Mink is a witness, a shape shifter, compelled to follow the story that has ensnared Celia and her village, on the West coast of Vancouver Island in Nu:Chahlnuth territory. Celia is a seer who – despite being convinced she’s a little “off” – must heal her village with the assistance of her sister, her mother and father, and her nephews. While mink is visiting, a double-headed sea serpent falls off the house front during a fierce storm. The old snake, ostracized from the village decades earlier, has left his terrible influence on Amos, a residential school survivor. The occurrence signals the unfolding of an ordeal that pulls Celia out of her reveries and into the tragedy of her cousin’s granddaughter. Each one of Celia’s family becomes involved in creating a greater solution than merely attending to her cousin’s granddaughter. Celia’s Song relates one Nu:Chahlnuth family’s harrowing experiences over several generations, after the brutality, interference, and neglect resulting from contact with Europeans. (source)
Based on the unrest in Caledonia, Ontario where native land was being used for a housing development, this novel explores the many characters and issues at stake at the time. It is a fiction in every sense of the word, so the political aspects are muted and don’t overpower the character development and storyline.
But even if the story were not a gripping exploration of town/reserve relations, Smoke River would be a glorious read just for Foss’s imagery, which conjures up a hot, humid Ontario summer that seems to shimmer off the page: “Finally it arrives, the slightest mutiny of scent: sweet clover seeds, germinating in the backhoed earth, an insurrection of moisture beneath the drained and filled pond, an invasion of pollens breezing in off the river.” That connection to the land, which Shayna and Coulson share, is another powerful theme that permeates the novel. (source)
The Ocean Ranger went down and it looks like no survivors. The whole bloody thing went under.
The on the Seaforth Highlander saw the men in the water. One is always haunted by something, and that is what haunts Helen. The men on the Seaforth Highlander had been close enough to see some of the men in the waves. Close enough to talk. The men were shouting out before they had died. Calling out for help. Calling out to God or calling for mercy or confessing their sins. Or just mentioning they were cold. Or they were just screaming. Noises.
…And then all the shouting was just for company. Because who wants to watch a man being swallowed by a raging ocean without yelling out to him. They had shouted to the men in the water. They had tried to reach the men with grappling hooks. They say them and then they did not see them. It was as simple as that. (excerpt from the book)
The book is about this Canadian tragedy and shows us how Helen, wife of one of the workers on the rig, is affected by this. …that’s the enigma of the present. The past has already infiltrated it: the past has set up camp, deployed soldiers with toothbrushes to scrub away all of the NOW, and the more present. There was no present.
A must read. Winner of Canada Reads 2013.
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
Winner of the Canada Reads People’s Choice award and the First Nations Communities Reads program and short-listed for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award.
Richard Wagamese is an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He is the author of four novels, including the award-winning Dream Wheels. His autobiographical book For Joshua was published to critical acclaim, and One Native Life was selected as one of the Globe & Mail‘s Top 100 Books of the Year. He lives outside Kamloops, British Columbia.
This story comes highly recommended by a number of my male students who love hockey. It is hockey that becomes the catalyst that changes the life of Saul Indian Horse, growing up in a northern Ontario residential school.
‘My grandmother had always referred to the universe as the Great Mystery.
“What does it mean?” I asked her once.
“It means all things.”
“I don’t understand.”
She took my hand and sat me down on a rock at the water’s edge. “We need mystery,” she said. “Creator in her wisdom knew this. Mystery fills us with awe and wonder. They are the foundations of humility, and humility, grandson, is the foundation of all learning. So we do not seek to unravel this. We honour it by letting it be that way forever.”‘