalities, the Rez wouldn’t be the Rez
It wouldn’t house the kids that become the greatest friends
We wouldn’t have our stories 
to share and laugh about 
The Rez is my favourite place, I could never be without 
It’s where us wild kids can be, just that
Unapologetically. 

Have you Seen My Sister?
By: Mercedez Tate – Asinīy Iskwew

You there, have you seen my sister? 
Her skin is like she’d been steeped in Red Rose tea 
Her long black hair is usually bound by braids, 
She’s about 5’4”-5’6” just a little taller than me
She looks like a painting within a painting 
Her body is abundant with artistry 
Her cheekbones sit high above the rest of her chiseled face,
You’d know her if you saw her 
 
Have you seen my sister? 
No one will help me look, 
She goes by Nitisaniskwew, and Nikawiy to her son
How do I tell my nephew we couldn’t find his mom? 
 
Excuse me officer, did you not hear what I said? 
My sister has been missing, I can’t help but think she’s —
 
One morning she was here, that night she was no longer 
If you could hear her sing, her song would now be somber 
 
Have you seen my sister? She’s a human much like you 
Her hair is not blonde and her eyes are not blue 
But her homecoming is well overdue 

*Editor’s note: The poems of Mercedez Tate were brought to my attention by her writing mentor, Rick Revelle, who is the author of the Algonquin Quest series of novels about Indigenous life in North America, pre-contact. The fourth and final installment, Algonquin Legacy, has just been released by Crossfield Publishing.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Mercedez Tate
Some Rights Reserved  

Iskotew Iskwew Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl by Francine Merasty

Francine Merasty’s Iskotew Iskwew Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl is a journey, not just for Merasty herself but for the audience as well. I don’t say “for the reader” because that rhetorical trick presumes one reader and one response, a solo activity in the privacy of one’s own head into which the author is invited – a sort of splendid isolation.

I used to read like that. My education is tangled up in British imperial tradition with its white supremacy and patriarchy, and it’s a tradition that likes to pretend it is universal, and if it can’t be universal, then at least it’s the best. I learned, with some exceptions, that most important and lasting works are created by men, a state which of course had nothing to do with erratic, unequal access of education and everything to do with male superiority, and that despite the occasional anomaly of a Mary Shelley or a Charlotte Bronte, only men, preferably white British men, maybe the odd (anglophone) Canadian or American, can tackle Big Ideas and write Lasting Things. 

This is, of course, utter bollocks. 

In a very wattled scrotum. 

Recognizing and acknowledging this profound mistake takes nothing away from the achievements of Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Keats – oh, fine, yes, even Dickens – but so much more exists, so many storytelling traditions, so many ways to reach one another.

Francine Merasty, a Nēhithaw (Cree) woman from Wapawikoschikanek (Pelican Narrows) in northern Saskatchewan, writes in a free verse, a form of poetry still derided by some who prefer strict metre and ignore free verse’s potential for intimacy. In Merasty’s poems, her line breaks – often exquisite – irregular metre that reflects speech, and sometimes broken rhyme at once celebrate the potentials of poetry in English, an imposed language, and show the limits of English and the terrible weights of its impositions:

Filling out my law school application 
How long has your family lived in Saskatchewan? 
I pause for a moment 
Then write 
Since time immemorial 


What would have been other options? 
Before Saskatchewan was, we were 
I got in; nobody questioned my answer 
(“Since Time Immemorial”) 

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women 
The stories are chilling 
So many killings 

The brown baby girl Tina 
Should have been a ballerina 
Media played her like she was a diva 
Another drunk who’d sooner drink tequila 
(“Chilling”)

Merasty herself has journeyed though multiple hells. As a white woman, I can only try to imagine the pain of constant racism. I can only try to imagine the cumulative pain of working as a statement-taker and Counsel for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women inquiry in 2017. And I must try. I must, not just as a settler-descended Canadian, but as a human being, as Donne tries to in his Meditation 17. His language reflects, and limited by, his context, yet I can feel him long to reach past it: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Merasty’s poetry creates that empathy, reminds me I am involved in humanity, that now, in my own historical and social context as a settler descendant, I must sit and listen. Not flap my gums. Not protest that I am not racist. Just listen. 

When I listen, I hear of beauty: the land, the sky, the forest, the love of mothers and grandmothers. I also hear the beauty of defiance: 

I am more than what you see 
I live sovereign, inside I’m free 
Yes, I got some academic degrees 
But that’s not what makes me 
It’s this Nēhiyaw blood in me 

I’m Cree 
A nēhiyaw iskwe 
(“I’m a Nēhiyaw Iskwew”)

No one else gets to tell Francine Merasty who and what she is.

I said earlier the poems are a journey, for both writer and audience, and it is a meditative one, enriched by a re-reading and study of the poems. I’ve not understood half the sorrow and beauty here, I’m sure. I say “sorrow and beauty” because Merasty is, like anyone else, a complex human being living a complex life. The human condition invites apparent paradox. Sorrow and beauty can exist separately in her work and in the same moment — and is that not being involved in humankind? Or, as Herman Melville puts it in Moby-Dick: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 

Merasty’s poems, igniting empathy, show us the fibres and sympathetic threads – lifelines – of reconciliation. 

