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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Guest Post- Daniel Heath Justice- Why Indigenous Literatures Matter

Daniel Heath Justice is a novelist and Associate Professor of English (Aboriginal Literatures) at the University of Toronto. His publications include an Indigenous fantasy trilogy, The Way of Thorn and ThunderKynship (2005), Wyrwood (2006), and Dreyd(2007), all published by Kegedonce Press—as well as Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History (U Minnesota 2006). Justice is a U.S.-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation. 

(a personal note- I had the honour of being taught by Daniel Heath Justice for two years while studying at the University of Toronto. I took his Indigenous Literatures course and Oral Traditions. He will soon be leaving the University of Toronto for a position at the University of British Columbia. I asked him if he could please contribute to my blog, and he enthusiastically said yes. I feel honoured that I studied under Daniel. He always told me to keep writing and when I got discouraged, he always had encouraging words to say and a listening ear. For that I thank him. What he brought to the Aboriginal Studies Department and English Department at the University of Toronto, will be missed. Please enjoy his contribution to my blog!)

Why Indigenous Literatures Matter

Christine’s request for some comments on the significance of Indigenous literature came at a good time, as I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on just that topic.  I’m off to a new job at the University of British Columbia this summer, and have been giving a great deal of thought to some of the things I’ve learned in my ten years at the University of Toronto.  My students have taught me at least as much as I’ve taught them, if not more, and it’s their wisdom more than anything I might have brought to the classroom that has helped me understand some of the most significant reasons why Indigenous literatures matter.  So, to all the students I’ve had the honour of working with in ENG 254 (Indigenous Literatures of North America) and ABS 300 (Indigenous Worldview, Knowledge, and Oral Tradition) over the past decade, I want to offer my most sincere thanks, as these ideas have come in part from the conversations we’ve had and the insights and understandings you’ve shared with me and each other in that time. 

Below I’ve listed seven broad qualities that now represent to me the significance of Indigenous literary expression. These thoughts are always evolving, but I’m hopeful that they provide a good foundation for guiding our reflection on this topic.

1.  Perspective
There’s a lot of good work by ethical and thoughtful individuals in the archive of writing about Indigenous peoples, but there’s also a great deal of bad work by non-Indigenous writers with a vested interest in either Indigenous deficiency or diminishment, often with the assumption (or outright assertion) that all Indigenous peoples are the same in some set of essential values, perspectives, or characteristics.  Indigenous writing--by Indigenous peoples, with self-determined concerns, ideas, and priorities at the centre--offers an important corrective to these reductive ideas.  There’s as much diversity and disagreement in Indigenous communities as in any other group; there’s never one single voice or perspective that speaks for all, no single way of being that captures the complexity of experience.  So, as with any body of writing, there’s always going to be a range of perspectives and personalities in Indigenous texts, too, and that’s very much as it should be.  The diversity represented in the literature is vitally important to understanding the diversity of experience and perspective in communities, historically as well as today, and it offers a vital challenge to the rampant stereotype of the generic, monolithic (and often monosyllabic) Hollywood Indian in beads and feathers.

2.  Beauty
Beauty is as much a purpose of Indigenous writing as anything else; beauty is multidimensional, as much about language and structure as content, theme, or form.  With the dominant narratives about Indigenous peoples in popular and political discourse being largely stories about Indigenous deficit and dysfunction, we can’t underestimate the importance of other stories, the ones that show the full, rich depths of Indigenous humanity and creative spirit, and which offer both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers, viewers, and listeners the possibility of encountering and perhaps being changed by the diverse aesthetic practices and traditions at work in these texts.  And for many of these writers, these invocations of beauty are not simply “art for Art’s sake,” meant primarily to express the writer’s own aesthetic vision, but rather what Cherokee-Appalachian poet Marilou Awiakta has called “art for Life’s sake” (qtd. in Rain Crowe 43), intended in some way to explore, to expand, and to sometimes even thoughtfully challenge the experiences and understandings of community.  Beauty, then, is something to be experienced and perhaps be changed by, not something simply to observe.

