Tag Archives: Indigenous

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I was eight weeks into a Gone Viking book tour, exploring Vancouver Island and some BC Gulf Islands. Travel restrictions had eased to a point we could travel around our own province, and I was taking advantage by seeing as much as I could. Or at least the parts with a coastline. We were experiencing record-breaking heat and being near forest and sea not only added to the majesty of it all but served as natural air conditioners to boot.

I returned to Windowseat Books in Nanaimo, one of Vancouver Island’s great indie bookstores. Andrée, the store’s affable owner, had repainted the store’s front window (by hand!) with her fun bookish logo, and while I love to browse, I came in with one title in mind. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

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“As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on ‘a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.’”

BC’s coastal archipelagos felt like an ideal locale to immerse myself in this author’s poetic prose, a blend of science, personal experience, memoir, and Indigenous teachings. And it was, although I’m certain this book speaks directly to readers everywhere. The text tapped into a longing to garden and plant things I never knew was in me. Perhaps it lay dormant all these years, apart from that avocado pit on toothpicks I put in a cup as a child.

“Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.”

This book is both timely and timeless, from environmental lessons and lore long forgotten to hammering home critical points of what must be done now, ensuring our world realigns once more on a path we can sustain long term. The fact that I read this book to an ambient score of ravens conversing, wind in tall cedars, and a white-noise wash of sea only added to a sense of sharing and natural wonder.

If you love nature, storytelling, and the pleasure of learning while reading, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass delivers, a satisfying and ultimately uplifting read. Yes, there’s work to be done. But every bit of it will be worthwhile.


About the Author

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. She tours widely and has been featured on NPR’s On Being with Krista Trippett and in 2015 addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.” Kimmerer lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

  • Title: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
  • Author: Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781571311771
  • Pages: 408 pp



This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Bill Arnott
Some Rights Reserved  

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  

Little Wolf by Teoni Spathelfer 

Little Wolf by Teoni Spathelfer, is an uplifting story of an Indigenous girl living in a big city, and how she stays connected to her heritage. When Little Wolf has to move from the country to a big city, she longs for something familiar and has a sense of unbelonging. She looks for ways within the city to feel connected to nature and the animals around her, as this brings her comfort. When other kids at school tease her because of her heritage, Little Wolf howls as she does at the moon, and the children run away. As she grows, she learns more about her culture and roots as well as other cultures from around the world and develops pride and confidence in who she is.  

Adeline is busy learning about our Indigenous peoples.

Little Wolf is a heartwarming story that helps to encourage children to be proud of who they are. Even when Little Wolf is removed from all things familiar and doesn’t feel as though she fits in with other kids, she is determined to create her own path, learn about her culture, and stay connected. She does this through the help of her family, reading, and making connections with animals. Little Wolf shows children that no matter where they are in the world, they can always find ways to keep their own culture alive. 

Heritage House Publishing is based in British Columbia, which publishes a variety of genres each year. Since the beginning, they have had a special focus on publishing titles that support and promote the history and culture associated with Western Canada.  


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teoni Spathelfer is a member of the Heiltsuk Nation from coastal BC. Since childhood, she has loved immersing herself in her own culture and learning about other cultures around the world. Spathelfer has worked as a publicist; a radio journalist, host, and producer; and an arts and music writer. Her documentary Teoni’s Dream, informed by her mother’s residential school experience, has aired nationwide on CBC Radio. Her photography has been featured across various media and sold privately. She has been blessed with three daughters and four grandchildren. She lives in Sooke, BC.

Natassia Davies is a Victoria-based artist and graphic designer and is of Coast Salish ancestry from WSÁNEĆ territory. For nearly a decade, Natassia has worked traditionally and digitally to create illustrations, develop visual brand identities, and design various other visual communications tools for local businesses, individuals, and non-profits. She also works with other First Nations Peoples and Indigenous groups to create educational tools and public art pieces. Natassia has collaborated on multiple large-scale Indigenous murals that can be found throughout Sooke and Victoria’s harbour.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Heritage House; New edition (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 32 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772033804
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772033809

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Melanie Métivier
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  

Undoing Hours by Selina Boan

What power does language hold? What power do we hold over language? Selina Boan’s Undoing Hours foregrounds play with linguistics and poetics to explore liminalities of identity and family in the context of a half-Cree, half-white settler speaker. Her speaker’s deep connections with the world around her resonate with the reader by means of powerful turns of phrase and sensory landscapes. 

