Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life – A Book Review

“Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life”
by James Daschuk
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$27.95 ISBN: 978088776227

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life, written by James Daschuk and published by University of Regina Press can be best described as a heart wrenching but enlightening review of the systematic destruction of Indigenous peoples and culture in the prairies via the purposeful introduction of disease, starvation, and health disparities by both the Canadian government and private companies. This 2019 New Edition and winner of the Aboriginal History Prize, Cleo Prize, Governor General’s History and ironically the Sir John A. McDonald Prize, was originally published in 2013 and since then has obviously been praised by critics and readers alike. In fact, this reviewer truly believes that every Saskatchewanian should have a copy of this book on their shelves.

James Daschuk, a PhD in history and a current associate professor with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina showcases his unpresented capacity for research and provides the reader with fascinating (albeit sickening) review of the history of Indigenous health both pre and post-contact. During initial contact, while the country of Canada was either non-exist or in its infancy various systems where initialized by the country, by the church and by private organizations to ensure the continuous disadvantage of Indigenous people. Daschuk describes these imposed disparities and their brutal executions with such intricate detail and a level of historical research that makes it difficult for the reader to not seriously question the moral integrity of our nation’s roots and of the powers that be today.

Unlike many pieces of literature regarding Canadian literature, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life does not stick to the history found to the East but, as the title suggests, provides an in-depth review of the First Nations history that occurred right here at home in Saskatchewan. This is brilliantly documented from archival, academic research, interviews and a plethora of other resources.

The mostly-pleasant, comfortable life of an average Canadian typically leads them to think that Canada has always been one of the most progressive and tolerant countries in the world. In history class, we are led to believe that we have always been the “nice guys”. The thought that our nation has always been founded on the systematic genocide makes most people uncomfortable, it’s certainly not dinner-talk. Genocide is a heavy word but an appropriate one. Despite this book being an academic piece, Daschuk vividly paints the brutal treatment of Indigenous peoples both across the nation and within our own province.

In conclusion, this book is a juggernaut in the context of dark Canadian history and an invaluable resource to teach readers as to how the social climate regarding Indigenous people has evolved to what it is today. The only warning that I could possibly give for this book is a trigger warning. Please be advised that there are dark themes and incredibly violent truths found within these pages.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

 

Baggage – A Book Review

“Baggage”
by Wendy Phillips
Published by Coteau Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$14.95 9781550509700

“Baggage”, written by Wendy Phillips and published by Coteau Books is a fantastic teen read that covers dark themes with the seriousness that fits the subject matter and a narrative device that is relevant to young readers.

The story begins at the Vancouver airport and is set in British Columbia as a young, unidentified foreign boy is found near International Arrivals by a Canadian high school teacher named Ms. Nelson and one of her students Brittany. The boy has no family or friends in sight, no identification and appears to be malnourished. To make matters worse, he does not speak any languages that anyone in the airport understands. Understandably concerned, the teacher takes the boy to the customs office only to find that their only solution is to deport the boy as he is unidentified and claim that he may not even be protected by child protection laws. They take the boy, Thabo, into their homes to protest the deportation and to protect him at all costs. It is now up to Ms. Nelson, Brittany, her sister Leah, and their friend Kevin to inspire their school and their community to keep Thabo in Canada.

The novel is written in such a unique manner that is appropriate for young readers and undeniably poetic. Rather than following a traditional novel structure, the story instead progresses with short perspectives from each main character, including Thabo. At first, Thabo is a complete mystery, only short memories and actions that other characters notice provide a window into his young but troubled life. As Leah, the sister of the politically involved Brittany begins to learn Thabo’s native tongue the reader begins to get a glimpse into Thabo’s life. After Thabo takes sanctuary with a frustrated minister in the local church, disaster strikes and Thabo is taken by those that had abandoned him at the airport. The teenage characters Leah, Kevin, and Brittany showcase their true bravery as they go to rescue their new friend Thabo. The reader also learns that the community’s fears are real, that Thabo is a victim of human trafficking.

