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Enter the magic of the Midnight Sweatlodge with Waubgeshig Rice at the Charles W. Stockey Centre

Enter the magic of the Midnight Sweatlodge with Waubgeshig Rice at the Charles W. Stockey Centre

On Friday 21 October at 7:30 pm Waubgeshig Rice will introduce readers to his first book, a collection of connected short stories, Midnight Sweatlodge.

We will meet a group of young people about to enter a traditional Sweatlodge. On their hands and knees, as if returning to a mothers womb, they come for healing, cleansing, seeking an understanding of who they are as Anishinaabe people.

The first young man to speak talks about the childhood of two young boys. They lived near a town that was established by the white settlers, who pillaged the trees and prospered on what was once native land. We learn that in only three generations the people on the reservation have lost their original language. This young man is seeking solace twenty years after the tragic and violent death of his father.

We then meet David, a young man struggling to do well in school, to resist the easy access to alcohol and drugs that so many of his friends use. His parents are unemployed, lost to alcohol abuse. This boy has no breakfast, no lunch, yet he tries to be a good example to his younger siblings. Of all of his challenges, it is the racism he experiences at the high school off the reservation, that he finds most impossible to bear.

The Elder, listening to these young people, tells his own story of childhood abuse, despair and loss.

We also have a story of a native boy and his relationship with a non-native girl, in an urban setting. Many cultures discourage their children from becoming involved in relationships outside of their own culture and race – it is of course the road to assimilation, the loss of identity that their families fear. Another concern may be the risk that some of these relationships cannot survive the challenges they will face as a mixed-race family with very different beliefs and culture.

We meet another man, who chooses to leave the Sweatlodge, he cannot face what he knows he must acknowledge – his inability to give up alcohol abuse. He knows that he is causing harm to his wife and his child – his uncontrollable violent impulses when drinking are destroying his life. He witnesses the corruption on his reservation – the drug abuse. His own father died young in an “alcohol related hunting mishap”, but this young man must find his own way to peace.

The novel ends with a lovely passage about the power of nature, and a native interpretation of a naturally occurring rock formation on Georgian Bay. Those of us who know Georgian Bay will be at home with the setting of this little book. Native readers will see themselves and their culture portrayed with unblinking honesty as this young writer sees it. Those of us who are not of native heritage, and perhaps know very little of the culture of the Anishinaabe people, will find ourselves learning about both the strength and the tragedy of these people.

I had some questions for Waub Rice when I finished this well crafted and compelling book. I wondered about the terminology he uses – the words Anishinaabe and Indian are used interchangeably in his stories – and I wondered what words are now considered acceptable. Waub said that Anishinaabe is the preferred word when speaking about Canada’s native people, because Anishinaabe is their word, in their own language. In his opinion the word Indian may be acceptable when speaking among themselves, but not by anyone else, especially an authority figure, such as a teacher, or a policeman – it is a word that simply has “too much baggage”, says Waub Rice.

Waubgeshig Rice, now 32 years old, lived most of this life on the Wasauksing First Nation, he then attended Rosseau Lake College, and Parry Sound High School. I asked him about his experience growing up in both the native and non-native world, with parents of both cultures. Waub, unlike so many of the young people in his stories, grew up in a “totally harmonious, respectful and loving” environment. However, he is certainly not blind to the situation of many native people in our country, who live in poverty and desperation. Yet this young writer is, in fact, optimistic about the future of the people he writes about. Like the narrator in his first story, there is optimism that the community is now in healing, reclaiming their culture and their language.

Waub believes there is hope, even if it may sometimes to hard to find. He said he sees that “underneath complicated veils of darkness there is optimism”.

This is the first volume of fiction from this young writer. It has been very well received and I am sure we can expect more in the future. I wondered about the lack of a dedication in his book, and Waub answered that it was “written with gratitude to the community in which he grew up, and his family and friends”.

All of that community, along with family and friends, will have the opportunity to congratulate Waubgeshig Rice on the publication of Midnight Sweatlodge, and to hear him read from his work at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on Friday 21 October at 7:30 pm.

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