3.  Empowerment
This is an overused and sometimes hackneyed term, but it nevertheless seems entirely appropriate here.  At its best, literature can reflect back an image of ourselves that affirms our humanity and dignity, even when it might also articulate the challenges and painful woundings that impact our lives.  To see ourselves as complex and richly textured people--individually and collectively--is to see ourselves beyond the narrow and pathologizing limits of the settler imaginary, where Indigenousness is generally a “problem” to be ignored, dealt with, or fixed, until commodifying modernity triumphs and Indigenous peoples vanish.  Our family stories speak to our complexity and continuing presence, as do our community stories; literature can be an extension of those relational understandings.   While the written word in European languages has certainly been used against Indigenous peoples by colonial powers and settler populations, so too has writing been used by Indigenous peoples to not only their rights and sovereignties, but also to affirm their presence, their strength, and their storied significance, to one another as well as to their neighbours.  It’s never easy, and it’s sometimes messy and complicated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important.  And sometimes just seeing our words on the shelf can fill a person with sudden and unexpected pride, as it did for me as a grad student when I first perused my various mentors’ bookshelves, and as still happens when students come into my office and start exploring the books there.  For many of us, just the mere knowledge of our textual archive is an awakening, and for some it starts or rekindles a love of literature as part of a larger process of personal empowerment and community engagement.

4.  Empathy
In her 2009 book, Taking Back our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing, M├ętis scholar and educator Jo-Ann Episkenew has made an important argument about the capacity for Indigenous literature to not only help Indigenous individuals and communities to heal from the generational assaults of colonialism, but also for its potential in creating empathy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.  Just as “Indigenous people have learned that the creative process has restorative powers” (68), that same creative process, in Indigenous hands and towards Indigenous purposes, “enables settler readers to relate to Indigenous peoples on an emotional level thereby generating empathy. By reading Indigenous literature, settlers come to understand Indigenous people as fellow human beings.  Empathy, in turn, has the potential to create a groundswell of support for social-justice initiatives to improve the lot of Indigenous people” (190-191).  While such a system-wide transformation will take many more readers to engage with this work (and many more teachers to share it) to be fully realized, it’s nevertheless certain that the engagement of Indigenous texts by non-Indigenous readers can absolutely create a deeper sense of human connection and understanding.  I see it every year in my literature classroom, and I know that other Indigenous literature teachers witness these moments of empathetic transformation.  This doesn’t mean that readers lose their critical capacities and are blind to the human frailties and shadow-sides that are also represented in the texts, but it does mean that they find much more nuanced and human figures in these texts than are generally on display in popular media today.

5.  Legacy
Indigenous literatures aren’t simply a contemporary phenomenon: Indigenous peoples have always been textually expressing their dreams, fears, visions, ceremonial practices, and aesthetic priorities in alphabetic as well as non-alphabetic forms.  Literature, then, is an ancient legacy, one that connects us to the past and extends well into the future.  It’s an inheritance.  Two literature scholars offer important insights here.  First, I take the guidance of Cherokee scholar Jace Weaver, who defines literature “broadly as the total written output of a people....because to impress form on the relative formlessness of a life or a culture, to express selectivity over what is to be includedand what excluded, is an act of literary creation” (That the People ix).  Extending further, J. Edward Chamberlin’swords offer important insights into the vexed nature of the “literary”:

All so-called oral cultures are rich in forms of writing, albeit non-syllabic and non-alphabetic ones: woven and beaded belts and blankets, knotted and coloured strings, carved and painted trays, poles, doors, verandah posts, canes and sticks, masks, hats and chests play a central role in the cultural and constitutional life of these communities, functioning in all the ways written texts do for European societies.

Further, he reminds us that “the central institutions of our supposedly ‘written’ cultures--our courts and churches and parliaments and schools--are in fact areas of strictly defined and highly formalized oral traditions, in which certain things must be said and done in the right order by the right people on the right occasions with the right people present” (If this is Your Land 19-20).  Our literary traditions are long ones, and not simply limited to the alphabetic texts printed on paper in English, Spanish, or French.  Our literary traditions, like our oral traditions, are a legacy bequeathed to us from those who came before.  And they’re a legacy we’re both honoured and obligated to preserve, expand, and understand for those who come after.

