Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
The crust of the snow he broke was thicker than his snowshoes. He kicked up frozen shrapnel each time he raised a foot. A fine powder lay underneath. The conditions made him think of the specific time of year.
“Onaabenii Giizis,” he proudly proclaimed out loud. “The moon of the crusted snow.” His words fell flat on the white ground in front of him and he wondered which month that actually was.
Onaabenii Giizis usually referred to February but it could also apply to early March.
These words come closer to the end, than the beginning, of the novel Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice.
Waubgeshig Rice grew up in Parry Sound, living most of his life on the Wasauksing First Nation, attending Rosseau Lake College, and Parry Sound High School. He began writing while still in high school and sent on to study Journalism at Ryerson in Toronto, and then to work for the CBC, now hosting CBC's afternoon program Up North.
With parents of both cultures, Waubgeshig grew up in both the native and non-native worlds, in a “totally harmonious, respectful and loving” environment. He brings this unique perspective to his writing.
Waubgeshig Rice is one of the new wave of young aboriginal people who have chosen to make a success of their lives. By taking control of their future and choosing a path of accomplishment and hard work, rather than becoming victims to substance abuse or mired in the recent history of the oppression of their aboriginal culture. The results of the destruction of the aboriginal way of life, the removal of children from their families, and the establishment of the reservation system are what fuel Waubgeshig’s writing. His earlier two novels, Midnight Sweatlodge and Legacy explore these themes. Most importantly, for me, is that he writes with an honesty that is not coloured by malice. He will change prejudicial attitudes while making all of his readers more aware of the native experience.
More and more, Waubgeshig Rice has realized the importance of his Anishinaabe heritage as something to take pride in and to cherish, and to learn more about. Now in his late-30s, married and the father of a young son, Waubgeshig has also matured as a writer. He brings not only his own experience to his writing, but also a more mature view of the world in which he lives, and the characters he writes about in his new novel.
Moon of the Crusted Snow takes us into the near north – an imagined place – I imagine someplace south of James Bay but well north of Sudbury. This close knit community is doing well. The hydro line put in a few years earlier has provided electricity to the town and the road now makes it possible to drive in supplies in the winter. There is a school, the children are now being taught their own language and culture. Some of the parents who had none of this are learning too. There are still some older people who grew up in the old ways and are eager to share it with the younger people. Things are good. Food is expensive in the Northern store, many still hunt and fish to provide for their families. There are new homes with electric heaters but many still use wood stoves and wood furnaces. Most have satellite television and cell phones.
We meet Evan Whitesky first. He has just shot a moose – one more to put in the freezer for the long winter, enough now to share with his parents and others. He and Nicole McCloud, are young parents of a son and daughter. Evan also works for the band office, and drives a snowplow in winter. All is well.
Then, one day, the television does not get reception. Cell phone service is unavailable. A few days later the landlines do not work. The electricity goes out. Each of these things has happened before, so at first there is no great concern. As days pass there is growing worry. It is not until two of the young men return from the closest town to the south that some of what has happened is revealed.
Waubgeshig Rice has masterfully succeeded in writing a story about how one small community of people find the resources within themselves to survive without the support of the modern world. And, what Waub has done once again, is balance a bleak story with hope.
And again, as he has done before, he portrays his Native culture with unblinking honesty. Readers of all cultures will learn about both the strength and the challenges of the Anishinaabe people in this country.
Waub, unlike so many of the young people in his stories, grew up in a “totally harmonious, respectful and loving” environment, though 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. there is optimism that the community is now in healing, reclaiming their culture and their language.
Waubgeshig Rice will be reading from, and talking about, Moon of the Crusted Snow the evening of 10 November 2018 at Trestle Brewing Company. SOLD OUT