For Orange Shirt Day this year, I told my kid about residential schools. To help him understand the impact of cultural genocide, we read Stolen Words together.
This book is a fantastic help. I also really liked that it wasn’t just a story about a wise grandfather teaching something to the granddaughter. Rather, it’s the granddaughter who finds a Cree dictionary so that she and her grandfather could relearn their language together.
This is a powerful book that serves to both teach our history, and to offer hope for the future. The lost language can be recovered, and it’s recovered through community and family. Given the darkness of the subject matter, it was good to be able to present the story of residential schools with a positive ending, without sugar-coating it.
Read: 10 September, 2012
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.
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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!
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