6.  Continuity
Indigenous texts also affirm our textualized presence in the world.  The “Vanishing Indian” of stereotype and colonial myth is as fleeting as a breath in the wind; alone and isolated, this figure passes away without leaving a mark on the land or on memory (except, perhaps, settler nightmares of the Poltergeist kind.).  Real, dynamic, and fully present Indigenous peoples are fully part of the world, not apart from it in some nebulous space of eternal stasis.  As the People continue on in life and in experience, so too do their stories, in various languages, forms, and traditions.  Writing, then, offers another way of continuing on, a way that affirms Indigenous peoples’ presence--in the present, as well as the past and the future.  It’s not the only expression of continuity, but it’s certainly an important one, and it gives the lie to the spectral Vanishing Indian who exists only a fantasy of settler dominance.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges with the practice or problems; indeed, as fluency in Indigenous mothertongues decreases, in many cases writing in English and other Euro-derived languages far outpaces that of texts in our original languages.  But the presence of one needn’t negate the presence of the other, as there are many important language revitalization projects going on all over the continent (and elsewhere in the Indigenous world) that are creating (or recovering) amazing archives of Indigenous mothertongue literature for current and future generations.  It’s therefore perhaps more accurate to speak of our individual literatures as well as our broader, interconnected literary traditions, in multiple languages spreading across vast geographic regions and time periods.  To participate in this process, then--to read, to write, to share, to learn--is to participate in the continuity of the People.  Jace Weaver notes that Indigenous writers “write that the People might live”; writing “prepares the ground for recovery, and even re-creation, of Indian identity and culture.  Native writers speak to that part of us the colonial power and the dominant culture cannot reach, cannot touch.  They help Indians imagine themselves as Indians” (44-45).  We might add to this the affirmation that it’s not just the writing that’s important, but the reading, discussing, and considering, thereby actively participating in that process of recovery and re-creation.  The People go on, and so do the stories, which help the People go on to continue telling the stories that help the People go on... 

7.  Possibility
The last area of significance I want to offer here (though certainly not the last to consider, as there’s much more than I can cover in this piece) is the possibility inherent in Indigenous literature: that of imagining otherwise, of considering different ways of abiding in and with the world that are about Indigenous presence, not absence, Indigenous wholeness, not fragmentation, Indigenous complexity, not one-dimensionality.  When Indigenous writers take up pen or keyboard or carving knife or bead and sinew, they bring their talents and visionary capacity to the work, and in so doing help to create a different world for themselves, for their communities, and for their neighbours (friend, foe, and unaffiliated alike).  When we read the work of Indigenous writers, we participate in the possibilities inherent in that different world, and we become part of the network of relations that make possible more generous, more thoughtful, and more just relationships with one another. 

Literature can be transformative; just as I’ve experienced it myself, I’ve also witnessed it among friends and family, and I’ve seen it in the lives of my students.  It can also be deforming: it all depends on what stories we choose to read and be influenced by.  Too many of the stories about Indigenous peoples are of the latter kind; quite frankly, we need more stories that affirm Indigenous humanity in all its complicated, contradictory, and wild and wounded wonder.  It’s not about telling only the happy stories, but it’s certainly about telling the wide range of stories that matter to us and offer an important sense of our diversity and depth.  Indigenous literature makes a real difference to Indigenous nationhood, as well as to individuals, families, communities, and nations.  Not every text will move every reader, but every text will offer something to someone, and some works will open many hearts and minds, Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers alike. 

Stories matter; they extend our humanity beyond the self to others, and at their best can make possible better relationships with our own histories and lived present as well as with one another.  Ultimately, these seven broad qualities of Indigenous literary expression--perspective, beauty, empowerment, empathy, legacy, continuity, and possibility--speak to me of the extraordinary potential for our literatures to transform these relationships in powerful and enriching ways.  We have much to learn from one another, and much to share, on our own terms, and in our own ways.  May love, courage, and good sense guide us as we do so.


Works Cited

Chamberlin, J. Edward. If This is Your Land, Where are Your Stories?: Finding Common Ground.  Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004.

