That is, hello in Cree, Anishinabe (Ojibwa), Inukitut (Inuit), Michif (Métis), Kanien'gehaga (Mohawk), and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)! You learn something new everyday! Or maybe six new things everyday! Or maybe you knew all those already in which case, did you know that when I do wind-mill stretches with my arms, my upper lip twitches? See, you do learn something new everyday!
Moving along... It's National (ie. Canadian) Aboriginal History Month this June (every June, I don't know why I worded it that way, could be because it's North by Northeast and all the rock *music* has rotted my brain in such a good way) so today, dear, faithful reader of Friday Fiction, is dedicated to those who the Canadian government has denigrated, ignored, oppressed, cheated and betrayed for 144 years.
I feel really strongly that of all the books I've recommended that these novels are among the most important; important because there are so few Aboriginal (Aboriginal being the umbrella term for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people) authors published. Important because of the historic trauma caused by the colonial history of Canada (not to mention the ongoing colonization in terms of land-claim issues and treaty violations and 800 missing and murdered Aboriginal women). Important because of the systemic racism that has been present in Canada since the British North America Act was signed in 1867. Important because sometimes change can be instigated by such a small act as championing a book by a Cree author. These authors, like Margaret Atwood, like Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler, are part of the fabric of Canadian culture, of culture in general; they make the canon of literature richer and brighter. They are really, really fucking good books.
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (Haisa) -- First, read this interview with Eden Robinson. So, darn charming right?? "She loves stationery stores, riffs happily on the eternal battle of PC vs Mac (she uses the latter), and enjoys talking about cars (she recently purchased her first, a Taurus). She dislikes Glock handguns – “too clunky, like an SUV or an IBM” – preferring heritage-style pistols produced by Toronto’s Para-Ordinance." I want to be friends with her! And go stationary shopping and then to lunch and then to a shooting range! I really love it when female writers write about crime and underworldy stuff and it's all "ooh, Tony Soprano would have nightmares!" and then I'm like, "suck it Brett Easton Ellis!" True story. But, really, Robinson is completely fearless in her writing and stories; her characters are sincerely woven and incredibly humane no matter the circumstances. Read her! Any of her books! She's written a lot!
Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway (Cree) -- Oh baby, where do I begin? It's like a fairy tale, but one of the proper, 'old-world' ones where Cinderella gets her feet cut off or something and the Little Mermaid is strangled by her hair and drowns. But, omigod it was such a joy to read! One of those books that when you finish you feel sad in the pit of your stomach. It follows two brothers as they make the tradition from the safety and happiness of their home community in Northern Manitoba, to the residential school where they face abuse and trauma, to Winnipeg and on as they struggle with their identity as Cree, as artists, as modern young men in a world that doesn't accept them. I think that most people could read this story and see themselves in it, the circumstances maybe different but the idea of having to carve out space for ourselves, separate from our parents yet remaining true to our roots is a pretty universal theme. Well, maybe the guy who wrote Dawn of a New Gay for the Grid wouldn't get it.
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (Métis) -- I love this book so much I would marry it if I could (sorry delicious sandwich I had for lunch last week, you're out). It has everything that a novel should have: Trauma, heartache, alienation, WWI, a journey home, morphine addiction, a very strong female character, a windigo (quite possibly the scariest of all supernatural creatures ever known to humankind, and I say that as a child who read The Talypo, and may or may not still be haunted by it). Aaaaaaah! IT'S SO GOOD (Three Day Road, not The Talypo)! Also, incredibly amazing are his short stories: Born With a Tooth. I wish I was a seamstress so I could sew his work, all of it, into an incredible gown and cloak myself in his words.
Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King (Cherokee) -- Raise your hand if you like mythology! And if you like satire that pokes fun at Western government and Judeo-Christian values? Ok, you can put them down, I can't see them. What a failed experiment that was. I'll just assume that at least one person outside of myself raised their hand, in which case have I got a book for you! Specifically for the one nameless person who likes political/religious satire! It's Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King! You probably already knew that, being so smart and into satire and probably very good-looking and owner of many nice shoes (I think I may be projecting now -- do you know of a good dry-cleaner? I've never had anything dry-cleaned before). Where was I? Ah, yes, Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water, excellently funny! Did you know that every time I type Green Grass, Running Water, I get $ 0.05? I'm just kidding, that's not true. I wish it was because I'd have $0.20 now and I could probably crank it up another 25 cents by the end of this post. Nothing to sniff at; I could dry a load of laundry for 10 minutes. I know you don't understand that since you get all your clothes dry-cleaned but us plebs aren't made of money. Man, can you all believe this guy??
Keeper n' Me by Richard Wagamese (Ojibwa) -- The Keeper n' Me is a semi-autobiographical story about an Ojibwa (Anishinabe) child who was taken from his family as a toddler and bounced from foster home to foster home before running away. After being jailed at 20, he receives a letter from his birth family and reconnects with them and the Ojibwa way of life.
I'm not sure how many people are familiar with the 60's Scoop, but it was a period of more than 20 years (1960-mid 1980s) when child and family services would swoop in, without any sort of consent, and take Aboriginal children away from their parents and adopt them out to white families. The Department of Indian Affairs (now Aboriginal Affairs) statistics show that 11,132 children were stolen from their families this way. There is little way to see this as anything other than yet another act of deliberate cultural genocide, much like residential schools and the banning of language and ceremonies. The Canadian government has since revised the laws concerning the adoption of Aboriginal children and now they cannot be adopted at all by non-Aboriginal people. Yep, better to have Aboriginal kids who aren't adopted by Aboriginal families languish in foster homes, way to go Canada, real fucking spiteful shit.
Wagamese was among those 11,132 children wrenched from their homes. Keeper n' Me is a fictionalized account of his journey home. Also, Wagamese's dog is named Molly the Story Dog, so that's really awesome.
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwa) -- Taylor wrote the hilarious humour anthology, Me Funny which skewered the exhausted stereotype of the 'stoic indian' and he continues his humour tradition with his 2010 novel, Motorcycles and Sweetgrass. I don't know much about this one, but given that my BFF, Joseph Boyden had this to say about it, “If the great Ojibway trickster Nanabush wrote fiction, I imagine he’d write just like Drew Hayden Taylor. You will find much sadness just below the laughs, and sly humour masked by sorrow. A wisdom exists in these pages that only comes from someone who writes from his heart,” I'd really like to check 'er out.
Ok, it's time for you to go now! And enjoy the day that, in Toronto at least, is looking more and more overcast from where I'm sitting on my day-bed (fighter of the night-bed, ooh oooh ooh). Happy Friday, everyone! Enjoy the weekend! I love you all!
Photo: Eden Robinson (from Random House Canada)
Alex Snider is a Toronto-based writer, a Contributing Editor for the Little Red Umbrella and the co-creator of the Once Again, To Zelda blog, which is where a version of this post originally appeared. You can read the rest of her posts here.