Before reconciliation must come recognition and understanding, and Merasty’s work can help bring us there.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Francine Merasty is a Nehithaw Iskwew, Opawikoschikanek ochi, a reserve in Northern Saskatchewan. She is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and a fluent Cree speaker. She began writing poetry in the winter of 2017 while working for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as both a Statement Taker and Legal Counsel. She currently works for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan. She is a winner of the 2019 Indigenous Voices Awards. She lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bookland Press (July 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 104 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772311456
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772311457

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Michelle Butler Hallett
Some Rights Reserved  

Mi’kmaq Campfire Stories of Prince Edward Island by Julie Pellissier-Lush

Mi’kmaq Campfire Stories of Prince Edward Island by Julie Pellissier-Lush is a lovely compilation of short stories, each offering both entertainment and education for young listeners. Teaching readers about creation, the importance of believing in themselves, as well as teamwork, each story is shared in a way that is easy for children to understand. There is an underlying message or important lesson to be learned from each one. The illustrations by Laurie Martin are colourful and encompass many aspects or symbols which are representative of the culture. By sharing these stories passed down through generations, this book provides children with a brief glimpse into the Mi’kmaw culture.

Acorn Press is based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and has published several successful, award-winning titles. They have a particular interest in titles that are relevant to Prince Edward Island and the culture of the area.  


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Pellissier-Lush M.S.M, actress, and bestselling author of My Mi’kmaq Mother, Poet Laureate for PEI, recipient of the Queens Jubilee medal in 2013, the Meritorious Service Medal recipient in 2017, and the Senators 150 metal in April 2019. She grew up all over Eastern Canada and spent a number of years in Winnipeg, Manitoba, before coming back home. Julie is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg in 2000 with a double major in Psychology and Human Resource Management. She writes, acts, and does photography to preserve the history and culture of the Mi’kmaq for future generations. Julie wrote the poems for the play Mi’kmaq Legends which has been performed on many different stages in the Atlantic region. It is her hope that this play will someday travel across Canada and beyond so more people have the opportunity to learn about the rich Mi’kmaq history! Julie lives in PEI with her husband Rick, her five children, and her granddaughter Miah.

Laurie Ann Marie Martin is a graphic and freelance artist. Her graphic design business Laurs Graphics, focuses on illustrating Mi’kmaw culture, legends and matching them to curriculum outcomes in order to create educational packages for schools. She designed and illustrated Anntastic: Anne of Green Gables Colouring Book (published by Nimbus Publishing).

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Acorn Press; Bilingual edition (Sept. 1 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English, Micmac
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 32 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773660543
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773660547

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Melanie Metivier
Some Rights Reserved  

Flash Reviews of Four Recent Indigenous Titles by Alison Manley

(Editor’s Note: Alison Manley is one of The Miramichi Reader’s most treasured reviewers. Her reviews are sharp, insightful and honest. Besides her formal reviews for us, she also posts many ‘flash’ reviews – of books and lipsticks – on her Instagram account, @alisonburnis. I suggest you follow her! With her kind permission, I have collected several of her recent Indigenous reads here, and posted them verbatim.)


Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power – Jody Wilson-Raybould

Today and every day is a good time to read works by Indigenous authors and support Indigenous artists. It’s a happy accident that my review backlog led to this title being posted today, but it’s a good one because JWR makes a lot of very salient points about the political structures and people in Canada and how they are not ready for truth and reconciliation, how they are not honest about nation to nation relationships, and how white supremacy is so baked in that change from the inside is not possible. JWR points out the work that she was able to do, but it was done *in spite* of the status quo, not because of it.

I think this was the hottest political book out there, released six days before our recent federal election? With good reason. JWR focuses on the events which led her to run for the Liberals federally, her time as Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, and the SNC-Lavalin affair, which led to her being shuffled in the Cabinet, her ultimate expulsion from the Liberal caucus, and her later run as an Independent MP for Vancouver-Granville. This offers a lot of insight into her thoughts and feelings during the 3.5 years she served as a Liberal, and the constant attempts to control her, control her staff, and the racism she faced on Parliament Hill. JWR is a proud Indigenous woman, and after reading her memoir, as well as Mumilaaq Qaqqaq’s comments on her time as an NDP MP for Nunavut: we have so much work to do to tear down these systems.