In conclusion, “Baggage” is a great read for a young reader to explore different writing styles and an enlightening adventure for adults that can be read within a day. Even though almost every page is from the perspective of a different character, the narrative works splendidly within this style. Phillips treats the reader to both a cohesive story and to truly breathtaking character development that stays with the reader long after the final page has closed.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Soapbox Stories Presents: Life Lessons From A Red Serge – A Book Review

“Life Lessons from a Red Serge”
by Barb Porter and Linda Garvey
Published by McKenzie Carver & Associates
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$15.95 ISBN: 9781775353607

“Life Lessons from a Red Serge”, written by sisters Barb Porter and Linda Garvey is an uplifting slice of Canadiana that warms the heart and strengthens the spirit. This collection of life lessons, take-aways, and advice compiled by the sororal duo is dedicated to the authors’ brother, Staff Sergeant Peter Garvey, who unfortunately passed away in 2017 at the age of 54 years old. This book acts a touching tribute both to the Saskatchewan born-and-raised officer and to the service of others in need that he strived for. In addition to serving his communities as an RCMP officer, Peter was also actively involved in the Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers (SARSAV) as a Search and Rescue member. In fact, profits from the sale of this book will be donated to SARSAV in his honour.

The contents of this book contain a series of life-lessons inspired by Peter. The authors had written them into a checklist format with the intention of providing daily reminders to the Sergeant’s grandchildren of how to live as the best people that they can be. The list is categorized into such themes as honesty, listening to others, living with a sense of humour, humility, gratitude, the importance of family, and many others. Each theme is divided as chapters containing a few pages of meaningful insights that a reader of any age and any walk of life can appreciate. The chapters also end with a simple yet powerful summary of the lesson. Personally, I enjoyed the segment of “Honesty, Sincerity, & Integrity” as it provided me with the reminder that it is important to listen to every person that you meet and to take their words seriously. You may never know what a person may teach you from listening to them.

If I could describe this book in one word, it would be “wholesome”. The daily reminders found within this delightful read do not push an agenda but simply act as a guide that anyone can follow and implement into their daily lives at any time. The writers also did a fantastic job at showcasing the Sergeant’s love of dogs and their importance to life and family, and really, who doesn’t agree with that?

I highly recommend this book as a gift for the people in your lives who are passionate about the service of others. This checklist of counting blessings and remembering what’s important in life does not take long at all to read. It could easily become a daily routine for policemen, firemen, nurses, teachers, paramedics, and to anyone in your life that you turn to when you need help. Not only did the authors draw their inspiration for helping others through their brother but also through their own passion for helping others that they have demonstrated through their accomplished nursing careers. By picking up a copy of this book, you too can help people by providing a plethora of insight and contributing to the Search and Rescue efforts of Saskatchewan.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

 

 

 

Soapbox Stories Presents: Beyond Shattered Dreams: A Journey Through Grief to Self-Empowerment – A Book Review

“Beyond Shattered Dreams: A Journey Through Grief to Self-Empowerment”
by Gaylene Guillemin
Published by Gaylene Guillemin
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$16.99 ISBN: 9781775220404

“Beyond Shattered Dreams: A Journey Through Grief to Self-Empowerment”, written and published by Gaylene Guillemin can be best described as a powerful and tender guide through the inescapable sorrows of the human condition that are grief and loss. Guillemin has a wide variety of expertise in the field of loss as a motivational speaker, an angel card reader and from formal education with a certificate in Death and Grief Studies. However, it is not from her studies or her energy work that Guillemin draws from to speak on her experiences with loss but from the tragic loss of her late husband in 2014, Mervin Guillemin, whom she affectionately refers to as “Merv”.

The book begins as Gaylene discusses her relationship with Merv. She had been married to him for twenty-two years and from her descriptions of their family and life together the reader can easily see the deep level of love that she still has for him. Gaylene goes on to discuss Merv’s declining health, and the challenges that losing mobility, being in and out of hospitals constantly, and the potential of organ transplantation bring to a family. Through Guillemin’s beautiful, poetic, and vivid writing the reader is truly brought to her world to see the good times and the bad. The reader gets to experience what an honourable, loving, caring and kind man that Merv was and how much he meant to those around him. After the passing of Merv, Guillemin describes her experiences with themes such as accepting loss, allowing grief, finding identity, and facing new days with optimism and hope.

