Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - Askiwina

Reviewed by: Bill Robertson

Telling Stories, Dispelling Myths

Saskatchewan writers deliver the straight facts about 'Indian country'

In Askiwina, Saskatoon writer Doug Cuthand brings together another selection of his essays and articles, following on his previous collection, Tapwe.

With Askiwina, Cuthand covers five general areas, including essays on the meaning of land to his First Nations people, history "as we see it," the power of aboriginal words and what they have given to modern English language, rights and self-government, and struggles and successes for First Nations people. To close each section, Cuthand includes a profile or two of influential First Nations people.

In his first section, Cuthand guides us through the importance of the number four to First Nations culture, then talks of the mythical trickster figure Wesakechak, a person "with human weaknesses and a sense of humour." Cuthand includes the story of how Weakechak created the moose to illustrate "the damage that teasing and prejudice have on other people." There's also a short section here on the sundance, on landmakrs and sacred places, and on powwows.

In his essay Settling the Americas, Cuthand has a go at one old myth. He points out that the epidemics that swept North America "were among the most traumatic and soul-destroying in human history." He notes that the Black Death in Europe is often cited as a great plague, but that its death toll of one-third of Europe's inhabitants "pales in comparison" to the half the aboriginal population that was killed by smallpox.

In The Fur Trade, Cuthand says that some "political hacks" in "Indian country" like to claim that "we have lived here since 'time immemorial,'" and then goes on to say that "reality reveals a very different picture." From that provocative position he tells how the province of Saskatchewan was actually settled, and by whom.

Cuthand takes pride in pointing out the aboriginal words that enrich our language and takes a good jab at political and economic opportunism when he notices that one lake he used to fish on as a kid went from being the perfectly serviceable Sucker Lake to the Woodland Cree equivalent, Nemeiben Lake because "there was no cachet in a lkae named Sucker."

Readers of The StarPhoenix and the Leader-Post in REgina will be familiar with Cuthand's regular articles on life from a First Nations perspective. Some of the pieces here feel a tad dated, as if they have been pulled from the pages of old newspapers, but for the most part Cuthand weaves the articles and short essays together in such a way to give a clear, no-nonsense look at aboriginal life as he sees it.


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