New week, new possibilities, good and bad.
This week’s book is the second I’ve read this year that has taken Jordan Peterson’s first-place spot at the top of the Globe and Mail best sellers (the other is Love Lives Here by Amanda Jetté Knox). This is definitely more to my taste.
Please feel free to share the newsletter with anyone who likes to read and talk about books, send me a shout if you have thoughts, and always, always send book recommendations.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
This series of essays by Alicia Elliott is both vulnerable and confrontational—she’ll show you a little piece of her heart, but she doesn’t fully trust you with it. She intertwines memoir with history (and has you wondering how could those things could ever be separate?) and demands that non-Indigenous Canadians know the history of the people whose land we stole. Elliott further insists that we recognize the humanity of the Indigenous peoples who have been deeply hurt by our state and our presence here. She confronts the white, Canadian gaze that shapes so much of what is deemed to have value in our culture and asks us to see her as a person worthy of love and respect.
That said, I don’t believe I am her true target audience—she’s written this book for Indigenous people. She wants to share her life and perspective with them, knowing that lives like hers are not widely reflected in Canadian popular culture. They need to know they are all worthy of love and respect, not from someone like me, but from a strong, Haudenosaunee woman like herself.
Extracurricular Reading and Watching
If you don't follow Alicia Elliott on Twitter, I highly recommend that you do. Part of why I read this book is because I’ve been following her and she often challenges what I think I know about things.
Indigenous peoples’ stories don’t always get much space in mainstream Canadian culture (and perhaps don’t want to be considered “Canadian” at all, depending on nation and personal feelings). Elliott recommends quite a few in her memoir.
Here are a few of my favourites (keeping in mind that I’m coming from a the perspective of a white woman of European descent):
This article ties to a book I'm currently re-reading An Open Letter To White Women Concerning The Handmaid’s Tale And America’s Cultural Amnesia. I was reading Margaret Atwood's forward to the reprint of The Handmaid's Tale, I thought it was telling how she named many groups the book could apply to, but never First Nations, Metis of Inuit. It's a big Canadian blind spot.
It doesn’t take much time for the world to reshape itself in the minds of human beings and we have a tendency to dismiss the past as though it isn’t nearly as important as our current world, or idealize it as something it definitely wasn’t.
Looking at an old map is an acknowledgement of a past time, but we sometimes fail to see how those old names, lines and markings shape the new.
When I did an internship at Canadian Geographic a few years back, the staff were working on the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada project in consultation with Indigenous nations across the country. My partner Ryan got me the set for Christmas last year and I haven’t given it nearly the attention and time it deserves.
Looking at them, I think it’s important not to see the project as something that shows us a distant past only dimly related to our current world. We’re still on Indigenous land, they still live here, and there is more to the country of Canada than the European names and borders we’ve slapped onto it.
Please send recommendations for further reading and watching!
Let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Book recommendations are always appreciated.
Sabrina has read 42 books toward her goal of 75 books.