The subject matter of this book is certainly a heavy one and I would recommend that a reader eases into it with an open mind and the discretion to read at their own pace. The start of the book will resonate with anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one or is currently experiencing a loved one’s declining health. That being said, I truly believe that there is a plethora of wisdom and insightfulness that will help a person through these issues, even if they are hesitant to experience the emotional weight of it at first.

Death is not an easy thing to even think about, let alone talk about and write about. I applaud Guillemin for her bravery and her transparent selflessness that is this book. When life brings tragedy, it is far too easy to become embittered by it, blaming the world for your sorrow. Guillemin instead chooses the altruistic option of helping people that are going through similar tragedy that she has gone through. It seemed fitting to me that I began this book in tears and closed it with a smile.            

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton – A Book Review

“Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Slyvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton”

by Jeanne Pelletier, Sylvie Sara Roy, and Wilfred Burton

Published by Gabriel Dumont Institute Press

Reviewed by B.D. Charles

C$25.00 ISBN: 9781926795898

“Let Me See Your Fancy Steps: Story of a Métis Dance Caller: The Story of Jeanne Pelletier as Told to Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton”, is the story of Jeanne Pelletier as told by Sylvie Sara Roy and Wilfred Burton, published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute Press. Throughout the course of this book, the reader learns that Jeanne Pelletier is an accomplished Métis woman and a revered member of the Métis community in southern Saskatchewan. Roy and Burton begin Jeanne’s story by highlighting the fact that she began her career as the first female Métis Jig dance caller in the 1970s, a time in which the dance callers were exclusively men and the community was difficult for women to traverse. Roy brilliantly showcases the life experiences and work of Jeanne’s career and rise as a prominent dance caller and Métis educator in Saskatchewan. The book recounts Jeanne’s experiences of reviving the Métis dance to the children in her community and by extension other Métis values such as community, culture, and respect. The book also acts as a vehicle for Jeanne to tell her story and pass on some of the knowledge that she has gained through her career.

The recounting of Jeanne’s work is supplemented throughout the book by testimonials of her former dance students and community members, all of whom praise the dance caller for the substantial impact that she’s had both on their personal lives, as well as the academic and social climates of the Métis community in Saskatchewan. As a Métis myself, I feel lost at times, as if my culture is fuzzy or foreign to me. Reading the life experiences, knowledge, and not to mention the wealth of Métis Jig steps found in this book gave me an overwhelming sense of peace to see research of this caliber and this level of care being invested in my culture. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Métis culture and the significance that the jig has to the culture. Anyone who has seen the Métis Jig performed live knows that it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring dance, but after reading Jeanne’s explanations of the cultural significance of the dances, I will now appreciate the dance that much more as a story and celebration of my culture. It is also worth mentioning that entire dance sequences are written out to follow with Jeanne’s notes, and the book includes an instructional DVD.

I had heard recently from an older Métis gentleman that the Métis community in Saskatchewan is somewhat dormant but works as recent as this and of this quality are direct evidence of the contrary. The Métis community is alive and well, this opportunity to learn more about my culture filled me with an abundance of belonging and pride.  I am not sure of all the ways that I can thank the incredibly talented team that went into the creation of this cultural gem, but I can start with, “Miigwetch et merci”.

 

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Soapbox Stories Presents: Second Cousin Once Removed – A Book Review

“Second Cousin Once Removed”
by Bryna Barclay
Published by Burton House Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$20.00
ISBN: 9780994866943

“Second Cousin Once Removed”, written by Byrna Barclay and published by Burton House Books is an incredibly graceful read and a testament to the pure talent of this Saskatchewan author. The novel is a sequel to “House of the White Elephant”, which in itself was a critically acclaimed novel and the winner of the Whistler/Tidewater Award for Best Fiction in 2016. My estimate is that the sequel will draw equal acclaim, as it is a masterfully written historical fiction brimming with Saskatchewan culture, driven by an intelligent plot and an engrossing narrative.

