The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

“The land claims what you leave behind.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 279 pages.
Read from November 10, 2020 to November 16, 2020.

This book was the first book I read as part of a book club that I recently joined and let me tell you, it is so great to be a part of a real and live person book club again. To hang around fellow book nerds, consume copious amounts of beer, and talk about books that you may never have come across otherwise. It really is the best.

This book is the start of an emergence of a new genre of books that is a horror-based fiction that is set within Native American folklore and tales. The story blends the whimsical nature of the oral stories from the Native tradition with a classic slasher and psychological horror feel, that also becomes a modern social commentary on Native Americans today.

Set in a small town in the modern-day United States, four Native American men share an experience from their youth that has begun to come back to haunt them. They broke sacred hunting rules and now, ten years after the event, an elk entity is hellbent on revenge for the lives that they should not have taken. The opening death scene of one of the men sets the horrifying precedence of the book in terms of horror as well as the enduring racism and cultural and identity struggles that they all face. As the story progresses, you get to hear the voice of this entity and the stories intertwined with it, especially as it continues to successfully exact its vengeance.

I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this book after initially finishing it. It has an amazing concept and presence but I found the writing style really jostling. Its approach was just not for me. As the book draws nearer to the end, the story becomes very strange, and at times, hard to follow as you become more intertwined in the narrative of the entity. This style of writing made a lot of sections of this book a slog and hard to get through. When I first finished this story, I gave it a 2-star rating but after I had my book club meeting I changed my rating to 3 stars as the book created such amazing discussions, even though many of my fellow book club members struggled with this book like I did, we all came to appreciate the depth of this book after discussing it. This book is meant to make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make you feel as helpless as the characters in the story as you acknowledge the physical horror that occurs but also the social horrors that they face and that many Native Americans still face.

Would I read this book again? No, but I’m glad that it exists and that I read it. I would love to read more books that are similar to this one that intertwines the Native American experience with horror. There is actually a Netflix movie called “Hold the Dark” that reminded me a lot of this book as it follows a similar pretence.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 191 pages
Read from January 1, 2019 to January 2, 2019

I picked up this book on a recommendation by a friend, though if I had started reading all the Canada Reads books just one year earlier I would have come across this moving story sooner. Indian Horse made the Canada Reads 2013 shortlist but was unfortunately voted off in the first round.

Indian Horse is an all-encompassing story that touches tragic issues related to the indigenous people in Canada. The story also has wide-reaching themes with its integral connection to hockey and the protagonist’s, Saul Indian Horse, struggles with childhood trauma and alcoholism. Saul’s past starts with his indigenous roots as a young child trying to escape the prying arms of the white man trying to forcefully place him and siblings in residential schooling. His family knows the woods and has this advantage but their luck does not last forever. After being pried away from the frozen and dead grip of his grandmother he is forced into a residential school where endures severe abuse. His only reprieve from the misery and loneliness of the school is through hockey. Saul shows promise as a talented hockey player at a young age but his native roots make him an outcast against the white hockey teams he plays against, despite being better than them. As Saul grows, hockey carries him through the toughest moments in his life but things start to turn sour as Saul becomes an adult and the hockey realm becomes more abusive and physical. Unable to deal with his past traumas and personal failures Saul turns to drink. The story opens with Saul at rock bottom with him coming to an understanding that if he wants peace he needs to tell his story.

Saul’s childhood is nothing short of traumatizing as the author details how Saul and many real indigenous people in Canada were treated during the horrific era of residential schooling in Canada. Physical and sexual abuse was rampant, leaving many of the children with irreparable trauma in which its no surprise that many did turn substance abuse as an outlet. Saul’s story is tragic but the ending is nothing short of inspiring. The writing is easy to read yet remarkably crafted. Richard Wagamese is a talented author that writes from the heart, his characters are dynamic and engaging and his plot and storylines are thoughtful and concise.

This book is for every Canadian, especially those who enjoy inspirational stories on overcoming adversity, hockey, or anything related to Canadian history. What makes this story all the more poignant is that Saul’s story represents so many indigenous children in Canada with the tragedy being that so many of them don’t get the peaceful ending that Saul did making it all the more important that their stories get shared.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 336 pages.
Read from May 07 to 26, 2015.

I’m not sure how to classify this book. I guess it’s a history book  of the Indians of North American that also discusses their past and current social and cultural issues. The difference being the style of writing that King has chosen to portray this information. King writes this book like he is having a conversation with you, literally. He even adds tidbits of what his wife Helen would have suggested for certain portions of the book. It’s a bit jarring at first but once you warm up to the style it actually makes for a pleasurable and potent read on some very relevant and important topics.

This was the last book out of the five that I’ve read  for Canada Reads 2015, I will make a post discussing all five of the books next week.

As a white person, I feel that this is a very important book. Growing up in Canada you get your fair share of Native American history throughout your schooling, however I can tell you now after reading this book that the history comes from a very biased, and white, perspective. The history taught in Canadian schools doesn’t touch the half of what has really occurred to the Natives in this country.  This book is important because King gives a voice to the hushed Native Americans of North America and lays out exactly why  the ‘Indian problem’ is still very relevant in today’s society. I think that many non- Natives don’t understand complexity of Native history and why some reservations today are often times filled with Natives that cannot ‘integrate’ into society. King does a phenomenal job of laying out the neutral facts and realities that face may Natives today by detailing their histories that brought them to this point, and why some of the long standing issues that they have to deal with are still not solved.  King’s neutral and relatively pleasant style of writing allows to the reader to approach the  content without getting defensive, for both Natives and non-Natives.

In terms of Canada Reads, I can see why this book was cut first. In comparison to the other books, this one just didn’t hit the theme as much, which is books that break boundaries. Don’t get me wrong this book does break boundaries with it’s writing style and by discussing the Native issues that many try to ignore but in comparison to the other books in the challenge, this one wasn’t as  strong.

Just based on King’s writing style in this book, I am interested to read more by him. He is a captivating writer and I imagine his fiction would be quite good. Overall, I think that any non-Native person born in North America would benefit from reading this book in order to get a greater understanding and appreciation for the groups of people that were here long before us.