I’ve always had a soft spot for stories about First Nations people, though there’s a very thin line between respect for the cultures and an idolization that sublimates the humanity of the cultures. Shaman’s Daughter, a collaboration between an anthropologist and a professor of literature, manages to present a suitably real picture of life at the turn of the last century.
The story follows Supaya (called Sophie by the whites) as she grows into adulthood, raises a family, and grows old. Through her life, we get to see the friction between the Church and the practitioners of the traditional faith and healing, the loss of identity of the residential schools and, later, the struggle to integrate and earn a living as an Indian, and the impact of World Wars 1&2 on the First Nations people.
The historical span is broad enough to show the changes as they were happening and, to some extent, their resolution.
The writing is also quite decent, and the book kept me engaged from start to finish.
Kiss of the Fur Queen is the story of two Cree brothers who were taken from their families to be raised in one of Canada’s infamous residential schools. The story follows them as adults as they come to terms with what happened to them.
It’s a magical story that interweaves the compelling story of the brothers and the more mystical elements of Cree tradition. Highway’s style is lyrical, but with a gritty realism that prevents it from ever seeming too purple.
I read Kiss of the Fur Queen as part of my university course on First Nations literature (as the “modern fiction” entry) and it was by far my favourite book of the course, perhaps of the entire year; and the beauty of the novel has stayed with me over the years. I can’t recommend it enough!
I’ve recently started some research into fairytales and, while my focus has been on European myths, I have also been looking into other cultures.
I found this book to be very interesting. There are only six short stories, but they are well selected to cover a number of cultural aspects. I also enjoyed the short commentary provided after each story. It explained a bit about the symbolic significance of aspects of the story, as well as some cultural background necessary to appreciate the narrative.
Overall, it’s a a very short read, essentially a quick dip into Micmac storytelling. It’s by no means authoritative. The stories mostly have positive messages and, with the exception of a few scary moments, would be appropriate for kids.
As Qayaq’s siblings grow up, all leave home to seek their fortunes and never return. Qayaq, the youngest and last of his parents’ children, decides to go in search of his siblings. From there, the story cycles through episodes of Qayaq’s legendary journey over land and by kayak.
Qayaq has something of the trickster in him making these stories very interesting. In particular, I found the fluidity between the animal and human worlds very interesting. Qayaq is able to turn himself into animals and they into humans. Because the book is a collection of stories from an epic cycle each functions well alone and they make for a pleasantly varied experience if read all at once.
I especially enjoyed my edition because the edges of each page contained short summaries of the stories as well as illustrations that fit the action described. It may seem like only a small detail, but being able to see the Inupiat art along with the stories added a fantastic extra dimension.