The story follows Jesse Emma Burtonwood, a woman of East Indian descent living in Prince Albert, SK, and is in the midst of mourning the loss of her husband. The story begins in 1953 and follows Jesse as she traverses life in Canada, and forms a relationship with John George Diefenbaker during this tumultuous time in both her life and in Canadian politics. Much of the story also follows Jesse’s granddaughter, Annika Robin, a woman living in Saskatoon, SK. Throughout the story, Barclay masterfully crafts both of these characters in such a way that is wonderfully unique, yet easy to follow. As Jesse and Annika face challenges such as prejudices commonly held in Canada during the time period and constrictive traditions for women living in a new era, the reader can vividly feel their frustrations, emotions, and insecurities in a tangible way. That is not to say that Barclay’s novel is doom and gloom, as the book has a rather eccentric tone, it reminded me of “Still Life with Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins in some places.  At other times, it felt as if I were reading soulful poetry or song lyrics during the course of this novel. This held especially true in my mind during the segments in which Annika and her distant lover exchange letters, not only were the letters exquisitely written, but the narratives that unfold from them tell a story within themselves.

Not only is this novel a perfect guide to how descriptive writing should be done but is also a total time capsule of the period that it is set in. If you or someone that you know is a fan of Saskatchewan history or culture, I would argue that this book is worth the read just for that aspect alone. Everything from the locations and careers of the characters to the brands and even some of the slang are used naturally in this novel. The references all feel like they belong in the plot, and not as if they are shoehorned in just for the sake of having them.

In conclusion, Bryna Barclay proves once again why she is the acclaimed Saskatchewan author that she is. Jesse Emma and Annika Robin are complete delights as characters, crafted in the rarity that is such a unique story built in a familiar setting. This novel is truly a work of art.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation – A Book Review

“War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation”
by Jeanne Martinson
Published by Wood Dragon Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$21.99 ISBN: 9780968537022

“War & Peace in the Workplace: Diversity, Conflict, Understanding, Reconciliation” is written by Saskatchewan-native Jeanne Martinson, a renowned speaker, author, and management trainer. Published by Wood Dragon Books and distributed by Martrain Corporation and Personal Development, this national bestseller is designed as a guide for employers, organizations, managers, or those interested in navigating their workplaces in a more positive manner. The content of this book pertains to many of the challenges that the average Canadian faces in the workplace. These include diversity/bias, toxic people and environments, harassment, conflict, and much more.

Similar to one of Martinson’s other bestsellers, “From Away: Immigration to Effective Workplace Integration”, this book begins with an in-depth analysis of what diversity is, and how it may affect communities such as the average Canadian workplace. The most interesting portion of this chapter, in my opinion, is Martinson’s analysis of the factors that shape a human being’s “us vs. them” mentality, and how easy it is for us to distort information to cater to our biases. If you have an interest in human behaviour or psychology, I would recommend this book based on this chapter, alone. Martinson then moves into the “Understanding” portion of the book, which details a number of cultures, traditions, gender identities, and histories within Canada. This assists the reader with more contexts of the many factors that can make a workplace diverse, albeit difficult to avoid misunderstandings. At its core, diversity is a fantastic value for a work setting to have as it results in a variety of worldviews being brought forward. However, this diversity can also yield a fair amount of conflict simply through minor misunderstandings. In the “Reconciliation” and “Synergy” components of Martinson’s book, she brilliantly provides the reader with a plethora of techniques and strategies that one can use to navigate these challenges. I must admit that when I began this book, I had thought that a read regarding the workplace would be a dreadfully dry one. What I had found instead were incredibly applicable strategies that anyone can use to re-evaluate their own biases, provide others with more empathy, and to use the diversity in their lives as a positive factor.

Martinson had stated near the beginning of the book that her intention was to allow the reader to view themselves and their workplaces with new eyes. Personally, she succeeds with that intention from this reader. Whatever your workplace setting may be, there is something for all to gain within this book. All you have to do is pick up a copy to start working and living in a more resourceful and positive setting.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM