Welcome! I love to write, and I love sharing what I write with my readers. I vary my style as much as I can-posting events, creative non-fiction, prose and poetry and the occasional video. Enjoy!



Sunday, May 29, 2011


My latest piece in the Journal of International Experiences- (Courtesy of the University of Toronto Volunteer Abroad Office)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Motorcycles and Sweetgrass

Trickster plays with small-town minds in Otter Lake
Book Review
By Christine McFarlane
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass
Author: Drew Hayden Taylor
Award-winning playwright, columnist and comedy-sketch creator, Drew Hayden Taylor from Curve Lake First Nation, Ont., is at his fast-paced, comedic best with his latest book
Motorcycles & Sweetgrass, which is set in the fictional sleepy Anishnawbe community of Otter Lake.
The premise addresses many issues that First Nations people currently deal with, including community politics, identity, mythology and intergenerational legacies—the impact of children removed from their communities to attend residential school, and the problems that caused, including alcoholism, lost retention of traditional ways, repressed memories of long ago hurts, and rifts in familial relations. Throw in a few Windigos and a new government granted land parcel for the band that unleashes a swarm of local lobbyists with competing schemes for development and you’ve got the makings of a funny and compelling story by Hayden Taylor.
The reader is allowed into the life of Maggie Second as she tries to juggle several roles, including motherhood and the stresses that come with being in a very public role as chief, a position she inherited after the sudden loss of her husband in a boating accident.
Maggie finds that the issues she often deals with in her political life drift into her personal life. She is distracted by the demands of her job and the impending loss of her mother and a wayward son Virgil, who tends to skip more school than he attends.
Maggie also finds that the paperwork involved with the newly-acquired land parcel is more of a hassle than it should be. She has to deal with “three levels of government, four, if you included the reserve, that has to sign off on the transfer. She finds that most non-Natives believe the idea of granting the band more land is an absurd concept. After all, “five hundred years of colonization had told them you took the land away from Native people, you didn’t let them buy it back.”
The stage is set as Maggie’s focus shifts when a six-foot-plus dreamboat riding a 1953 humdinger of an Indian motorcycle arrives in the community. The motorcycle rider is possibly the mischief-making incarnation of the Ojibwa’s trickster figure Nanabush, and the town of Otter Lake turns upside with a silliness that they have never experienced before.
No one really seems to know what’s going on except for the raccoons that track this bike around like a posse, and they’re not happy.
Taylor writes this book with comedic ease, but he pokes at some very serious issues, such as language. In one scene, Maggie Second and her dying mother are speaking in their native Ojibway and the book reads “she spoke it like all the old-timers did, with strength and confidence, not hesitantly and softly like the youngsters who took the language in university, if they took it at all.”
Hayden Taylor’s book generates much thought about small-town small-mindedness, and he mixes it with the problems brought by a trickster figure let loose in a community already preoccupied with fooling itself.
The book’s real strength is the underlying account of a community struggling to weave a traditional past with some kind of meaningful future. In these matters Taylor’s humour yields to a tone that is variously caustic and melancholy.
Hayden Taylor’s Motorcycles and Sweetgrass was the Governor General’s Award nomination for fiction in 2010.
It is published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, and can be purchased at your nearest bookstore.
(Published in Windspeaker-

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nickelback - Gotta Be Somebody

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Accidentally Sent Email: By: Christine McFarlane

It all began when my finger pressed the SEND button on the email I had been trying to compose for the last hour and a half.

I was hurt, angry and confused. I was letting my fingers do the talking instead of letting my brain process the news I had been sent via post earlier that day-the small white envelope with my name scribbled on the front, and the piece of paper that fell out stating

"I can no longer be a part of your life. I cannot give a reason why but this will be my last communication with you."

"Please do not respond."

As a friend, you had always been there. I could call you up anytime and know that you would listen. We could laugh at the silliest things and be serious when either of us wanted to go over the petty annoyances of our day.

We had started to drift apart in recent months, phone calls were few and far between, and emails slowly trickled down to maybe once or twice every other week. They were always vague, the warmth zapped right out of them. As though it was a duty to email instead of two friends keeping in touch. I never thought it would come to this.

TAP....TAP...TAP... go my fingers on my keyboard, as tears silently fall. My head is hurting and my eyes squint as I lean towards my computer screen and furiously type out a reply you didn't want me to give.

"Dear John, we've been friends for many years. We've seen each other through many ups and downs. Why are you doing this now? I don't understand."