As many biracial readers will recognize, growing up in the culture of only half of your family can leave the exploration of the rest of your history a tempting and troublesome hurdle. Language is one of the foremost difficulties in this journey, which Boan makes clear through her learning of nêhiyawêwin and the family relations that accompany this choice. Boan asks the unanswerable questions of the privileges and opportunities of learning new languages, further complicated by the questions of what parts of your history you are entitled to. The first word in nêhiyawêwin we learn in the book is mahtakoskacikew, “s/he settles or lays / on top of everything” (11), and the closing poem features the speaker recentering her bodily and emotional agency despite the violence at the heart of her family history. The speaker’s journey takes us from a place of uncertainty over engaging with the complexities of her mixed ancestry to the conclusion that we can set our own boundaries and challenges when deciding the spaces that we engage with.

“Undoing Hours is wonderfully paced; Boan experiments with a variety of forms and themes to keep the flow exciting while still holding a strong grasp on the narrative that the speaker tells.”

Boan’s thirty poems ask questions related to the complexities and legacies of multilingualism in the context of Indigenous histories, specifically that of the nêhiyawêwin language. Cree vocabulary and cultural references structure the poems and the speaker’s journey through alienation from her split history. Nêhiyawêwin is interspersed among English, neither translated in footnotes nor italicized, instead incorporated as two languages that the speaker can engage with separately and at once.  

Undoing Hours is wonderfully paced; Boan experiments with a variety of forms and themes to keep the flow exciting while still holding a strong grasp on the narrative that the speaker tells. Longer poems stand out from the shorter by encompassing all of the major themes of the book in sequences. “in six, the seasons” pinpoints the precise struggle of learning a language to which our relationship is taut through the framework of temporality and indigenizing Western time:

learning the seasons into six

a girl listens to her father’s first language alone (19)

From early unease with her decision to learn nêhiyawêwin to the concluding poems where her learning permits her to know herself and her family anew (“i learn in nêhiyawêwin / how to move verbs” (83)), Boan’s Undoing Hours is a breathtaking exploration of the various ways in which our histories can hurt and heal us.

Selina Boan is a white settler-nehiyaw writer living on the traditional, unceded territories of thexʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-waututh), and sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) peoples. Her debut poetry collection, Undoing Hours, is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2021. Her work has been published widely, including The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 and 2020. She has received several honours, including the 2017 National Magazine Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2020 CBC poetry award. She is currently a poetry editor for Rahila’s Ghost Press and is a member of The Growing Room Collective.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nightwood Editions (April 24 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 96 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889713960
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889713963

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Zoe Shaw
Some Rights Reserved  

The John Brady McDonald interview

Kitotam: He Speaks To It is the new poetry collection from John Brady McDonald. The Neyhiyawak (Plains Cree) word “Kitotam” translates into English as, “He Speaks to It.”   Written in two parts, these poems chronicle John’s life and experiences as an urban Indigenous youth during the 1980s. The second half of the book is a look into the inspirations and events, that shaped John’s career as an internationally known spoken word artist, beat poet, monologist and performance artist. 

John Brady McDonald is a multidisciplinary writer and artist originally from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  A sixth-generation direct descendant of Chief Mistawasis of the Plains Cree, John’s writings and artwork have been displayed in various publications, private and permanent collections and galleries around the world.  John is one of the founding members of the P.A. Lowbrow art movement and is the former Vice President of the Indigenous Peoples Artists Collective. 

