Sunday, November 28, 2021

Book Review: "For Joshua" by Richard Wagamese

Last month I reviewed Buried Secrets in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series by Mike Martin. Windflower is Cree and is inspired by the works of Richard Wagamese. That inspired me to read his books.

First I read Indian Horse about the devastating repercussions residential school attendance. 

Next I chose the memoir For Joshua: An Ojibwe Father Teaches His Son.

Wagamese was taken from his parents and raised by Canadian families. He didn't learn Ojibwe culture, was bullied in school and never felt he belonged. The process became known as the "Sixties Scoop" where children were forcibly placed in non-native foster or adoptive homes. Like residential schools, it was a means to force assimilation into Canadian norms and values.

In For Joshua, Wagamese tells his life story and how he struggled to learn who he was as an Ojibwe man. Life left him estranged from his son, so he used the book to pass along important teachings.

I live in the traditional territory of the Tla'amin Nation in Coastal British Columbia. Workshops following the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada Final Report opened my eyes to past and present impacts of residential schools. Reading books by Richard Wagamese has been helpful to increase my understanding. 

Richard Wagamese was one of Canada's most famous indigenous authors. He wrote novels, memoirs and Embers, Objibwe meditations. He passed in 2017 at 61 years of age, a life ended way too soon.

Richard Wagamese's books have a Canadian focus, but forced assimilation for indigenous peoples happens in many countries. I highly recommend his works as a way to increase your understanding and get involved. -- Margy

Friday, November 26, 2021

Book Review: "Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese

The last book I reviewed, A Perfect Storm by Mike Martin, led me to this month's book. The main character in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series is a Cree RCMP officer. He maintains traditional practices, and reads Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations by Richard Wagamese for solace and inspiration. After reviewing books by Wagamese, I selected Indian Horse to be my first.

Indian Horse is a novel about Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway from Northern Ontario. He was raised by his grandmother in traditional ways, but at age eight he was forced to live at an Indian residential school.

Residential schools were funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and administered by churches. Their purpose was to expunge Indigenous ways and inculcate Canadian culture. Attendance for school age children was compulsory from 1894 until an unconscionable 1996 when the last closed. 

Not only were Indigenous children ripped from their families during formative years, they were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuses, and too many died from harsh conditions and torture. The result is generations of First Nation peoples alienated from their culture and language, lacking education, and experiencing post-traumatic syndrome and racism.

Indian Horse takes us through this dark period through the eyes of Saul. The book opens with him telling the reader that he has been told he needs to tell the stories to understand where he is from and where he is going. As his story unfolds, we can feel his joy and sadness, his success and failure, his anguish and emergence from a blocked out horrific experience. 

Canadians are going through a reconciliation process to "redress the legacy of residential schools." In 2008, then Prime Minister Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government. That same year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to hear testimony.  Their "Call to Action" was finally released in 2015.

A community traditional canoe carving reconciliation project.

Towns like Powell River across Canada brought Settlers (non-Indigenous Canadians) and First Nation members together to have hard conversations and to develop a better understanding of the ramifications of racial prejudice and subjugation. As a Settler in my native U.S.A. and my Canadian home I personally have a lot of work to do to reconcile my life of white privilege with systemic racism.

Indian Horse was the "People's Choice" Award of Canada Reads and First Nations Community Reads winner in 2012.  It's not an easy read, but the message is important especially now. I highly recommend Indian Horse and am looking forward to my next Richard Wagamese book.

Here's another book related to truth and reconciliation. Powell River is located on traditional land of the Tla'amin First Nation, a Coast Salish tribe. Written As I Remember It by elder Elsie Paul tells about this same period of time from a local perspective. 

Raised by her grandparents and hidden from authorities during fall sweeps, she was forced to attend the Sechelt Residential School at age ten. He memoir includes Tla'amin Nation history from oral traditions to the present as her people move away from Indian Act control to a self-governing nation. 

 Both books are available online including Amazon. -- Margy

Monday, November 01, 2021

"Buried Secrets" by Mike Martin

This month's review is about Mike Martin's eleventh book in the Sgt. Windflower mystery series. Buried Secrets continues the story of Newfoundland RCMP Sgt. Winston Windflower.

Mike's mystery books are different from most police-based novels. The reader gets to know the officer as a family man in addition to his official duties. And the rural Grand Bank, Newfoundland, setting gives an additional hometown feel.

While each of Mike Martin's books can be read as a stand-alone, it's helpful to read the series in order. References to previous cases and family activities have more depth if you do.

In this book, Sgt. Windflower is investigating the death of a retired minister. The case draws Windflower back to Grand Bank from a special duty assignment (Book 10) in St. John's, the capitol. Covid also plays a minor role in the story. As Winston delves into the buried secrets surrounding the minister's demise, he encounters several societal issues including drug abuse, human trafficking, embezzlement, vehicle-moose accidents, and sexual harassment within the ranks of the RCMP.

On the family side of the story, we follow along as Winston and his wife Sheila raise their two young daughters. Each night they read the girls bedtime stories. One was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. When I taught kindergarten, it was a favourite with my students for it's repetition and colourful pictures.

You can find Buried Secrets in print and Kindle e-book formats at,, !ndigo and Ottawa Press. If you are a Kindle Unlimited reader, it's available there as well. Speaking of Kindles, Wayne and I just received our new Paperwhites. Our old 2010 Kindles that have served us so well are losing their cellular download capability. I'm proud to stay that Buried Secrets is the first book to be read on my new device.

One last bit of news. Mike just released a post on his Facebook page about his Reading Equity Program. You can read more about it here. I applaud Mike for giving away twenty-five free books to individuals who cannot afford to purchase one of their own. As the Children's Literacy motto goes, "Reading is Fundamental." Good for you Mike. -- Margy