Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
Tamra Jewel Keepness.
Name doesn’t ring a bell to many people here in the United States. In 2004, the five-year member of Whitebear First Nation went missing from her family home in Reinga. She has never been found. I only know about because I was in Montreal shortly after she was reported missing, when the story was showed on Canadian news. I remember thinking at the time that it such coverage seemed to be different than that of the US, were the only people who seem to go missing are attractive white women or old forgetful people, at least according to the national news.
I found myself thinking of Keepness while reading this book, in part because the book showed me how wrong I was.
Prior to reading this book I knew about the reputation of Residential Schools, of the taking of Native/First Nation children by whites in order to “civilize” or “assimilate” them in both the US and Canada, and I have read reports and watched documentaries about the large number of First Nation women missing and killed in Canada, including along Highway 16. Yet, there was a sense that Canada at least owned up to the injustice in a way that the United States has not done.
Nope. Wrong about that.
Talaga’s book looks at the deaths of seven indigenous students from a school in Thunder Bay. The students lied in Thunder Bay, but they came from small Northern communities that lacked adequate schooling. The only way for the students to get a good education, the First Nation schools in their communities either being non-existent or severally underfunded. It is also a condemnation of a society and a government that does little to nothing to correct the issues that are a result of colonialism and racism. Of school that is underfunded but tries, and a town that does little to deal with hate crimes.
Talaga tells the story from the indigenous point of view. This means that the focus is on racism and government responsibility as well as, at times, culture shock of moving to a city from a town of 300 people or less. So, this isn’t drink done them wrong, at least no more than drink does any teen wrong. Additionally, while details are given about the lives of the people whom Talaga is writing about, she doesn’t Romanize them. It is reporting, all the more damning because of it. In part, this is all due to Talaga herself who is honest enough to admit that when the germ of the story started, she was reporting on something completely different.
It’s important to remember that the focus is on seven young lives that were lost, all in a similar way. It chronicles not only the crime but also the reaction of society and the struggle to get justice. It also is a look at the families. What would you do if there was no school for your child at home, and the closest school was 100s of miles away? You also have more than one child.
The book is both eye-opening and anger inducing.