John has studied at England’s prestigious University of Cambridge, where in July 2000 he made international headlines by symbolically ‘discovering’ and ‘claiming’ England for the First Peoples of the Americas. John is also an acclaimed public speaker, who has presented in venues across the globe, such as the Anskohk Aboriginal Literature Festival, the Black Hills Seminars on Reclaiming Youth, The Appalachian Mountain Seminars, the Edmonton and Fort McMurray Literary Festival, the Eden Mills Writers Festival and at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. John was honoured with the opportunity to speak in Australia in April of 2001.  John was also included in the Aboriginal Artists and Performers Inventory for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC. John lives in Northern Saskatchewan. 

 How does working in different art mediums help your poetry? Or does it?  

I wouldn’t say that my visual artwork, like painting per se, has much impact upon my poetry. That being said, both my visual and written works often come from the same muse or inspiration, though in vastly different ways.  An event or a memory might inspire a bright, bold painting, yet also be the source of a dark, brooding piece of poetry.  When it comes to Spoken Word or One-Person Monologue performance art pieces, the work is absolutely influenced by how I am going to present it, or how the character I am going to portray will say it. In those situations, the poems are influenced by how I am going to verbally execute the words onstage with ease and good flow, and not stumble over words or get tongue-tied.  

What were some of your earliest memories of writing poetry? 

My earliest poem was in 1989, Grade Two, just after I had gotten out of Residential School. I wrote a poem about Remembrance Day, and the teacher sent it to the local radio station. I was brought into the radio station to read it on-air. It was my first media spot. I was about 8 or 9. In terms of traditional Indigenous storytelling, my first memory was finding a booklet of Wesakechak legends in my grandparent’s house on the Rez. Wesakechak is the Nehiyawak Trickster character of our legends. It was a pretty graphic retelling of some of the legends, like Wesakechak’s father cutting his demonic mother’s head off, and the head chasing after Wesakechak and his brother across the land. It was my first exposure to the horror and brutal imagery which would influence much of my artwork during my “PA LowBrow” period.  

Who do you list as influences in your work?   

My first influence has always been, and will always be, music, As a poet, my biggest influences are those poets that just happened to be musicians. I have been deeply influenced by the written works of Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Neil Peart, the lyricist for the band RUSH. The books of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith still rank as some of my greatest sources of inspiration. Of course, I am hugely influenced by the works of the Beat poets, Kerouac and Ginsberg.  

I am also deeply influenced, as sad as it is to admit it, by the horror, negativity, vitriol and reality that is often on full display upon social media and in the news. A large portion of what I have written of any substance over the past few years has been in response to, and in some cases, the defence of, things that have been posted on Facebook, such as the continued efforts of Land and Water Protectors across the country, as well as the horribly negative and racist commentaries when it comes to Indigenous issues. Some of the most evocative words I have created over the past four years have been born out of online Facebook arguments with trolls and racists. I take comfort in the fact that some good has come out of these verbal jousting matches in that, while I might not be changing their already made-up minds, I can take the words I have written, and expand upon them at greater length elsewhere.  

Can you talk about the PA LowBrow art movement?  

PA LowBrow came about as a group of three Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (known colloquially as P.A.) artists, myself included, who all shared a mutual love of the darkest subgenres of Metal and a similar style and technique in painting. The original Lowbrow art movement came about in the late 1960s, with artists such as Robert Williams. The term denotes that the work is somewhat “less-than” the academic “highbrow” art of classical paintings.   

As the three of us all come from the artistic backgrounds of tattoos, comic books, graffiti, album cover art and such, we began to meet in-studio, listen to the heaviest, hardcore death metal we could find, and we would paint.  We had several regional and provincial exhibitions of our work and also branched out into both grants from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, as well as CARFAC Mentorships. PA LowBrow only lasted a few years, but we all still create in that same LowBrow style.  

Your new book is divided into two parts. What was the hardest or most enjoyable part of putting these two factions together for this collection?  

The most difficult aspect of joining the two halves of “KITOTAM” is that the first part of the book is a very autobiographical narrative collection, recollecting memories of my youth along with current issues, whereas the second half of the book contains many lyrical, ambiguous, surrealist freeverse poems that, at times, didn’t follow the flow of the book, but were still important to the story. However, that juxtaposition between the narrative and the ambiguous ended up giving the book the feel of the mixtapes I used to make in my teen years, which I love. That mixtape feeling is probably my most enjoyable aspect.  

