Monday, April 3, 2017

Reading Right Now // Invisible North

A periodic post chronicling what paper-and-print book has been living on my bedside table lately. And in my purse. And propped open with a jam jar on my kitchen table. You get the idea.
"Invisible North," Alexandra Shimo
While I spend most of my time reading, I rarely post about books anymore -- that is, until they blow me away.

As a frequent teacher of Indigenous and Native Studies, Anthropology, and Canadian history, I am always searching for the next perfect source to capture the depth and breadth of the crisis of Canadian First Nations. 
This is tricky -- while there is a lot of concrete information out there, it's mostly stuck in dry government reports or scattered in hard-to-find and contextually-archaic news articles. No teenager or twenty-something wants to wade through that in an introductory course.
The heart and soul of the thing, however, is the opposite. While there are many memoirs and personal accounts out there, they often lack the facts and figures that I need to get across in the classroom.

Worse still, as English is also a subject of mine, most of these sources are badly written, which pains my writing-teacher soul.

Then, along came Invisible North.

On the one hand, this is a deeply personal account of an outsider coming face-to-face with the reality of the reserve. One of the most impoverished reserves or First Nations communities in Canada (and therefore the world), to be exact.
Her experience rings painfully true at times. My year teaching in a northern M├ętis community wasn't nearly Shimo's experience, as my community had improved greatly in the years before my arrival (through great pains). However, many moments struck me with my own memories -- the everyday social issues among children and teenagers that eat away at you, the taunts and rumours subjected to newcomers, and the difficulty adjusting to life back in the city.

On the other hand, this story is liberally injected with factual evidence concerning the history of First Nations in Canada, and the multitude of political decisions that have led to the current crisis. Ranging from merely careless to negligent and (frightfully often) deeply malicious, these government actions have condemned over a tenth of our country's population.

This is a must-read, not only for those interested in First Nations issues in Canada, but really for every Canadian. Shimo not only provides a riveting story and well-researched background, but she refuses to provide any balm for the reader. We are all responsible for this -- she feels the blame, and so should we.

Reading this stirred up a lot of things that I thought I'd left up North. And that was exactly the intention -- for the author, as well as for the reader.

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