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Darrell J. McLeod is the author of Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age. Darrell J. McLeod’s memoir offers up an unflinchingly honest account of growing up as an Indigenous Canadian

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age

Darrel J. McLeod | Douglas & McIntyre

$29.95, 225 pp. The young Cree man walks down to the banks of the Athabasca, wades in and ceremoniously bathes his face and arms. He is thinking about his mother, the strong, passionate and deeply wounded woman he helped bury the day before. And he is reflecting about her tragic life and the way that tragedy informed his own painful pilgrimage across the terrain of an essentially racist Canada.

His experience, like that of so many Indigenous people in the land the settlers call Canada, includes poverty, sexual abuse, violence, being the butt of racist insults and facing multiple obstacles to economic or academic success.

This poignant scene closes Darrel J. McLeod’s new memoir, Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age. In a time when an increased interest in reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of Canada is a goal of the national government (or at least cited as such, with varying degrees of sincerity), McLeod’s memoir is a valuable resource for us all.

To undo the multiple evils of Canadian racism, we need to see it clearly. Unflinchingly honest accounts like McLeod’s allow us to see much of the past that has been obscured and distorted for non-Indigenous Canadians.

McLeod was born in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. He spent early years at his great grandfather’s remote trapping cabin, where his mother Bertha had fled to escape the danger of government agencies seizing her children after her husband died.

As a survivor of residential school abuse, Bertha had every reason to fear what would happen to her kids if the government scooped them up and funnelled them into the “welfare” system.

Despite the way his mother and other relatives later spiralled down into alcohol and drug abuse, McLeod found his way through an unimaginably traumatic childhood to academic and career success. He obtained several advanced degrees, certificates and diplomas and went on to many highly responsible jobs as a teacher, health care worker, land claims negotiator and director of education and international affairs for the Assembly of First Nations.

McLeod began the work that resulted in this fine book as a student of writing mentor Betsy Warland at Simon Fraser University. Completing the book, which began with free-standing short stories, took over half a decade. Anyone who cares about reconciliation and enjoys powerful prose narrative will be glad to have read this important book.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes on unceded Indigenous territory, A.K.A. Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net

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