Two books written about the experiences of North American Indigenous women had the power to shake my assumption, based on a lot of previous reading on the subject, that I understood the kind of pain and suffering that First Nations women and girls have endured since colonialism ripped their worlds asunder.
#NotYourPrincess, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, is a stunningly beautiful compilation of short stories and poetry, written as “…a love letter to all young indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all”.
Broken down into four sections, the selections take us from horror to hope, from brokenness to healing. The written words are accompanied by rich and powerful artwork and photography and compel the reader to stop and breathe in the message being relayed. The emotional intensity jumps off the page and takes your breath away, not just as an empathetic response but as a celebratory ‘high five’ for the healing that is happening and the strides that are being made. A mere 109 pages in length, this book doesn’t ask for a huge commitment from the reader but it gives back value a hundred times over.
Rosanna Deerchild, a celebrated author and broadcaster, has written Calling Down the Sky, a powerful poetry collection that gives voice to the generational effects of her mother’s experience as a residential school survivor. You can sense the struggle her mother feels when her daughter prods her to share her story. She is overflowing with the emotional impact of her experience and yet overwhelmed by the telling of it.
One of my first thoughts reading Deerchild’s poems was how she used such small words and yet the message they delivered was like a punch to the gut. I could almost visualize her mother reverting back to the language of a child as she remembered the cruelty and horror inflicted on her and her fellow ‘inmates’. No flowery language required; her voice is as trenchant as the cruelty bestowed upon them.
Both are stunning and important works of art.
— Nancy C.
I am struggling with what to say about Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death And Hard Truths In A Northern City by Tanya Talaga. It is a raw, deeply moving and horrifying look at how our Indigenous youth continue to be treated in this country, specifically in Thunder Bay in this instance. It takes us through the stories of seven teenagers who came to their deaths living in a city far from home, because education at home was not an option for them. Forced to live in boarding houses with strangers, they were overwhelmed by urban life and while there were many conscientious and heartfelt attempts by kind-hearted souls to try to ease the blow of assimilating, the truth of the matter is that these kids were separated from family and friends during a very difficult transitional period.
It is the story of the families left behind without answers to why their children perished. It is the story of racism and neglect in a 21st century Canadian community. The cover of the book was painted by the father of one of the victims, Christian Morrisseau, son of renowned painter Norval Morrisseau. It is a stunningly beautiful depiction of the fragility of life and the incredible strength of the human spirit.
How is it that in 2018, a large segment of our population continues to be treated as ‘savages’ with no access to clean water, health services and educational opportunities for their youth? What aspect of colonialism is still so embedded into our national psyche that we are not pounding on the doors of every single Member of Parliament to demand action immediately? It is inconceivable that children still need to be flown to ‘residential’ schools hours away from their families and communities. We have the money to bail out Bombardier but we can’t erect schools, water purification systems or hospitals for our Indigenous communities. We pay huge amounts of money to ineffective and inefficient political policies and procedures but don’t have the financial resources to live up to the false promises that have been made over and over and over again.
This book should be essential reading for anyone holding or aspiring to hold political office in this country. This book should be part of the curriculum in every high school across Canada. And, it should be mandatory reading for any and all people involved in our legal, policing and judicial systems.