Invisible North: The Search For Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo

I don’t even know how to start. I certainly know that there is no way I can write all that I want to say, and articulate all my feelings in one blog post. This relatively short, 171 page book has absolutely enraged me. As someone who has grown up in Canada, I always knew that the indigenous people of Canada have not been treated with respect… now I realize how much of an UNDERSTATEMENT that is.

A couple of posts ago, I talked about CBC’s Canada Reads 2017, of which the theme was “What is the one book Canadians need now”. Well, here is a book Canadians need. We need it desperately. Please, if you have not already read it, read Invisible North: The Search for Answered on a Troubled Reserve.

A quick synopsis: Alexandra Shimo, a freelance journalist, goes to the reserve of Kashechewan. In January 2007, there is a suicide crisis on the reserve and Shimo questions why “the reserve had emerged from obscurity to full-blown crisis and back again within just a couple of weeks. Such upsetting issues don’t just disappear” (pg. 19). Shimo is in Kashechewan for several months, and what she finds is outlined in this book. This book is powerful because it weaves together the facts and figures and the history of Canadian reserves with Shimo’s personal experiences in Kashechewan.

Invisible North is an important book because, as I mentioned in my post about The Break by Katherena Vermette, how can Canadians fight against issues we don’t understand, or even worse- don’t know about. Invisible North shows the reader:

1) How terribly the people of Kashechewan (and other indigenous communities) have been and continue to be treated by the government.

2) The many, many, MANY ways the people and leadership of Kashechewan have tried and tried and tried to improve their situation, only to literally be ignored. As Shimo mentions, indigenous communities are in a sickening “Catch-22” that prevents them from escaping the poverty they are in.

3) WAYS PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME CAN HELP!! Shimo brilliantly included a chapter titled “Getting Involved”. Awareness is extremely important, however, providing ways for readers to get involved provides opportunity for a step in the right direction. Some examples of organizations she highlights are: http://www.themfi.ca/ and http://www.rotaryhip.com/ .

Invisible North is not the type of book one reads and forgets about the next day. I will probably mention this book time and time again. I am going to tell as many people to read it as possible.

One thing that may be overlooked, is that by suppressing these cultures and these people, Canada is not only responsible for committing and perpetuating a huge social injustice, Canada is also missing out on so much opportunity, beauty, and wisdom. The “see-saw” is way out of balance, it’s embarrassing. Reconciliation is the biggest issue in Canada, and we cannot move towards it fast enough- as it is we are already far too late.

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The Break by Katherena Vermette

I work at a library, and I was checking books in when The Break caught my eye. I quickly skimmed the back cover, and placed it on hold. A few weeks later, I found out that The Break would be featured as a contestant on CBC’s Canada Reads, for which the question was “What is the one book Canadians need now?”. I became even more intrigued.

I must admit that I have not read the other four books presented in the show, however, I do believe that The Break is a book Canadians need to read. Why do Canadians need this book? Because, as Canadians, we need to hear each other’s perspectives, and each other’s voices. For our country to thrive, we need to know what issues other Canadians are facing. In this book, we hear the voices of indigenous women. I don’t think these important perspectives are portrayed enough in the media.

Candy Palmater defended The Break on Canada Reads. She said she has met many women who have told her they feel The Break tells their story, or the story of someone close to them. I want to learn more about the stories and the realities of my fellow Canadians. We are often caught up in being aware of the issues of the world- so very important- but sometimes we forget to be aware of the issues in our own neighbourhoods, our own cities, our own country. How can we raise concerns in our communities, how can we solve challenges faced my members of our society if we are oblivious to them?

In the news, we don’t hear enough perspectives, and we certainly hardly ever get the full story. Books such as The Break enlighten on the challenges and frustrations that are faced by other Canadians, and these are the books Canadians need. The more voices, and the people who are represented in widely read literature- the better.

 

Keeper’n Me by Richard Wagamese

It took me awhile to finish reading this book. I read it in small pieces; I felt  there was such a high concentration of wisdom within it that I wanted to savour a little at a time.

Garnet Raven was only three years old when he was taken from his Ojibway family and placed into foster care. Ever since, there was no contact with his family, or any exposure to the Ojibwa way of life, until, in his twenties, he receives a letter from his older brother, who has finally tracked him down after years of searching.

Keeper’n Me is the story of Garnet’s journey to reconnect with his family and his culture; how he goes from feeling lost and empty, to found and whole. Garnet’s main mentor is “Keeper”, an old friend of his grandfather. Through Keeper’s teaching and through Garnet’s reflections the reader is offered insight into the Anishanabe way of life, their traditions, and their values. Keeper’n Me shows the beauty and wisdom of the Anishanabe teachings on respect, humility, gentleness, self-awareness, community, and connecting with nature.

Not to sound cheesy, but I sincerely feel that this book has shared with me some truths that can be linked to that elusive “meaning of life”.

“That’s what ma says. Says that magic’s born of the land and the ones who go places in life are the ones who take the time to let that magic seep inside them. Sitting there, all quiet and watching, listening, learning. That’s how the magic seeps in. Anishanabe are pretty big on magic, she says. Not so much the pullin’ rabbits outta hats kinda of magic but more the pullin’ learning outta everything around ‘em.” -Richard Wagamese, Keeper’n Me