JWR is extremely readable – if you struggled with her book of speeches, this is not at all like that, and she doesn’t hold back. I recommend it if for no other reason, to examine how our government treats Indigenous peoples in the halls of power.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperCollins Publishers (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1443465364
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1443465366

From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada – Jody Wilson- Raybould

Before the Canadian federal election on Monday, I decided to assign myself both of JWR’s books. (For the non-Canadians in the house, Google the SNC-Lavalin affair.) I’m much further left than JWR politically, but I do think she’s an interesting figure: an Indigenous leader, the first Indigenous attorney general, and when shit went scandalous, she stood firm in her convictions and professional expertise. This is her first book, which is a collection of speeches she gave over a ten-year period, predating her foray into federal politics, stretching to the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair. It is a little repetitive, as speeches by the same person can be, but JWR is clear and consistent in her arguments throughout time and provides some thoughtful solutions to Indigenous-Canada relations. Her stances have been criticized by other Indigenous leaders, but she presents them with passion and lived experience, and it is not for me to say whether she is correct. I will say she has clearly immersed herself in the issues with the Indian Act and impresses the urgency of dismantling it in each speech.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Purich Books; Illustrated edition (Sept. 20 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0774880538
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0774880534

Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality – Bob Joseph with Cynthia F. Joseph

I actually read this the afternoon before I went on vacation – this is the first time I’ve ever abused my power at work to read a book we added to the collection before processing it. I’m so glad I did. What a fantastic, practical text. The Josephs take the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and provides practical, meaningful direction on how to implement the recommendations both professionally and personally. Yes, it’s hard. But this text gives guideposts, checklists, and very simple dos and don’ts. Excellent read, incredibly valuable, and I look forward to sharing it widely at work.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Page Two Books, Inc. (May 9 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989025641
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989025642

Indians on Vacation – Thomas King

Bird and Mimi, a retired couple, are on vacation in Prague, following the last of the postcards Mimi’s Uncle Leroy sent from Europe after he ran away from home. Mimi is cheerful and excited, while Bird, the narrator, is a grumpy old man, afflicted with various mysterious ailments. Through their vacation in Prague, Bird relays their past: meeting, falling in love, breaking up, returning to one another, and the retirement of following Uncle Leroy’s trips. Uncle Leroy stole a medicine bundle when he left, and Mimi wants to track it down – while also creating a new one.

Funny and wry, not much happens but it’s hilarious no matter what. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also very pumped I found this at the thrift store – love an unexpected new release on the shelf!

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harper Collins Canada (Aug. 20 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1443460540
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1443460545

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

All the Quiet Places by Brian Thomas Isaac

All the Quiet Places is the story of Eddie Toma, a very likeable but conflicted young man. He, his mother Grace and his younger brother Lewis live on the edge of a reserve in the Okanagan Valley in the late 50s/early 60s. His grandmother and Uncle Alphonse live close by. Grace has chosen to place themselves as far as possible from the centre of reserve life because she doesn’t want her children to be exposed to all the problems that come with it. By living on the edge of the reserve, they have no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Their house is a drafty shack, with an old wood stove for heat.

Grace also wants Eddie, who is approaching Grade One age, to go to a town school, and not a reserve school, like her brother Alphonse, an experience that left him emotionally scarred. She wants him ready for the ‘real world’ now, not when he is older.

The title and the cover art depict a large hollowed-out tree stump where Eddie likes to go to be alone. It is a quiet, secret place that no one else knows about. It is large enough, that as a young boy he can lie on his back inside and look up at the sky framed by the stump’s opening.

“Due to Eddie’s likeability, I found myself rooting for him whenever a challenge came along.”

Eddie’s life is anything but quiet and idyll. There are chores to be done for his mother and grandmother. In addition, he is tasked with taking care of Lewis, who is constantly tagging along, much to Eddie’s annoyance. School presents a challenge as there are few Indigenous children there and Eddie is looked at askance by the white children. A kindly caucasian neighbour, Eva Cluff, who is two years older than Eddie assists him in getting situated and finding his way around. A school bully, Rodney Bell, has Eddie in his sights all through school and is the books’ main antagonist.

I shy away from using describing All the Quiet Places as a coming-of-age story, mainly because I dislike the term. One can come of age at any age, can they not? Some may call them the ‘wonder years’ but in Eddie’s world, there is little wonder about it all. It’s pretty bleak, and due to Eddie’s likeability, I found myself rooting for him whenever a challenge came along. Is he going to speak up when someone denigrates “Indians”? Is he ever going to get a break?

All the Quiet Places may (or may not be) a good snapshot of life on the reserve back in the day. I assume details are taken from the author’s own experience growing up in those years. There are gaps in the story and the dramatic climax was more or less foreseen, but the story was written in such a way that it certainly held my interest. As for any commentary on Indigenous matters, it falls short, but I get the feeling that this wasn’t the author’s purpose in writing Eddie’s story. In short, a fine debut novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Thomas Isaac was born in 1950 on the Okanagan Indian Reserve, situated in south-central British Columbia. He and his wife have one son and three grandchildren. All the Quiet Places is Brian’s first book.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Brindle & Glass, an imprint of Touchwood Editions. (Oct. 12 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990071023
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990071027
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Creeland by Dallas Hunt

This poetry collection acts as a mandala of the whole range of living, subjects, styles and moods. It is not a book driving its one point six feet into the ground. 