My email continues briefly....

"What did I do? Is there anyway we can talk about this, meet for coffee? Please? "

I end my email with the message,

"please, please call me. I love you."

My finger hits the SEND button and then I realize

Oh Shit! I have accidently sent this email to my boss.

Within a matter of minutes.. All hell breaks loose.

(a work of fiction, and still in progress)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What's In A Name?

What’s In A Name?
What’s in a name? A name means everything especially when it comes to legal and historical connotations for First Nations people of Canada. With the recent renaming of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to the department name of Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I can’t help but wonder, what is going to happen next under Stephen Harper and his government.
The subtle name change of the former Department raises concerns because it is substituting the term ‘Indian’ which has specific legal and historical connotations for First Nations people, with the inappropriate term “Aboriginal.”
The term “Aboriginal” was first utilized by the government of Canada in the Constitution Act of 1982 to lump First Nations, Inuit and Metis People under one category. The term has been widely rejected because it fails to acknowledge the distinct cultures, histories, and rights of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.
I find it disheartening that  Stephen Harper and his government renamed the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs without any consultation whatsoever with the First Nations peoples of Canada. Last week’s departmental name change has received mixed reviews, and I don’t blame those who are questioning this recent move. Those who were previously excluded under this department may be happy, but First Nations people see their rights diluted even further by this process of renaming the former Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to what it is named now.
Our rights become diluted in the renaming of this department because according to Regional Chief Angus Toulouse in a press release statement published by NationTalk, “ It is disconcerting to have to remind the government of Canada to make the distinction between First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.”
The government needs to rethink their position on renaming Departments especially without consultation when it comes to First Nations affairs. When they do not consult, mistrust deepens and furthers the divide that we already have.
What’s in a name, I ask?  A name means everything especially when it has the legal and historical connotations it has for First Nations people. We need to have our government working with us, and not behind us like they have by renaming a department without our knowledge.
This issue is contentious and I am sure it will be for awhile. Over the next few years, we will have to continue to stand up and voice our concerns when our government without consultation makes moves against us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yellow Medicine Review: Spring 2011 Issue:

Mother: An Essay
By: Christine McFarlane

I travelled three days on a Greyhound bus to meet my biological mother. She was standing in the Winnipeg bus station standing beside a repatriation worker. I don’t recall his name but his demeanor was all uppity and cocky, as though he would rather be anywhere else but here, watching a woman meet her grown daughter for the very first time.

I remember, getting off the bus, my body was aching from all those hours of sitting or flopping over two cramped seats trying to get some sleep. My heart leapt into my throat when I walked into the station, and looked across the stained plastic seats and saw my mother. She looked like me! She was short, even shorter than the 5 feet that I am. Her hair was black like mine, but hers was salt and pepper with the gray that went throughout it. She wore glasses; they were pretty thick. I had to laugh; I must have gotten my bad eyesight from her. I’d worn glasses since I was ten years old. She was bundled up for the Winnipeg cold. They don’t call it Winterpeg for nothing.

It was crazy, I know to go in the middle of winter to Winnipeg but this meeting was planned and I would not have missed it for the world. I had been waiting almost 32 years to see what my mother actually looked like. There were no words to explain the feelings that coursed through me when I saw her for the first time. I was speechless. I finally had a living, breathing person in front of me. Now I knew what Anna Smith looked like, she wasn’t just an image made up in my head anymore.

The tears rolled down her cheeks and she clumsily reached out to put her arms around me. I wasn’t used to hugs. I gave her a hug back but it was awkward. I didn’t know what to say to calm her down. Nor did I know that before I got there she had been pacing back and forth and asking herself the very same questions that I had. “Will she look like me,” Will she like me?,” and “I hope this reunion is worth it because what if she hates me and doesn’t want anything to do with me?”

I recall the three of us leaving the station. My mom and I had our arms around each other. Everything was surreal. We were really in each other’s presence. The little girl in me was crying, the grown woman on the outside was stoic. I told myself “you have to be strong.”

On that visit I didn’t ask her how she dealt with that pain of so many years ago, when the Children’s Aid swooped in and took all four of her kids. I didn’t think that all that pain would resurface on its own and become so overwhelming it would land her in the hospital, not only while we were visiting, but afterwards when she took the bus back to Saskatchewan and was alone once more. She stayed six weeks in the psychiatric ward.

