Today, I’m reviewing the non-fiction title The Shoe Boy: A Trapline Memoir by Anishinaabe author Duncan McCue.
Title: The Shoe Boy
Author: Duncan McCue
Genre: Non-Fiction, First Nations Culture
Publisher: University of British Columbia Press
Publication Date: April 15, 2020
Blurb: At the age of seventeen, an Anishinabe boy who was raised in the south joined a James Bay Cree family in a one-room hunting cabin in the isolated wilderness of northern Quebec. In the five months that followed, he learned a way of life on the land with which few are familiar, where the daily focus is on the necessities of life, and where both skill and finesse are required for self-sufficiency.
In The Shoe Boy, that boy – Duncan McCue – takes us on an evocative journey that explores the hopeful confusion of the teenage years, entwined with the challenges and culture shock of coming from a mixed-race family and moving to the unfamiliar North. As he reflects on his search for his own personal identity, he illustrates he relationship Indigenous peoples have with their lands, and the challenges urban Indigenous people face when they seek to reconnect to traditional lifestyles.
The result is a contemplative, honest, and unexpected coming-of-age memoir set in the context of the Cree struggle to protect their way of life, after massive hydro-electric projects forever altered the landscape they know as Eeyou Istchee.
First off, my father and I love passing one another books we’ve recently read, since we both enjoy reading about First Nations history, culture, and fiction. So when he brought his latest find while stopping over for coffee one morning, I added The Shoe Boy to my ever-growing TBR of romance fiction and too many non-fiction titles!
Although the memoir is a short read, it’s aptly sub-named as a “trapline memoir.” But it’s so much more than going out on the land for five months. I often don’t get to read about Cree culture. The author is Ojibway, but he spent those five months with a family who are dear friends of his dad, and these people are Cree. It’s also a homeland where Duncan once lived as a youngster for a couple of years when his dad had the opportunity to work up there.
Duncan’s life is what we know as “off reserve.” As a teenager, he isn’t sure what being Anishinaabe means. This is felt by many young people, whether back in the 80s when Duncan was in his youth to the current day.
Out on the land for five months, he learns. I recall the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese mentioning in one of his many books that today’s youth need more than what is offered to them today such as recreation, sports, art, etc. He said to learn who they are, they must go out on the land. I fully agree, and the author’s experience is a testament to Mr. Wagamese’s wise words.
The beginning and ending of the author’s memoir are very appropriate, because they complement what’s in the middle. He’s an accomplished and educated reporter for CBC, yet he knows he’s much more than this. He realises it while he’s out trapping with a wise man who makes this a yearly habit to pack up his wife and family to go out and be on the land.
Not only does the author give a full description of what he’s learned, he also provides detail accounts of the land, which he beautifully painted with his words. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. He also goes into detail about everyday life for a hunter. There is also an educational piece about the Cree around James Bay that I think many will find interesting.
Too soon the book came to an end. This is a lovely memoir of a young man’s account of finding himself and the other half of his blood that is Anishinaabe.
I highly recommend giving this book a read. You won’t be disappointed. As a matter of fact, you’ll wish the author had other titles to share. Do yourself a favour and get a copy today.
Have you read The Shoe Boy? If so, do you agree with my review. If you haven’t, after reading the review, would you be interested in giving this book a try?