I enjoy memoirs/autobiographies/biographies about the First People of Canada, so I thought I’d share a few that stayed with me long after I finished the book.
I’ll start with Indian School Days by Basil Johnston. The reason his story interested me so much (besides being one of my favourite authors) is because he went to the same school as my dad. Mind you Dad is much younger than Basil so they didn’t attend at the same time, but the story Basil painted gave me a view into Dad’s world while there. Dad’s shared many of his stories with us (his children) over the years, since he attended two schools–a residential school based on Agency Land right beside our community, and the one in Spanish during grades nine and ten (he was so far from home and sad when he left at fourteen).
Reliving My Childhood Memories by Jessie Campbell is a short and sweet book about her life at North Spirit Lake during the early 1970s. They lived the old ways with the exception of living in houses instead of wigwams. I very much enjoyed this honest portrayal of life on an isolated First Nations community. Some readers might say, “It was too short. There wasn’t enough meat in the content.” True. But her little stories made me smile while I read her memoir.
A Two-Spirit Journey by Ma-Nee Chacaby is loaded with complete and utter heart-break and endurance. This woman went through hell, but she persevered. She has a lot of strength, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, which comes through in her story. When life kicked her down, she wept and mourned, but got back on her feet again. I highly recommend her memoir. It’s touching, sad, and joyful rolled into one.
The late Richard Wagamese published two memoirs. I’m going to focus on One Native Life. It starts in Minaki when a police officer finds Richard and his siblings huddled together and he turns them over to Children’s Aid. It’s a tough road Richard travels from being adopted by a family who moves him far from Northwestern Ontario to Guelph. He lives on the streets of Toronto, works and hitch-hikes his way across Canada, and finally realizes he can’t keep going on this way. It’s a powerful story of healing many wounds and accepting the scars he’ll carry for life.
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew is a duel memoir–he focusses on his life and his father’s, the latter having attended a residential school in Kenora, Ontario. One is full of anger and the other can’t understand where the anger is coming from. As the story progresses, the father becomes stricken with cancer and Wab takes a leave from his job to care for his dad. The book is rich in culture and traditionalism, acceptance and forgiveness, and recovery and healing. Wab has a chatty voice that speaks to you.
Str8Up and Gangs by Cory Cardinal. This book is loaded with men who fell victim to the many city gangs formed by the aboriginal males in the prairie provinces. Their stories are incredible and each one is accompanied by artwork done by a talented man who also shares his story in this book. I highly recommend reading what they each have to say.
That’s all my recommendations for today. Have you read any interesting First Nations/Native American memoirs? If so, please share. I’m always looking to read someone’s story.