Crowe, Thomas Rain.  “Marilou Awiakta: Reweaving the Future.”  Appalachian Journal 18.1 (Fall 1990): 40-54.

Episkenew, Jo-Ann.  Taking Back our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing.  Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2009.

Weaver, Jace.  That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Poetry: She Asks

By: Christine McFarlane

She asks
as if its nothing

"Are you nervous?"

I'm quiet
for a second
and I want
to say

hell ya
but don't

I just nod
Unable to speak

My mouth 
wide open

My jaw

her fingers
make their way 
to my mouth

with a shiny steel

in one hand

I notice
a small mirror
on one side

a tiny
little hook
on the other

She adjusts
the bright light
that shines down
upon me

as she is
about to pick
and probe

not caring
if that one jab
may gauge my gums
or ricochet 
off of 
one of my teeth

I don't dare

it hurts 
just a bit

 she asks

"are you nervous"

I'm quiet
for a second
and I want 
to say

hell ya
but don't

I just nod
Because she 
wouldn't understand

To her
It's just
a job

Cleaning teeth.


Friday, March 16, 2012



People interested in holding a leadership position on the NSA for the 2012/2013 academic year as well as electors should attend an important meeting on Friday March 23, 2012 in the First Nations House Lounge at 12:30pm.

Meeting Agenda:

1) Elder teaching on the roles and responsibilities of the clan leader positions
2) Discuss the elections process
3) Discuss future activities for the NSA

Lunch will be provided at noon.

For more information please contact the NSA at

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Short Story: The Mission By Christine McFarlane

The Mission:
By: Christine McFarlane

It’s like I’m on a mission. My sister has sent me to the kitchen. I have to get us something to eat. The trick is to make it from our bedroom at the end of the hallway, past our parent’s bedroom and down the carpeted creaky stairs. I can’t wake anybody; if I do my mission will fail.

I’m lying there in my twin bed with my Holly Hobbie blanket pulled up to my chin, listening to my stomach rumble. I hear a familiar growl come from across the room and know my sister is hungry too. She whispers and I turn towards her voice

“Christine, you gotta go to the kitchen and get us some food.”

“Oh sis” I whisper back

“I don’t wanna go, what if I get caught?”

“AH, you won’t get caught” my sister whispers back

“All you gotta do is tiptoe past mom and dad’s room. They won’t hear ya, it’s late and everyone’s asleep.”

“Why can’t you go?” I ask her. My voice turns to a whine.

“Because you’re good at it, and I’m not” she replies.

“Fine! I’ll go” I say.

The cold air hits me as I throw my blanket off and swing my feet over the edge of my bed. I throw my pink housecoat over my little nightie and stand up. I try to orient myself because our bedroom only has a small nightlight and not much light emanates from it.

I cross the floor quickly and open our bedroom door. Leaving the room, I catch a quick glimpse of the Holly Hobbie poster hanging by the door. That was my favorite childhood poster. Turning from the door, I feel the carpet underneath my bare feet.  It tickles my toes. I recall that it was a shag carpet and when you walked on it, your foot usually left an imprint. My foot didn’t. I was too small, barely weighing over 50 pounds.

I creep down the hallway, dragging my fingers along the wall to help guide me through the darkness. Slowly making my way down the hallway, I notice that the door to the bathroom is slightly open, and the dim light makes it less scary for me. Five minutes, and I am at the top of the stairway and I take a moment to look around me. I’m right in front of my parent’s bedroom, and my heart speeds up. Their snores behind their bedroom door hit my ears.

I take a deep breath and my little shoulders tighten. I take my first step onto the stairs and realize there’s no turning back. CREAK! I pull my foot back quickly. DANG! I forgot about that stair. I make a quick leap to the small and narrow ledge above the stairs and find myself balancing precariously.

“Wow!” I say to myself, “ I am a super sleuth and an acrobat!”

Five minutes pass. Balancing myself on the ledge is getting more difficult. I slide myself down really slowly from where I am perched on the ledge. I better not fall, I think to myself. My feet hit the stairs again. Pausing for a second and making sure the coast is still clear, I resume my mission.

