Tag Archives | First Nations

Secret Path | Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire

The cover of Downie & Lemire's Secret PathSecret Path is many things—a collection of 10 poems by Gord Downie, a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, an album by the frontman of the Tragically Hip, the true story of Chanie Wenjack.

Chanie died on October 22, 1966 after running away from the Residential School near Kenora to find his father. Downie, inspired by a story in MacLean’s magazine, brought Chanie’s story to light fifty years after the tragedy.

The album-sized graphic novel when paired with the album is a moving experience. Listen to the album while reading the poem and leafing through the pages and Chanie’s short life comes alive.

To dive deeper into the story of Chanie, read Lee Water’s article in the First Nations Drum and watch the two hour CBC special on YouTube.

Downie, Gord and Jeff Lemire, Secret Path. Toronto, ON: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016.

Born with a Tooth | Joseph Boyden

The cover of Boyden's Born with a ToothI love a good short story collection, and Boyden’s Born with a Tooth fits the bill perfectly. These 13 short stories were the fuel that launched Boyden’s award winning career.

Each of these stories (with one exception) is told from the perspective of a modern day First Nations person—man, woman, young, old. Boyden writes in a simple engaging way that gives you a sense of what it’s like to share in that person’s culture.

Of course, many of the themes are difficult. Land appropriation, residential schools, alcoholism, suicide, homelessness, and casinos are all part of Born with a Tooth. Boyden’s storytelling, even while relating a tragic story, uncovers unexpected glimpses of nobility and beauty, grace and life.

If you’ve read The Orenda, the last four stories in this collection will be especially interesting. In them, Boyden tells the same story through the eyes of four different participants. As in The Orenda, cultural misunderstanding is vividly illustrated. Each story will elicit empathy for its respective lead character.

Thanks to Brian Lachine for this great gift!

—Joseph Boyden, Born with a Tooth (Toronto, ON: Hamish Hamilton, 2008).

The Curse of the Viking Grave | Farley Mowat

It’s an old story. An author produces a singular work of genius that receives rave reviews and awards, only to follow it up with a weaker sequel.

The Curse of the Viking Grave is not a horrible book. It’s just can’t compare to the grandeur of its predecessor, Lost in the Barrens.

The biggest problem I found was the lack of singular direction in the plot. The first 70 pages tell a different story than that rest of the book. Combine that with a slower pace and a distracting romantic sub-narrative and you’re left with a decent-yet-unremarkable adventure story.

I should note that the charcoal illustrations by Charles Geer are stunning. He’s able to capture the movement and excitement of a canoe in rapids perfectly.

If you’ve read the first one, you should read this too—just don’t set your hopes too high.

Lost in the Barrens | Farley Mowat

This is juvenile fiction at its finest. Mowat used his experience of life in the Barrens of Northern Canada (see: People of the Deer & The Desperate People) to tell an adventure story about a white city-boy and a young Cree making big decisions and surviving off he land.

The pacing is perfect, and the content’s meaty enough to enjoy this book even as an adult. I dare you to read it without imagining yourself in those situations. The book certainly deserved its 1958 CLA Children’s Book of the Year award.

As I read it I had this vague sense of déjà vu. I suspect one of my grade-school teachers might have read this to our class. I can hardly wait until my three-year-old son is old enough to enjoy it when I read it to him.

Kiss of the Fur Queen | Tomson Highway

I’m glad I picked this one up at the library instead of spending my hard-earned $32.95 on it. (Okay, I’m a pastor—some would debate “hard-earned”!)

I know this is supposed to be a spirited tale of redemption, but it just felt tragic and sad. Maybe I’m missing something, since it garnered such strong reviews.

It’s not that I don’t beleive in the atrocities visited on our First Nation people by self-serving missionaries and government-types. I’ve read a good chunk of Farley Mowat’s corpus, and understand that theme too well. I guess I just don’t see the redemption in the ending.

On the positive side, the prose is beautiful to read. The story’s well paced, and the sustained metaphor of music is well threaded through the tale. I just didn’t buy Highway’s conclusions.

Thanks to Cathy Lachine for recommending this one.

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