On Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda

61zg5MSMHkL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_Well, what does one say about Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda?

I read the book recently, after it won this year’s Canada Reads competition in which five books and their defenders faced off to eliminate and leave standing “one novel that could change Canada.” Reviews of The Orenda have been laudatory; apparently there was a “gasp” when it didn’t make the Giller Prize shortlist. It has received sharp criticism as well, especially from aborginal reviewers like Hayden King. Continue reading

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Day Two

Day Two at the TRC event in Winnipeg (Thursday) was grey and rainy, a tempestuous contrast from the first day’s heat. It made no difference, it seemed, except that the women’s sharing circle was paused earlier than expected in the afternoon because of tornado warnings. (Fortunately, a tornado did not materialize.)

It was another full day. I began at the interfaith tent, which hosted a panel discussion on “Native traditional spiritualities in conversation with Christianity” and ended the day at “Writing Truth, Imagining Reconciliation” featuring a strong line-up of writers, including Basil Johnston, Beatrice Mosionier (In Search of April Raintree), and Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden, speaking or reading from their work.

But the heart of the event is the sharing/healing circle, so once again I sat witness as best I could, first in the tent where there was a men’s circle, and then in the tent where there was a women’s.

What I was witnessing, I realized, was not only the impact of Indian residential schools, via the sharing of survivors, but a constant ministry of community support. A painted stone (painted by children) waiting on the chair of each person in the sharing circle itself, to hold while speaking. Traditional spiritual supports like opening prayers, “blessed” water to drink for participants, the smudge, eagle feathers. And more contemporary supports, like kleenex and the blue-vested “counsellor” people constantly in attendance. (Tear-soaked tissues are not garbaged but gathered to be offered on the sacred fire later in the day.) When the telling gets especially difficult, a family member (though everyone is addressed as “relatives” in the circles) might be standing behind the speaker, hand on their shoulder. Continue reading