I creep down the last six stairs. My foot hits the linoleum floor, I raise my fist and whisper

“Yeah! I made it!”

The hallway to the kitchen is just as dark as my trip from my sister and I’s bedroom. I don’t feel too afraid. I know making it as far as I have means I am almost there. The flooring is cold to the touch. It makes me walk faster. I hear rustling somewhere off to my left and the jingle of dog tags.

 “Oh shoot!” I whisper under my breath. I had forgotten about the dogs.

My fists instinctively ball up into fists, as first the dog’s growling breaks the silence, and then the dogs start barking! BARK BARK! I stop in my tracks. Our two dogs Mugsy and Duchess come flying out at me. I bend down and say

“Shh, shh, it’s okay, it’s just me.”

I reach out to pet them, almost frantically because I don’t want their barking to wake everyone up. Running my hands over their furry backs, they eventually quiet down. I break into a bit of a run to get to the kitchen.

Finally! Destination reached. Darkness plays tricks with my eyes.  I see shadows everywhere. There’s tightness in my chest. I gulp nervously and then take four deep breaths.  I move forward. I see the outline of the kitchen table and chairs and the hulking refrigerator. The microwave’s digital clock is blinking 3:10am. That time can’t be right-I whisper to myself

“There’s no way I am down here this early!”

Nevertheless I walk to the fridge and open it.

A blast of cold air hits me as the fridge door opens. My eyes scan the four shelves laden down with food. I see various colors of cheese, a jar of dill pickles, ketchup, a package of Oscar Meyer hotdogs, and other food. I salivate as I look at the various foods before me. I know that I can only take something small enough, like a roll or two, maybe a packet of kool aid. Ah! My sister and I loved to put our fingers into the packet and then lick the powder off.

I shut the fridge door and turn to the breadbasket that sits just an arms length away. I reach up above to try and grab the dinner rolls, but I’m too short. Grr… I eye a kitchen chair and pull it over towards the counter. I’m getting even more daring now. My desire for food is overwhelming, and overriding the need to be as quiet as possible. I throw caution to the wind.

I hop onto the chair, leaning over the counter to open the cupboard door in front of me.  I’ve seen my parents bring out peanut butter before from here. I decide that I will make peanut butter sandwiches.  I find the Skippy peanut butter right away, and I have to grab it with both hands. My six year old hands barely reach around the whole jar and the peanut butter almost drops.

This mission is difficult! Standing on the chair, I grab two dinner rolls and fumble for a knife in the cutlery drawer. With knife in hand, I crudely cut the rolls in half, and slather a ridiculous amount of peanut butter on the rolls.  Before I close the peanut jar, I stick the knife in one more time. Smacking my lips, I take one last taste and carefully screw the lid back onto the jar. I nimbly jump down from the chair and pull it back to its position at the table.

It’s time to head back upstairs. I shove the rolls into my housecoat pocket, and start walking. I don’t think about the lint that will attach itself to the sandwiches I just made. Nor do I think about what may happen as I exit the kitchen and head back up the stairs.

The trip back seems to go a little faster. I feel proud of myself, because I have food for my sister and I. To help navigate the stairs better, I hold my housecoat up a little. My head is down. I don’t see the lights turn on in the bedroom to the left of the stairway, or see that my grandma has stepped out from the spare bedroom and is standing there waiting for me to look up. When I do, I jump!

“Christine, what are you doing? And “do you know what time it is? Why are you downstairs?” she asks

I gulp.

“Grandma, I wasn’t doing anything”

My hands let go of my housecoat, and instinctively I stuff my hands in my pockets. My little fingers clutch the dinner rolls in my pocket.

“What’s in your pockets then?”

“Nothing, nothing I swear!” I whine back.

My grandma motions for me to come up the last two stairs, and turn my pockets inside out.  The rolls I had so carefully made fall to the floor. My grandma picks them up, says

“Wait until your father finds out about this!”

I start to cry. My crying wakes up my parents, and my father comes out of his bedroom. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he squints at my grandma and I.

“What is going on?”

“Christine was downstairs. I just caught her. She stole food from the fridge.” My grandma replies back.

My memory is foggy from this point on, but I do recall that I didn’t sleep with my Holly Hobbie blanket or sleep in my twin bed again. Instead, as punishment, for the next month, I was made to sleep in my parent’s walk in closet with just a thin sleeping bag to cover me up.

My mission failed that time, but I went on other missions after that and they were successful.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Yet Another Alice Fallen: Adventures in Disassociation-Poetry Book Review

Yet Another Alice Fallen: Adventures in Disassociation- Poetry Book Review
By: Christine McFarlane

Disassociation-is an unexpected partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s conscious or psychological functioning that cannot be easily explained by the person. Disassociation is a mental process that severs a connection to a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity. Disassociation is a normal response to trauma, and allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too much for the psyche to process at that time.[1]

“Yet Another Alice Fallen: Adventures in Disassociation” is Clair Itey’s follow up to her first poetry book “Substituting Dangers: A Journey with PTSD.” It goes on to further explore experiences of repeated trauma, but this time with a focus on another psychological disorder-disassociation.

Itey makes parallels with Lewis Carrol’s classic tale “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and I find it interesting how she claims the identity of Alice-not Carroll’s Alice but a fictional Alice that travels and weaves words together to examine the remnants of her fractured memories, and confronts strained relations with family and within her own self.

Itey’s words weave together with experiences and wisdom of other writers, poets, philosophers and survivors. The words of these others woven with her words make the poetry more poignant and powerful, and I especially like how the poem “History”  reads and speaks.

Seeing her freeze, he turns his face away. They poise and grieve as in some old tragedy.” (Sylvia Plath)


I carry my history in strange packages which I don’t know how to give to you
I expect there was a time when you could have come to me
And I could have held them out for you, bundle by bundle
Your dark hands unraveling, decoding…


But now our exchanges are always mute, genderless
I don’t know what to ask you.
My past, as my questions remain with me.
I have nothing left to offer, to reconcile.


Over and over I wonder who it is that I really desire;
How to remember those first nights, those first exchanges.

Before we had choices;
Before our histories freed us from one body
And locked us into another.

Another interesting poem is one titled “Recovery.” Within the “Recovery” poem, Itey confronts the use of psychiatric medication in order to help with her condition. She states

“The legacy they left for me
though undecipherable
fits snuggly into a small capsule.

I ingest it nightly now;
It becomes a nightly addiction.

There are many that would
protest, or even shudder

Make claims that medication
only masks


But I will take any peace I can

Decoriously or defiantly.[2]

The Recovery poem really grabbed my attention because it speaks of legacy, and what is left behind. It reminded me that through what is left behind in whatever legacy there is, that survivors of abuse or trauma have to learn how to cope, and sometimes that help comes in the form of prescribed medication.. There is the notion that the use of medication to help someone cope is bad and I believe that Itey confronts this by saying, it can be okay, especially if it gives someone in recovery a chance at peace of mind.

“Yet Another Alice Fallen: Adventures in Disassociation” is published by iUniverse Books and can be ordered through your nearest bookstore or by contacting iUniverse Books directly and is 61 pages.

[1] Wikipedia
[2] Schiff. Stacey

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Substituting Dangers: Poetry Book Review

(Image Taken from Chapters

This recent book review and an upcoming one titled "Yet Another Alice Fallen: Adventures in Disassociation" written by the same author here are a part of a two book review series I am posting on mental health issues. It is too often that mental health is associated with a negative stigma, and I want to show that through this author, writing can be healing, and is more than okay to write about. Chi miigwetch to renowned author and a former professor of mine, Lee Maracle for lending me these two books to review.

Substituting Dangers: Poetry Book Review
By: Christine McFarlane

This book is a collection of poetry that spans over twenty years of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) I admire the courage that this author-Clair Itey takes in writing about a topic that is not usually discussed-mental health and its effects on an individual’s life, specifically post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Within the introduction of the book, Itey relays how before she had this poetry book published she was asked by her therapist “why do you want to publish this collection of poems?” and how her reply was “I want to share this work with others-those who have PTSD and those who love them-in hopes of inspiring them to look more deeply into their own lives, to consider using poetry as a means of therapy and expression, and to then reach out to others with compassion, understanding and care.”

