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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > JANUARY FEBRUARY 2017 > Open wounds

Open wounds

Two indigenous authors offer books on trauma and healing, with varied results


Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours)

University of Regina Press

★ Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations

Douglas and McIntyre

THE THEME of healing is present in two recent non-fiction books by indigenous authors. But each author approaches the process of healing, and the question of what needs to be healed in the first place, in very different ways – and with varying degrees of success.

In Firewater, shortlisted for a 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award, crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson states there is one fundamental problem in indigenous communities, especially in the northern Saskatchewan region where he works: alcohol. It is not just a symptom of generational trauma arising out of colonization policies such as residential schools; it is the central dilemma facing indigenous communities. “Alcohol touches every part of our lives whether we drink or not. We cannot separate ourselves from the problem. It touches us no matter what we do. Even if we don’t drink, we have relatives that do, relatives who are suffering. Even if we don’t drink, we live in communities that are being destroyed by alcohol.”

While Johnson’s book does offer some insight as to how reconnecting with the land can heal, and how people can change their own stories, the text is essentially a rambling, lateral, violent treatise denouncing the evils of alcohol, rather than a thoughtful commentary on the possible root causes of addiction in some indigenous communities, or suggestions for how to solve it. Instead, the author peppers the book with numerous reefer-madness-style anecdotes about indigenous people in trouble as a result of alcohol.

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