Your practice has always contained a great deal of performance and activism. What was it like in 2000 when you made headlines in the UK?  

The July 2000 “Flag Thing,” where I symbolically “Discovered,” then “claimed” England for the First Peoples of the Americas, was the culmination of what I must say was the greatest life-changing event in my life. I was a young, urban Indigenous youth, a Residential School survivor, who had been awarded a scholarship to study History at the University of Cambridge. My world had been expanded far beyond what I had ever imagined it would, and the doors which opened before me changed the entire trajectory of my life, and I felt that, as I had a lot of people who took a chance on a street kid, I owed it to them not to let them down. That being said, I also knew that I was going to the homeland of the Colonizers, and I needed to make a statement and add my voice to the fight and say that what is taught in history books is not always true. I always wished that there had been more coverage of it when it happened. Those were the days before social media, and, while I originally had Canadian and International press lined up, the Concorde crashed in Paris the day before, so the media’s attention all but evaporated. As I am still recognized here in Canada for it, even twenty years later, I’m still very proud of what I did.  

How do you see poetry as a form of activism or do you?  

I think that any time you put your thoughts and emotions creatively into words and then share those thoughts in front of an audience or in print, you are participating in activism. Any form of poetry or Spoken Word is standing up for something. We live in an increasingly detaching world, where everyone is chained to a device and human interaction is becoming difficult. As writers and as artists, if we can make someone feel something with our words, if we can cause an emotional connection or response, then we have added to the fight for humanity. I call myself a “hypocritical Luddite.” I loathe technology and social media, but I need and use both on a daily basis, and, especially with the Pandemic, I have needed both to share my words with the world. Using the tools of our mental, social and emotional destruction, as it were, to share political, poetical or emotional messages is probably the most subversive and rabblerousing thing that we can do right now because it happens in real-time. The murder of George Floyd shook the world because someone held up a phone and shared it as it happened. The news of the bodies of those who didn’t make it home from Residential School being re-discovered is moving around the world faster than it would have without social media. As creators, we too must add our voices and our talents to the struggle. We too must stand and be recognized. It’s our responsibility to both the art form and to the world.      

For more information on this book visit Radiant Press’s website https://www.radiantpress.ca/shop/9781989274507 

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  

Northern Light: Power, Land, and Memory of Water By Kazim Ali

Anyone poking around on the Internet might be surprised to learn just how many dams exist on Canada’s Northern rivers. Our country has thousands of them, though only a tenth or so are considered ‘big’ dams, the kind that generally makes the news. But whether a dam is deemed as large or small, it doesn’t take much more searching to discover the myriad environmental and social issues that have arisen as a result of building these structures. Long before the term ‘green’ found its new place in our vocabularies, these were originally promised as clean solutions for providing energy, but unfortunately, that’s not quite the full picture.

While most Canadians are probably familiar with some of the controversies that have accompanied the Muskrat Falls or James Bay projects, those of us in the West continue to encounter too many unanswered questions regarding dams on the Columbia and Peace Rivers. The one currently looming over British Columbians, the dam at Site C on the Peace, continues to burst financial forecasts on an almost daily basis, with costs gushing upwards steadier than any productive oil well.

Author Kazim Ali grew up during the 1970s in a temporary town – a company town called Jenpeg. His father was one of the engineers employed during the construction of a dam that was a joint project with the Soviet Union. Manitoba’s Jenpeg Generating Station, with a capacity of 122 MW, might be considered a ‘small-ish’ dam, but the impact of its damage ripples far beyond any definition of small.

“The town he lived in is now overgrown by bush that has taken over what once were streets with trailer-style homes along them.”

Born in the UK, but also spending parts of his life in India as well as various parts of the US, Ali’s purpose in writing the book was purportedly a quest to find ‘home’ – at least the home he remembered most vividly from his childhood years. It was the place where he learned to read and to identify the patterns of constellations in the night sky. It was a place where winter seemed like the longest season, where he and his friends went tobogganing – and when the seasons shifted, they loved to explore the woods. Idyllic sounding? Maybe. At the very least, worthy of provoking nostalgia.

But when Ali, in his forties, goes back there, what he finds is nothing like the memories he holds. For a start, that place no longer exists. The town he lived in is now overgrown by bush that has taken over what once were streets with trailer-style homes along them. What is there, or at least nearby, is a site long inhabited by the Pimicikamak, the people whose land and water have been damaged, maybe beyond the possibility of restoration. Even the name of the place where they live is one that has been proclaimed by the Canadian government: Cross Lake. And it is through them that he learns of all that has transpired over the years that have passed.

Ali is the perfect writer for this particular story. He comes to the North as an outsider who has a lifetime of experience as an ‘other.’ A Muslim whom the townspeople recognize as being Two-Spirited (and as a result, “sacred”), he is different enough to evoke curiosity on the part of the people of Cross Lake. When he hears a traditional chant, it reminds him of Urdu chants he heard long ago. And it is just these very contrasts that make him mesh so well into the community – those, along with his willingness to fit in. Although a longtime vegan, he willingly eats elk stew, corned beef hash, or whatever happens to be on his host’s menu. He closes one of the later chapters with this:

I wish there was someone from my old life here, someone to talk to. About being the “other kind” of Indian, both wearing a name given to us by outsiders, names to which we do not belong. Who could I explain this to? How strange it feels to be a stranger myself. Returning to the scene of the crime.
I close my eyes against time. I can still hear my childhood pealing in my ears.

While Ali remembers a lake beside the town, a lake that froze solid enough in winter that they could drive across to a place where they purchased moccasins and other craft items from the locals, he’s now immersed in the society of those locals. They welcome him and honour his curiosity by answering his many questions, and show him what has become of the lake. The beaches are gone, the shorelines now eroded, owing to the lake’s crazily varying heights. The water itself is hazardous with ‘spiders’ (trees that have died and fallen in with the dissolving shores) which make boating or fishing or snowmobiling highly dangerous activities that have resulted in more than a few deaths. Worst of all is the fact that the water, once crystal clear, is now so filled with sediment that it is no longer potable.
Just as water is the basis of all life on Earth, the lake seems to mirror the fate of the people there.

“The story he tells is one we keep learning more about, one that does not look as though it will soon be filled with happy endings.”

And like so many similar communities, Pimicikamak has been devastated by suicides and people ‘gone missing.’ Despite the fact that the original agreements worked out by Manitoba Hydro in the ’70s promised many amenities to the people, there still is no hospital, an agreed-upon bridge has not been built, the ‘temporary’ rec centre has not been improved, and its school remains inadequate to meet the needs of a growing population. Although residents were initially promised subsidized electricity that would be almost free, the costs of hydro have skyrocketed. Housing is another issue, with 15 or more people often living in small, trailer-size homes. Again, this is the result of unfulfilled – or outright broken – promises agreed to in contracts over the years.

The story he tells is one we keep learning more about, one that does not look as though it will soon be filled with happy endings. Nonetheless, it is important that we continue to keep listening to these stories too often tucked behind ‘more important’ news. Of even more urgency is the need to reach out to those in positions of power to address the hideous inequities that continue to exist, and not allow them to be brushed aside as unimportant.

With this book, Kazim Ali has fulfilled the promise he made to the people he met on his journey, a pledge to “…share what I learn with as many people as I can reach.” He has kept his word, and I would be remiss in keeping my word with this book if I did not pass along the two questions Ali leaves us with in his Acknowledgments: “Where does your electricity come from? Upon whose land does your home sit?”


Poet, editor, and prose writer Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian, Iranian, and Egyptian descent and raised in Canada and the United States. He is the author of seven poetry collections, two novels, and three works of non-fiction. He teaches at the University of California, San Diego.

A #ReadAtlantic book!
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (March 9 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 190 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773101986
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773101989

*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/3jEhAdr Thanks! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Heidi Greco
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! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
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! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

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