The poetry is written at various points in the author’s life but share many themes in common which includes the dialectic between speaking and remaining silent; the need to have control over one’s body and self image: the difficulty of maintaining relationships (eg. Being a daughter, mother, wife, sister and friend) while dealing with PTSD) and how the writing of poetry can serve as a process for healing.

I especially felt drawn to the following poem:


“my whole childhood
taken for granted
until one day you whisper,

having no past
is not the same as amnesia.

able to tell you
about yourself

memory begins
somewhere between
touch and language.”[1]

because it is also something that I can relate to.  I was diagnosed with post -traumatic stress disorder, and though I don’t often speak about it, living with PTSD can be difficult because memories are often not whole, and when you do remember certain things, memories often only come in bits and pieces. It is often when you cannot remember certain aspects of your life; people who have PTSD feel like they have amnesia.

Post traumatic Stress Disorder is widely written from a medical/scientific perspective, and this is one of the few times that I have had a book in my hands that is written from a personal perspective.

I applaud the author-Clair Itey for addressing this topic through poetry within her book “Substituting Dangers; A Journey with PTSD” This book was published by iUniverse, Inc, and is 51 pages. It can be found at your nearest bookstore, and online at and

[1] Itey. Clair. Substituting Dangers: A Journey with PTSD

My Latest Work in New Tribe Magazine

I have two new articles in this magazine-New Tribe. Feel free to check it out and share!



Friday, March 2, 2012

Review of Indian Horse- Published in Windspeaker March 2012

One boy, a residential school, and the sport that helps save him [book review]

Indian Horse book cover
Review By Christine McFarlane Windspeaker Contributor
Indian Horse
By Richard Wagamese
Douglas & McIntyre
186 pages, $23.00
Award-winning author Richard Wagamese weaves an emotional and endearing story together in his latest novel Indian Horse that confronts the legacy of residential school in a young boy’s life and how the game of hockey serves as a way of coping.
Saul Indian Horse’s young life is marked by tragedy. His parents are residential school survivors, and his mother is so devastated by the experience that she turns so far inward that “she ceases to exist in the outside world.”
Saul’s parents lose their oldest daughter to the residential school. To prevent Saul and his younger brother Benjamin from being taken, they bring the boys into the bush to live off the land with an uncle and Saul’s grandmother.
The family manages to escape the authorities for a while, but Benjamin is eventually snatched by the government officials and placed in a school in Kenora. Benjamin escapes from the residential school a few years later, and returns to his family in the bush, only to die soon after from the tuberculosis he contracted while in the school.
Saul Indian Horse’s life is altered forever when his parents turn to alcohol and leave him with his grandma in the bush to take off for Northern Ontario’s mining and mill towns.
Life in the bush is soon abandoned when Saul’s grandmother decides to make a trip to the town of Minak where her brother Minoose lives. She says “We can stay with him through the winter if we have to,” and she tells Saul that if they stay in the bush it will be where they will die.
Saul and his grandmother make the trek to Minaki, but during the final leg of their journey, the grandmother grows tired. She takes Saul in her arms and says, “We’ll rest a minute.”
The reader’s heart goes out to Saul when, while huddled in the arms of his grandmother, he feels her grow cold and her spirit leave. It is while he is lying in the arms of his deceased grandmother that he is found and taken to the place he has worked so hard to avoid.
Indian Horse is a moving novel that takes readers inside residential school, and provides details of the abuses that went on there, but also talks about the hope that springs from the game of ice hockey, and how one priest takes Saul under his wing.
The reader sees how the game of hockey comes naturally to this young boy, and readers witness Saul’s brutal journey through the racist ranks of minor-league hockey into an alcohol-ravaged adulthood to a place of personal endurance and recovery.
Wagamese is once again at his finest. He takes his readers on an emotional journey; a journey that exposes the horrors of Canada’s residential schools, but also celebrates the triumphs of a young boy and his love for the game of hockey.
Published in Windspeaker- March 2012 issue