That’s What She Said: Pick up a book by an Indigenous author
- Dawn Dumont | May 15, 2018
Though the book weaves together painful stories, it is ultimately hopeful which is cathartic for me. The last few months since the Stanley verdict brought a heaviness I wasn't expecting. I still went to work, still wrote, still looked after my little toddler. But at the same time, I was slogging through all the racist and hate messages I saw online, and the hypocritical tone-policing when First Nations people tried to work through their grief, pain and rage.
For those of you who waded into the social media fray in defense of Indigenous peoples, you may have been called a “racist.” This a common response when you point out racism and it is a garbage response. As an Indigenous person or a minority, you cannot be a racist in this society. Canada is built on principles and systems of white supremacy. Like Terra Nullius which is Latin for “nobody’s land.” Um, so millions of Indigenous peoples are nobody? Terra nullius is key to the Doctrine of Discovery. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the history of Canadian explorers wandering around the continent “discovering things.” That would be like walking into a mall and saying, “I claim all of this because it is empty of people I care about. Now that I’ve claimed this mall, I will proceed to discover New York Fries and gorge myself on fried potatoes.” Within a few seconds, security would have you in a chokehold.
The whole idea of an Indigenous person being racist is absurd. Certainly an Indigenous person can say some ignorant shit about people who look different than you but that won’t make you racist. You do not benefit from the systems that are already in place. You may call a white person a nasty word but if they want, they can – and have—taken away our children. That’s a powerful difference.
In addition to the Marrow Thieves, I’ve read some other great books this year. For those of you enjoy saucy academic writing, there’s Chelsea Vowel’s “Indigenous Writes.” Vowel writes about elements of Indigenous identity in Canada. She tackles the confusing ins and outs of what is a “status Indian” and also what is the word for white people in various Indigenous languages. Then there’s Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s “This Accident of Being Lost” which describes attempts to maintain culture amidst Euro-Canadian society. Every line is written with care; it’s a book that is meant to be read out loud. Writer Teresa Marie Mailhot’s writing is like a bolt of lightning. Her memoir Heartberries just made it onto the New York Bestseller’s list.
On the internets and at writer’s festivals, I’ve also had the luck to meet and read other Indigenous writers such as Wayne Arthurson, David Alexander Robertson and Alicia Elliot. Arthurson is a writer of mystery novels with Indigenous characters – an area that needed a lot of representation. Robertson wrote the magical, “When We Were Alone” which is a children’s book that talks about residential schools in a poignant but kid-friendly way. Elliott is a great essayist and short story writer whose work forces Canada to confront its racism and misogyny.
There’s loads more books and Indigenous writers out there that deserve your attention. And I hope that you seek them out because it important to support Indigenous writers. Obviously for the practical reason that if no one buys their work, then they can’t afford to write. But also because it is important for Indigenous peoples to tell our stories in our voices.
That is, by the way, one of the messages that I got from the Marrow Thieves. There are those who would steal our voices and erase us from history – so every word that you type is an act of resistance.