#BookReview: “The Midnight Lake Band of Indians” by John Blackbird

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Published: January 29, 2016
Available: Amazon Kindle
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Native American
Source: Author

Synopsis: “As Indians in the 21st century we have reclaimed our own voices, and now portray ourselves and entertain on mainstream media venues for TV, Film Stage and Radio. As Indians playing Indians in a contemporary world, we are no longer confined to the pre-Reservation, buckskin clad brave and sighing maiden, but rather we have changed the narrative to a narrative that tells our story.

A Trilogy of The Midnight Lake Band of Indians is a collection of three stories from a Cree First Nations community recalling an unhappy event, unhappy relationship, unfaithful friendship and dealing with an emptiness. It’s a story of journey and sacred choices we make, whether we know it or not.”

Review: A presentation of a fictional native community and characters in stark detail and often vivid description, the three stories of the Midnight Lake Band of Indians have great depth of thought and storytelling that can teach and from which perceptive readers might learn. While it is fictional, one imagines it may partially be based on the author’s observations, experiences, even actual events, as many such works tend to be. Certainly it’s reflective of the struggles, internal and external complications, and hugely affective brutal colonization of natives and the latter-day results. All facets of indigenous culture, identity, beliefs and the peoples themselves have been assaulted, stereotyped and systematically oppressed for hundreds of years directly or indirectly. In any such situation, the traumatization is long-lasting, highly extensive, and present even now, as Blackbird simply shared in three “slice of life” tales but even in such situations, as demonstrated here, there is clearly evident resilience and beauty.

Writing, editing and publishing is a process, and should definitely be a learning experience as editing and formatting can improve with time and experience. Here the writing is abrupt, in present tense, almost screenplay in style and therefore challenging to understand continuity occasionally, but tone and characterization was always clear. At times I questioned the effectiveness of the method, but I respected  the author’s choice, and in the end it worked. It served the purpose of driving plots forward and building palpable tension that resulted in almost inevitable conclusions.

It is a tremendous accomplishment to finish and publish any work in my opinion, especially with themes or topics that may be difficult, but works like “A Trilogy of the Midnight Lake Indian Band” are absolutely necessary, even crucial to First Nations survival and progression in particular. Stories like these, despite some viewing them only as representative of stereotypes, can actually give hope because they are critical examples of natives actually presenting themselves. I didn’t see the characters or situations as stereotypical, but merely representative of the realities of too many natives experience and/or live with every day.

Reminiscent of New Zealand’s world-reknown Maori writer Alan Duff, who used “manner of speaking” in an unconventional way to set the mood and give his characters unique personalities and voice, John Blackbird also created a quite visual, unforgettable work because of this ability. One not all writers possess. An outstanding debut, powerful and poignant even when presenting ugly realities, utilizing a sparse style that heightened impact. I definitely hope to read more in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Blackbird is Plains Cree and a member of the Waterhen Lake Cree First Nations located in Northwestern Saskatchewan, Canada (where the prairie meets the pine). He is a descendant of the original Blackbird, who travelled north with Sitting Bull after Little Big Horn. He lives in Leipzig, Germany, where his book was penned. Says the author, “There is a great interest in the North American Indians (thanks to Karl May) and while he wrote about an imaginary Indian, I have written about my real Indianz.”

* * * *

Notes: Although I’ve read many books, both fiction and non-fiction, from Native American or First Nations authors for academic and other reasons, I don’t often place my reviews in a public venue. The stories and/or material often envokes deeply personally memories and emotions about my own life and relatives, so I don’t always feel comfortable expressing or reliving such. This may change in the future as, simply because of demographics, most books about natives are written by non-natives. In turn, the same applies to reviews or critiques, even for native penned books. All too often these are primarily from an Anglo European perspective, who most often have been “educated” by  invader narratives without native context and perspectives, even those considered experts by their peers. That’s a huge problem, even in the academic world, because we are continually misrepresented or defined.

In the past 500 years, by majority, we didn’t have the venue or freedom. Now we do, and we need to take advantage and present and define ourselves.  It’s important to understand and respect the need for natives to present their own cultures, identities, beliefs, grief, history, their stories however they need to, however many times they need to without criticism on that specific need. This has been greatly lacking whether its books, films or other mediums. That propensity, lack of diversity and honesty continues to support native stereotypes, misinformation and ultimately, oppression.

It is not the “suggestion of the author” that colonization is at the root of problems in native communities. It is a fact in the form of accurate history, of historic trauma, which is my thesis topic as a masters’ academician, but long experience as an educator and psychologist. “If you understand colonization, you should be able to recognize the bizarre, destructive behaviors produced by colonization,” said MahpiyaWaciWin. Too many know the definition of colonization, but do not recognize, respect or understand all the myriad ways it historically and currently negatively affects natives. Even that lack of comprehension or acknowledgement can be negatively affective, as any survivor of trauma or therapist can verify.

 

 

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Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Native American

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