There are threads of Porcupine dedicated to grandmother, of defining one’s culture for oneself and of critiquing the binding institutions and systems. There’s vivid poignancy in personal threads such as “Scraps from Summer Visits” and “Rueful”.  

Hunt doesn’t amusingly caper around issues as if dancing with a column holding up the glass ceiling. This text is informative if you want to bring yourself up to speed with Reconciliation. It is not facile answers but a laying out of facts. 

“there are no good settlers, because settler colonialism is a structural relation that abdicates and ignores healthy ways of relating to one another. there are no good relations within asymmetrical relations” (p. 88) 

He writes of the kid who slipped away from “care” to hang himself in “healing, suspended”. It is hard to convey in summary but each line rings perfectly and you must read this, along with the whole book.  

“In Dancing Yellow Thunder” he portrays the man drunk and dancing at the Legion but with his eyes, we can see the more complex social dance behind the dance and feel for him as the speaker promises, 

“next time, i will dance with
you, Raymond, and we
will stomp our boots so
hard we’ll create sparks that 
rise to the heavens” (p. 17) 

It’s complemented by the poem “spiralling.” Likewise, there’s the tender note of connection and gratitude in “Kinanâskomitin”  

pin cherries that are / just trying / to make it / to autumn intact, / as we all/so often / are (p. 14) 

It’s a work of heard and head. It’s a work that comes out of frustration and anger but also buoyancy and determination. It explains so we get it in a visceral way. 

“a white man is a fist, / he will outlive you / by two decades/ and be / celebrated / for it— / “it’s always / a shame,” / he crows, / “to outlive / your children”— and he / will cry / at your / wake, / sombre, / uninvited, / but relieved, / at peace, / and full / of cheer.” (p. 60) 

Even if we don’t know that particular “mourner” don’t we all know that flippant guy who has all the glib answers and philosophical distance when we frankly ache.  

He pulls no punches. Is it still called cynical and witty when is it’s spot-on true? “the Cree word for white man is unpaid child support” (p. 10). He calls out the idea that every top billing “every ndn memoir/is about residential schools”. Life’s wider than that.  

The book interrogates rather than heckles. Hunt delves past surface easy tropes of being indigenous in Canada. What is the role of institutions in creating medical crisis? Prejudice and racism creates medical crisis which creates legal infractions. This overall structure ignores that “being “impaired” is when one / actually might/ need /care.” (p. 20) Care is community and solutions to the underlying problems, not policing the outcomes of the system at work. How to stay tender when treated callously. How to deal with the lousy hand dealt? 

As you read, White person, can you feel your own privilege when he writes of the food deserts, diabetes and arthritis, a legacy “when trauma makes a house with/in your bones” (p.74). These are not individual choices but the summary of the collective choices visiting on the individual. 

Among the poems of identity, he addresses the recent crop of white poser Indigenous. 

“glad you “found” your Indigeneity, but that didn’t prevent ndns from eating fried bologna sandwiches for eight years because no one would hire our mothers for meaningful (read: not menial) labour.” (p. 87) 

Likewise, Aisha Sasha John said, in To Stand at the Precipice Alone and Repeat What is Whispered (Ugly Duckling Press, 2021), “what I’ve acquired has to be relayed from infancy.” 

Unlike awâsis — kinky and dishevelled by Louise B. Halfe Sky Dancer (Brick Books, 2021) the Cree words are not translated and in the sidebar, nor italicized as if telegraphing other.  There’s a dual audience, to in-group and to other who are the non-Indigenous readers. He deftly nods, aware of where he stands, 

“when I say “tuguy,”/ this same settler smiles / to themself, having / mastered the vernacular, / hung around the edges just / enough to be in the know, / titillated and satiated.” (p. 108) 

Which just made me laugh out loud, as did many of the poems. To my discredit, I gobbled this the first time inside of three days. Compelling reading and much worth taking time to reread, as I did for the next month. 

And in case you’re curious, the title comes from the Cree Land Mini Mart in Regina whose name seems to encapsulate the concept of what it is like to be Cree now, to be in joy and community despite the violence.


Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty Eight territory in northern Alberta. He has had creative work published in Contemporary Verse 2Prairie FirePRISM international and Arc Poetry. His first children’s book, Awâsis and the World-famous Bannock, was published through Highwater Press in 2018 and was nominated for several awards. Hunt is an assistant professor of Indigenous literatures at the University of British Columbia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nightwood Editions (April 24 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 128 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889713928
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889713925

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2Uu6mhA


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Pearl Pirie
Some Rights Reserved  

The Narrows of Fear by Carol Rose GoldenEagle

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.

“[The Narrows of Fear] is a story of people not merely surviving but surmounting the challenges they face.”

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

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3yLJoky Thanks! 


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Acknowledgements: Patricia Sandberg
Some Rights Reserved  

My Indian by Mi’sel Joe and Sheila O’Neill

It is so agreeable to see the awareness of Indigenous issues being given the attention they deserve so that reconciliation can advance. More and more, elders and other members of the Indigenous community whose voices were silent for so long are now being encouraged to speak. Newfoundland and Labrador’s Breakwater Books is an independent, socially aware Atlantic Canadian publisher and they have just released a small, but important book authored by two members of that provinces’ Mi’kmaq community, Saquamaw Mi’sel Joe and Sheila O’Neill.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

My Indian is a collaborative effort to tell the history, from both an oral and recorded viewpoint, of Sylvester Joe the Mi’kmaq guide who was hired by William Epps Cormack to assist him in crossing the island of Newfoundland in 1822. In his writings, Cormack always referred to Sylvester as “my Indian”, hence the title of the book, which was used as a way to reclaim the narrative, taking back the title of “My Indian” and giving it back to the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland, as the authors explain in the “Book Club Questions” portion of the book.

Cormack was crossing Newfoundland to look for evidence of the Beothuk people, who were very mistrustful of the white man (as well they should be) and Sylvester Joe is conflicted because he really doesn’t want to lead this man to them or their camps. However, after consulting with his Elders, he undertakes the journey always leading Cormack in the general direction of the Beothuk, but never close enough for actual contact. Throughout the journey, Cormack scoffs at traditional Mi’kmaq medicines and ways, until he falls quite ill and Joe nurses him back to health so that they can continue their arduous journey.

Interesting, too are the imagined conversations between the two, such as when Cormack asks Sylvester if he has a Bible:

I replied, "Yes, I do. We are walking on my Bible every day." There was no reply from him for several minutes.
Then Cormack asked, "What do you mean, we are walking on your Bible?"
"This land is Mother Earth. It provides nourishment to my body, my heart, and my spirit. It provides everything I need to survive on this land. It teaches me to be strong, it teaches me to be respectful, and it teaches me to be humble. This land is not mine or yours. It belongs to all the living creatures; it belongs to all of us. And we are all responsible for this land that we walk on. So you see, this is you see, this is my Bible," I explained to Cormack. "What does your Bible teach you?"
Cormack just looked at me for a long period of time and then said harshly, "We have a long way to go."

While not full of details from Cormack’s journal of the crossing, it tells the story sufficiently from an Indigenous perspective to understand what the mindset of Sylvester must have been as he is ordered around by Cormack and does the lion’s share of the chores while Cormack scribbles in his journal.

My Indian begs to have a special place in the public educational system curriculum. It is suitable reading for middle-grade readers on up. Aside from the book club questions, there is a glossary, black and white photographs and numbers in Mi’kmaq. Hopefully, My Indian will lead to more reinterpretations of the role of Indigenous people in colonial history from their perspective.


SAQAMAW MI’SEL JOE, LL. D, CM, is the author of Muinji’j Becomes a Man and An Aboriginal Chief’s Journey. He has been the District Traditional Chief of Miawpukek First Nation since 1983, appointed by the late Grand Chief Donald Marshall. Mi’sel Joe is considered the Spiritual Chief of the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sheila O’Neill, B.A., B.Ed., is from Kippens, NL, and is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. Sheila is a Drum Carrier and carries many teachings passed down by respected Elders. As a founding member and past president of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network (NAWN), she has been part of a grassroots movement of empowerment of Indigenous women within the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador. She lives in St. John’s.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (April 30 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 176 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550818783
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550818789

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3vVtxOg Thanks! 


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What Was Said to Me: The Life of Sti’tum’atul’wut, a Cowichan Woman by Ruby Peter in collaboration with Helene Demers

What Was Said to Me piqued my interest because of my pledge to learn more about Indigenous culture and history. This is a first-person oral history told by Sti’tum’atul’wut, also known as Ruby Peter, to anthropologist Helene Demers from Vancouver Island University. Sti’tum’atul’wut’s life story was recorded in nine sittings in 1997, and this book is the transcript of those conversations. The result is an engrossing story of a woman who worked tirelessly to preserve and share her heritage as well as the language of her people: Hul’q’umi’num’.

“…it is raw, written as shared with moments of rambling, repetition, and the use of very plain language.”

Oral histories by definition are conversations, and this reads like a conversation with your grandmother recounting stories about her life. It is therefore not as polished as one might expect. Instead, it is raw, written as shared with moments of rambling, repetition, and the use of very plain language. This reads very differently from other memoirs or biographies I’ve encountered. As I read, I had to remind myself of that and accept it for what it is meant to be.  

Stories spanning decades are told covering Sti’tum’atul’wut’s childhood learning the traditional way of life from her mother and other Elders in the community. The book concludes with her work later in life advocating for the preservation of her language by ensuring it is written and shared. Her relationship with her mother, including lessons on the importance of imparting knowledge and traditions to benefit future generations, is prominent throughout. Her thoughts on the residential school system and its role in erasing the history of Indigenous Peoples are timely and speak to the generational trauma that continues today. According to Sti’tum’atul’wut Indigenous children who escaped the Residential School System still experienced the pressure to abandon their heritage. This is something that is personally impactful and will remain front of mind.

“…I used to tell the stories in Indian but always in a hushed voice because the Sisters were around. The children would encircle, and I would tell them stories, but away from the nuns where they couldn’t hear, because if they heard me speaking Indian, the children and myself would have been punished.”

Sti’tum’atul’wut

Later in life Sti’tum’atul’wut became a tireless advocate for indigenous language preservation. She worked with the Native Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of British Columbia, working tirelessly to get a diploma program off the ground. Her work resulted in many well-deserved accolades including honourary doctorate degrees from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

What Was Said to Me is an educational and timely read.


Cowichan Elder Sti’tum’atul’wut Mrs. Ruby Peter has been a tireless advocate for Hul’q’umi’num language protection and preservation for many decades. She is the co-author of the Hul’q’umi’num Dictionary, published by the Cowichan Tribes. She co-taught Hul’q’umi’num courses at Vancouver Island University and was an early proponent of collaborative language teaching approaches that emphasized traditional Cowichan pedagogy. She holds honourary doctorate degrees from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

Helene Demers is an honorary research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Vancouver Island University.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Royal BC Museum (June 18 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 077267938X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0772679383

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/35MrnG0 Thanks! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Ramona Porter
Some Rights Reserved  

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

The best part about the annual Canada Reads debates is their core purpose: introducing Canadians to really great CanLit. I’ve read so many good books this way, and this year was no exception. But every so often, Canada Reads introduces you to a book that you absolutely needed to read, it opens the world to a new voice and story, and gives a book that needed a wider platform that boost. Jonny Appleseed is one of those books. Because of Canada Reads, it’s everywhere. And for good reason: it is a stunning piece of work, with a perspective that needs to be heard and read and shared widely.

Outspoken and a bit lost, Jonny is a Two-Spirit Oji-Cree, self-described glitter princess living in Winnipeg, ditching the rez and supporting himself through online sex work. He’s always known he was different, and so did everyone else: despite the love and acceptance of his mother and his kokum, the men and boys on the rez did their best to “man” him up. But out and free in the city, Jonny’s broke and severed from his past – till his stepfather dies and he needs to go home for the funeral. Told over seven days before he needs to be back on the rez, Jonny Appleseed is a ride through the chaos of Jonny’s adult life in the city and the memories of the rez and family he left behind, despite how much he loved them.

Jumping between pop culture and traditional teachings, clubbing and a love triangle between Jonny and his friends Tias and Jordan, Jonny’s attempts to make sense of his life and make peace with himself before he goes home are meandering and messy, but also very relatable. Whitehead’s writing is direct and matter-of-fact, embracing a non-traditional chronology and not shying away from the ugly, unflattering realities of the rez and of sex work. This is a clever book, boldly claiming space for Indigiqueer stories – which we need more of on our shelves.


Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1). He is the author of the novel Jonny Appleseed (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018), longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer (Talonbooks, 2017) and the winner of the Governor General’s History Award for the Indigenous Arts and Stories Challenge in 2016. He is also the editor of Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020). Currently he is working on a PhD in Indigenous Literatures and Cultures in the University of Calgary’s English department (Treaty 7).

  • Publisher : Arsenal Pulp Press (April 1 2018)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1551527251
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1551527253

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Approaching Fire by Michelle Porter

[Editor’s note: this review by Patty Musgrave-Quinn appeared in the #92 Fall 2020 print edition of Atlantic Books Today as well as on their website here. It is reproduced with the kind permission of the author and Atlantic Books.– James]

Michelle Porter is likely one of the most magnificent writers I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing; her mighty and metaphorical work compares the dignity and heartbreak of generations of Metis in the core of her identity, to the wildfires in her homelands and inside herself.

Porter proves adept at “braiding a river of stories” in a beautiful way, by accepting the traumas that are part of the fabric of her spirit, beaded into the soul of her from her Red River ancestors to the Atlantic Ocean. There are flammable elements that make up all of our lives. Porter’s prose, while sitting quietly, moves needle, thread and glass through the flames, to produce the petals of the Metis flowers, symbolic of the ways the homelands are reborn after the fires have raged.

Approaching Fire will surely provide the reader with the opportunity to grasp the struggles of identity that emanate from hundreds of years of racism, and the parallels with seething fires that rip across the lands and destroy tangible keepsakes.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

Michelle Porter’s family story tells of hidden treasure, their identity in a time when colonial rule swept through her homelands like the fires, to eliminate the Nation. The word Metis, itself a European word adopted by the nation to describe itself, a word best not used if Porter’s great-grandfather wanted people to listen to his music and dance and revel in the very thing that screamed his identity. But his identity, like that of so many who came after, remained hidden, “caught between who you wanted to be and who you had to be.”

So many are now unravelling the family history, in a time when discrimination is still here and still tangible, when brown skin is still considered a threat, when perceptions are still swirling around family dinner tables and workplaces, when entire nations are stuffed like sardines in a can into reserves or “land reserved for Indians,” when the word “Metis” in the author’s new homeland is a dirty word and consistently met with judgment, as it was back then, when the term “Indian,” “Aboriginal,” “Indigenous” can be a source of pride or a family thesis best left hidden.

Porter’s great grandfather moved his family from the Red River to the woods of British Columbia, where he was unknown; they were all unknown. She writes about cellular memory, how the women carried the cellular memory in their very beings and how the author herself carries the music that was her great-grandfather’s legacy to them all, to the family tree. Trees pressed inside bound books of paper, words that sang out her story; trees in the woods of British Columbia that burned ruthlessly as they are doing today in the Okanogan.

“Michelle Porter, in telling her family story has so beautifully compared herself to the fireweed, the beautiful growth after the burning lands.”

Patty musgrave-quinn

This is the cellular memory carried by the Metis that shares the common knowledge of the nation’s boundaries as social rather than geographical. Similar to how it is here, in Mi’kmaq Territory. Social boundaries, boundaries that have been pushed and pushed until the people alive and breathing in those lands were stuffed into the lands reserved for Indians.

From her great-grandfather’s 1930s musical life to his hidden and secluded life in the BC woods, Porter has devoured the tree within the pages. As she breathes in the smoke and ash from the tree of her life—her history, her story. She steps out onto the burned ground among the fireweed, its beauty and majesty, growing up and up and flashing lush pink flowers, containing medicines that will cure the headaches, the sniffling, the wounds. Fireweed, the wound healer.

Michelle Porter, in telling her family story has so beautifully compared herself to the fireweed, the beautiful growth after the burning lands. The healer, carrying the stories for her ancestors and the ones that will come after her, who then will hear the fiddles and feel the ground thump from the feet of the step dancers who shared the freedom of Bob Goulet’s fiddle. Share the dignity of a lineage from a “half-breed” man—a Metis man, Indigenous and European blood, Red River blood.

The fireweed winds itself around us all and heals our wounds after the flames of history have left their burns and scars, yet still transfuses the bloodlines of the brown skin or the paler skinned ones, and the truth settles into the heart and the cellular memory. Always.


Patty Musgrave-Quinn lives in Moncton, New Brunswick.

MICHELLE PORTER is a Red River Métis poet, journalist, and editor. She holds degrees in journalism, folklore, and geography (Ph.D.). Her debut collection of poetry, Inquiries, was published by Breakwater in 2019. She’s won awards for her work in poetry and journalism and has been published in literary journals, newspapers, and magazines across the country. She lives in St. John’s. She is the recipient of 2020’s MOST PROMISING AUTHOR AWARD from The Miramichi Reader.

  • Publisher : Breakwater Books (Oct. 14 2020)
  • Paperback : 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1550818538
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1550818536

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Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence by Pam Palmater

In the introduction to Warrior Life, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair explains that in Anishnaabemowin, the word for warrior, ogichidaa, means a person “who dedicates their entire life to building, sustaining and protecting community” (ix). Pamela Palmater embodies this practice in her life, and also in this book.

Warrior Life is a collection of Palmater’s essays previously published in journals and blogs, including Indigenous Nationhood, Lawyer’s Daily, and Maclean’s. For this reason, some of the information is repeated from piece to piece, as Palmater lays the groundwork for each article. When reading the book cover-to-cover, this repetition helps reiterate the most important issues faced by Indigenous folks across the country. The book is divided into five sections focusing on politics, racism, sexualized genocide, “Canada as an Outlaw”, and resistance over reconciliation. Every piece in this collection is infused with Palmater’s considerable expertise as a lawyer, activist, professor, Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, and as a Mi’kmaw woman.

“Every piece in this collection is infused with Palmater’s considerable expertise as a lawyer, activist, professor, Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, and as a Mi’kmaw woman.”

Palmater is very clear in her writing: she is not interested in empty promises for reconciliation from the Canadian government. Instead, the path forward is about resistance—resisting colonialism, racism, and Indigenous erasure wherever present. She is particularly tired of lip service; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls show us, “It is no longer up for debate. Canada is guilty of genocide… [this finding] is based firmly on the evidence and the law” (147). Palmater argues that there is no use mincing words; the only path towards Indigenous sovereignty is to acknowledge the continued government-enforced harm done to Indigenous Peoples and their communities and start listening to and providing what these communities need.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

For me, the most searing pieces in the book were about the ongoing crisis of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. My heart aches whenever I read about the racism involved in the disregard for these women’s lives. I am disgusted and frightened by the perpetrators of this violence, and enraged by the institutionalized racism Indigenous people encounter so frequently, especially at the hands of the RCMP, local police departments, and even in hospitals, where they can be denied the same care and empathy given to non-Indigenous patients, as we’ve seen recently in news stories from across the country. Warrior Life forces readers to take a close look at the suffering caused by a settler society that was founded on the abuse of Indigenous People and highlights the ongoing struggle against anti-Indigenous racism that is shamefully either not acknowledged or swept under the rug.

Rather than feeling defeated when reading about these injustices, Palmater asks that we channel this discomfort into action: we need to listen to Indigenous peoples. The last chapters of the book focus on the future of Indigenous activism and have a hopeful tone for the future. Warrior Life is clearly an excellent resource for anyone studying Indigenous governance and Indigenous issues, but I think its audience is wider than that. Any settler living on this land has a responsibility to learn about Indigenous history and current Indigenous issues. Pamela Palmater offers a laser-focused perspective in this book.

(This review was previously published at Atlantic Books Today. It is reprinted here by arrangement.)


About the author: Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer, professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. She is the author of Indigenous Nationhood and Beyond Blood.

  • ISBN: 9781773632902
  • October 2020
  • 272 Pages

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What the Living Do by Maggie Dwyer

Until the age of twelve, Georgia Lee Kay-Stern believed she was Jewish—the story of her Cree birth family had been kept secret. Now she’s living on her own and attending first-year university, and with her adoptive parents on sabbatical in Costa Rica, the old questions are back. What does it mean to be Native? How could her life have been different?

Author Maggie Dwyer sets a cool, unwavering tone directly out of the gates with her novel What the Living Do. It took a couple of years for this book to find its way to my reading stack, but the relatively brief passage of time is irrelevant. Dwyer’s story of familial introspection, questions of race, conflict and revelation remains timeless.

I don’t want her dreams. I am a branch that was grafted on to their family tree. More like a twig. A brittle twig that could be snapped off.

Perhaps one of the most alluring facets of reading is that sense of delving into new lives, peeking in a stranger’s medicine cabinet, the tiny surge of dark adrenaline that accompanies taboos.

Somehow things in the girl’s suite were not right. Maud did not know exactly how to put it. She disliked this necessary sorting and sifting through the detritus of the girl’s life. It felt as if the team were making a further invasion of her privacy. She remembered that the girl’s hair was short, straight, dyed a deep black. She stripped off her jacket and draped it over her shoulders since there was no place to hang it up. The air was heavy, overheated, and stale. A headache-inducing atmosphere and within that stultifying quality of staleness there was something feral.

I applaud author Maggie Dwyer, an accomplished writer tackling tough, ever-thorny topics in What the Living Do. Topics that should continue to be explored and shared. Throughout the book, scenes are well set, effectively yet judiciously descriptive, and the dialogue rings true. From a writer knowledgeable in an extensive breadth of Canada—places and people, this is a well-told tale. A story, like any good story, that may raise more questions than answers.


About the Author: Maggie Dwyer’s short stories have been published in literary magazines and broadcast on CBC. Once More With Feeling was chosen by Carol Shields to be part of CBC Radio’s Festival of Fiction. Misplaced Love, Maggie’s debut collection, was published by Turnstone Press. Born in Stratford, Ontario, Maggie spent her salad days in Toronto. Now, after twenty interesting years in Winnipeg’s south end and sixteen more on Vancouver Island, she lives and writes near Commanda, Ontario.


  • Title: What the Living Do
  • Author: Maggie Dwyer
  • Publisher: Friesen Press, 2018
  • Pages: 305 pp
  • ISBN-10: 1525528696
  • ISBN-13: 978-1525528699

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Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

I couldn’t put Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians down. She offers beautifully, well-rounded, fully-human characters in a story about the resilience and fragility of the human spirit. The book follows five small children who are taken from the homes and have to face the abuse and isolation of a church-run residential on the Central Coast of B.C.

Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2020, this book will stay with me for the rest of my life. The author is a Cree lawyer and she gives us the lives of five characters who as children survived the un-survivable—violence, inhumanity, dislocation, and all the other impacts that go along with the trauma inflicted on children by the residential schools system. Herself a member of Saskatchewan’s Red Pheasant Cree Nation, Good reaches into the depths of her characters and her knowledge of her mother’s and grandmother’s experiences of residential school to craft a story about the everyday-ness of the long-term impacts of residential school. The book has a universal impact and spans fifty years, beginning in the 1960s and ending up int he 1990s.

“Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2020, this book will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Five Little Indians is Good’s way of telling the stories of all the survivors of residential school. It’s the details that really pulled me in: the daily ways a trauma survivor interacts with a world that was never safe to them as a child; the necessity of facing up to emotions that are difficult, perhaps unbearable, in order to move on in life, but the near-impossibility of doing so; the desire, above all, for love, and the inability, at the same time, to receive it. These are such hard realities to write, but Good deftly weaves all these details and more into the lives of her five characters, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Maisie and Howie. And although her characters live in a deeply troubled world, Good writes with so much compassion and hope grounded in realism that we find ourselves on a path through trauma toward the story of the future—the path toward the sovereignty and survival of the Nations whose children were taken.

This book is a must-read for everyone in Canada so that we all can begin to understand and respond to the intergenerational impacts the residential school system has had not just on the students and their children but on the entire country.


  • Paperback : 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1443459186
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1443459181
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 14, 2020)

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