It’s been 5 years since that visit, and some questions still remain. Do you still have that nervous laugh when you’re about to tell someone something? Do you still break out humming when there is a loss of words? That made me laugh, made me smile, made me want to break out into song also.

I remember our visit mother and the subsequent visit afterwards when I travelled to Saskatchewan to see you the last time. Things happened on that visit, things I couldn’t tell you then. Things I didn’t think you would be strong enough to handle.

Your boyfriend came onto me after too many drinks. Yelled at me, and told me I was a fucking control freak and I could just head back home. He said, “Your dad died like a dog in the street.” Those words stung, because my dad was murdered and no one deserves to have their life taken. His friend, though married, clumsily hugged me and told me I was really hot. That scared me and I kept that inside too.

I saw you drink bottles of cough syrup when your feelings got to be too much, and when you weren’t gulping down the cough syrup; you were sleeping on that couch of yours. You rarely left it. I wanted to bake cookies with you-you told me “do it yourself” and turned around and slept some more.

I felt alone but couldn’t say anything- I didn’t want to get you all worked up. I was afraid that if I did, you’d go over the edge like you almost did on our first visit.

Mother, I love you, I know its strange, but I do and I always will. Maybe later on we will both be strong enough to be like a mother and daughter should be, but right now I can’t, it’s too difficult. I hope that someday we can meet up again and the pain will have dissipated some.

Until then, I wish you well and hope that if we do meet again, it won’t be too late.

Published in Yellow Medicine Review: Spring 2011 issue….

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life's Transitions

By: Christine McFarlane

I sit here and I think of all the transitions that have happened in my life recently, and I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t for a support system or having a routine set up, I would feel lost.

Transitions at any point in your life can be difficult and it is important to your emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health that you know yourself well enough to set up things for yourself to do when moments get tough. I can tell you, firsthand that the transition I am going through now has been a bit overwhelming, and there is still a nagging voice in the back of my head, saying

“You can’t do this.”

Over the course of this past weekend, I often found myself getting lost in my thoughts and that can be dangerous territory for anyone to wander into, especially when you are prone to the type of thinking called “catastrophic thinking.” When you think catastrophically, things seem a lot worse than what they really are, and it really takes a lot of effort to pull yourself back and say

“Hey, I am okay!”

The transitional journey and the rollercoaster ride of emotions that I have been going through is something that some of my friends have filled me in on. Their advice has varied from how to deal with the intense moments of emotions, to keeping a routine and doing what it takes to help keep your sanity about you. For me, that means being creative and creating my own routine.  A routine that still involves setting my alarm every morning, so that I can still get up at a decent time. (Instead of sleeping all day like I can do at times), going for walks, giving myself time to read and keeping up my writing, no matter what.

I have noticed that when I don’t take the time to write, I feel off kilter, so even if I just sit for a minute, or write a quick note while out on the subway, at least I am taking the time to journal.

Everyone deals with changes in their lives differently, but recognizing what works for you is important to staying on your healing path, even if it takes every last ounce of energy you have in that moment.

Transitions happen in every stage of life, and I believe it’s a part of what makes our life’s journey interesting. For me, the ability to stay positive through this transition period in my life, is making sure that I stay cognizant of the path that I want to stay on- a path of wellness, and that means looking forward, with my head held high and not letting that nagging voice that tells me I can’t do something hold me back any longer.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Honouring the Women in My Life:

My very first picture of my biological mom....

Honouring the Women in My Life:

Mother’s Day is a holiday that recognizes motherhood in general and the positive contributions that mothers have made to society. In Canada, Mexico and the United States, Mother’s Day falls on the second Sunday of each May. For me, Mother’s Day, has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It is a day that I can sit back and honour the women in my life who though did not give birth to me, have played a pivotal role in my life.

Due to estrangement, I do not see my biological mother. However on this holiday, I cannot help but sit back and reflect on the fact that if it was not for my mother giving birth to me, I would not be here. If I was not here, I would not be able to experience the life that I have now, who has enjoyed the richness of what other women in my life have been able to give me in place of what my mother could not.

I used to dread Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because it brought back immense feelings of sadness due to the dysfunctional background that I came from. I used to feel jealous of those who had parents and had people in their life that they could call mom and dad. But as I have grown older, I have come to realize that I can turn these holidays into my own. I can do this by honouring those in my life who have stepped in and been that parent or role model to me when I have needed it the most.

Many women, whether they have been in the role of friend, sister, professor and even therapist have helped me along in my journey to where I am at now. They have given me advice when I have needed it. They have given me the encouragement when times got tough and I did not feel I could take another step.  They have reminded me to slow down and enjoy each day when they saw me barrelling ahead and stressing myself out. They have reminded me to laugh, and have given me comfort when I was struggling within and had nowhere else to turn.

Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day. It can also be a tough day for anyone who due to estrangement or loss cannot celebrate their Mothers. This year, in particular though, I want to take the time to acknowledge those women in my life who have stepped in and have given me the love and encouragement that my mother could not. You know who you are. I thank my mother for giving me life, and I thank the women in my life who have taken the time to be that surrogate mother I have needed from time to time. My life could not be any richer without you in it.

Previously published in Anishinabek News :

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Belize Experience:
By: Christine McFarlane

 Mayan Village of Laguna

As a First Nations student, I felt privileged for being able to participate with thirteen other students from the University of Toronto on a research trip to Belize, Central America. Though we were only there for ten days, it was a trip that really opened my eyes because I was able to see for myself the similarities that the Indigenous people of Central America have with their counterparts here in Canada.

I went to Belize in part because I was a student in Alex McKay’s ABS301Y1-Native Language and Culture course, but also because I thought that due to the fact that I had learned about the Indigenous people of Australia in the Summer Abroad Program of Woodsworth College during the summer of 2010, it would only be fitting to also learn about the Indigenous people of Central America. I also considered this to be a great way to finish off my undergraduate studies. 

While there I encountered on the part of a couple of non-native people who participated an eagerness to learn but also a lack of cultural sensitivity about Indigenous people as a whole. Along with other insights about the lack of understanding about Indigenous people and their way of life, I came back home, feeling enriched by my experience but also sad to realize that there is still much work to be done in order for people to understand and respect Indigenous people’s issues, no matter where you are in the world.

Participants were escorted by Dr. Richard Lee, professor emeritus and renowned anthropologist and were from various academic programs, including Aboriginal Studies, Global Health and Culture, and Gender and Equity Studies. Arranged through the Institute of Sustainable International Studies (ISIS) by several ISIS’ Community Associates, participants had the opportunity to experience village life within two different communities, Hopkins and Laguna during our ten day stay.

Belize is a developing country, and situated on the Caribbean Sea, south of Mexico and east and north of Guatemala in Central America. In area, “it is about the size of New Hampshire. Most of the country is heavily forested with various hardwoods. Mangrove swamps and cays along the coast give way to hills and mountains in the interior.”[1] Its history is intriguing considering that it is a relatively young nation. It only obtained independence on September 21, 1981 and Guatemala only recognized their sovereignty in September 1991, despite still occupying more than half of Belize’s territory.

The two communities that we visited were the coastal village of Hopkins and the Mayan village of Laguna, hosted by the Toledo Eco-Tourism Association (TEA). In Hopkins we learned about Garifuna spirituality, cultural drumming and snorkeled along the world’s largest barrier reef. While in Hopkins, we met with Ted McKoy, a local entrepreneur who engaged us in discussion on poverty, development, and youth concerning Hopkins specifically while relating the topics to Belize as a whole.

In Hopkins, I was struck by the sense of community and the village life, where everyone knew one another and there were nods and smiles as you walked the dirt roads throughout the village. By comparison, city life back in Canada is harsh. Noise surrounds you wherever you go. Traffic whizzes by, cars and buses honk their horns, people are lost in their own worlds, with all sorts of technology at their fingertips, and friendliness is something you have to actively search for.

In the village of Hopkins, children ran and played, they had their own games made up; they weren’t fixated on the latest fashions, what was the latest video game or what was the next thing they could purchase. They relied on themselves, a simplicity that has long ago disappeared in our society. We have become a society that is obsessed with consuming as much as possible, and not caring what kind of affect it has on those around us.

I miss the impromptu drum session that we had with the Garifuna youth, where everyone gathered, and the children from around the village came and took it all in, while we all laughed, danced and attempted to drum along. I miss the sense of community that surrounded us while we stayed there and I miss my first swim in the ocean while a friend who knew I was scared to swim, stayed by my side and made sure I was okay, and I miss jumping the waves as they came crashing around us, and the laughter when I accidently swallowed sea water and said “I think I have had my quota of salt for the next month or so.”

The Indigenous people of Central America consist of the following; Mestizo, Kriol, Maya, Garinagu, Mennonite, Chinese and East Indian and the recognized languages of the people are Kriol, Spanish, Garifuna, Maya and Plautdietsch.  I found it inspiring that despite the encroachment of modernity; the people not only of Hopkins but also of Laguna, still practice their culture, traditions and languages. I found this to be important because it made me see how similar their fight is in comparison to the First Nations people of Canada to retain the same things despite our government’s attempt to take this all away from us.

After Hopkins, we spent four days in the Mayan village of Laguna. Our group explored Indigenous politics; land rights issues, sustainable agriculture and gender roles within modern Maya communities. In addition, we learned about cacao farming, how to make corn tortillas from scratch, and had the choice of visiting a local animal sanctuary ‘Aquacaliente’ and hiking to a Laguna cave.

Mr. Pablo Miis, and Mrs. Cristina Coc, both from the village of Laguna and activists in the Maya land rights issue, as well as the residents of Laguna made us feel at home by treating us to traditional Mayan food and its preparation, discussion on the encroaching modern world on the Mayan culture and we were given an opportunity to meet and assist the Laguna village school children at their primary school.
 Miis  spoke to the students on the issues facing Indigenous Organizations and Community Development and what “poverty, development and identity” mean to the Mayan people, while Coc spoke about land rights and made mention of the current fight before the Belize Courts. A fight that initially started with the Conejo and Santa Cruz lawsuits where the Supreme Court ruled that  ‘the Belize Constitution, the mother of all laws protects the rights of the Maya villages to the lands they occupy under the rights of property, equality and life.’

In light of this issue Coc relays that “ For years, the basic human rights of the Maya of Belize have been under attack from the Government of Belize, specifically the government’s neglect to respect indigenous land rights,” On June 28th, 2010 the Supreme Court of Belize ruled for the second time in favor of Maya land rights, again affirming constitutional protection for ancestral land rights for 38 villages in Southern Belize.
This was a positive step forward for the Maya, the traditional stewards of the land we now call Belize, yet at this time, the Belize government is appealing the court’s decision. The government is asking the Court of Appeal to declare that the thousands of Maya Belizeans, who have been living in their villages their whole lives, and their parents before them, are nothing but squatters and can be removed at any time, at the whim of the government.
One of the First Nations students who participated in the Belize program through ISIS, Krystine Leah Abel, a 1st year student undertaking a course in Aboriginal Health Systems states The ISIS program gave me first hand experience in how local indigenous culture shapes food sustainability and how development offers both successes and challenges to traditional Mayan and Garifuna customs.”
With this in mind, I realized that sometimes you have to travel far from home to understand that there are other Indigenous people who are fighting the same fight your people are, and that the fight for Indigenous rights is taking place in all corners of the world. I believe it is integral that the University of Toronto makes it a goal to have more inclusion of First Nations students in the Aboriginal Studies Program to take part in International Exchange opportunities such as the program ICM Belize.

[1] Belize: History, Geography, Government and retrieved May 3, 2011

What Is Environment?

Environment takes on many meanings for individuals and it often depends on the mood or where the person is that you are asking. I tried to ask a few people and their answers were usually simple because they stated that environment to them meant, “it is life,” or “it’s their home.”
When I asked a few people what environment means to them. I was intrigued by the answers I received because environment encompasses so much and no one really wanted to go into depth about how they see environment. Some people even wanted me to distinguish what I meant-did I mean nature, or did I mean environment as in work or home environment.
I think environment is what you make of it. It can be while you are out walking and going about your day-to-day tasks, or it can be the environment that you create yourself inside your home, work or who or where you hang out. Environment to me as a First Nations woman encompasses many things. It entails learning about the land around me, recognizing that as a person who inhabits this land, I need to respect all life that surrounds me, and also on an emotional level, be cognizant of the energy that I put out there, whether that is in my personal environment, such as who and what I surround myself with or appreciating the littlest thing in nature.
            Chief Oren Lyons states in an article “Listening to Natural Law”, “What happens to you and what happens to the earth happens to us as well,” (22)) and I find that really resonates with me because it speaks to the truth and teachings of our people. We can choose to take care of our environments, or we can choose to ignore it, either way, Mother Earth responds and it is up to us as individuals to make a difference while we walk this earth.

Works Cited:

Lyons, Chief Oren "Listening to Natural Law" in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, edited by Melissa K. Nelson, pp.22-26. 2008 Inner Tradition.