In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience
by Helen Knott
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 9-780889-776449
When a novice author earns the praise of writers like Maria Campbell and Richard Van Camp, it’s like a promise: readers are in for a powerful experience. But Helen Knott’s In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience, also comes with a warning: the content is “related to addiction and sexual violence. It is sometimes graphic and can be triggering for readers.” The author suggests that any readers who are triggered “be gentle with [themselves].” She opens her story by acknowledging other women’s painful memories, and stating that she “gives this in hopes that [they] remember that [they] are worth a thousand horses.” I am already wowed.
As suggested, I’m not alone. Eden Robinson’s written the memoir’s foreword, and says Knott – a Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and mixed Euro-descent writer in Northeastern BC – is “one of the most powerful voices of her generation.” Knott’s introduction to the compact hardcover reveals her raison d’être for the book: “I summoned these words and the healing that comes with them to lighten the loads of shame, addiction, and struggle” for Indigenous women.
Each of these curses – shame, addiction, struggle – is apparent from the book’s outset. The author and mother to a son is detoxing from drugs and alcohol on a mattress (not a bed) in Edmonton. Home is Fort St. John. She’s come to the city to “erase” herself. “My detoxing body had me contracting into a tight ball one minute and expanding like a starfish the next.” So visual. Even poetic. Yet the author also speaks the vernacular, ie: a year after she, her grandmother (“Asu”), and young son move into her parents’ “bitter cold” home, Knott writes that she “was fucking up six ways until Sunday and then skipped Sunday and added six more sins.”
Via three dramatic sections, Knott ably demonstrates how “sideways shit went down” and her “adolescence was riddled with turmoil and shaky soil.” Abused from an early age by an uncle with “pretty severe fetal alcohol syndrome and schizophrenia,” Knott used cocaine (beginning at age thirteen), alcohol and other drugs to subdue the demons of perpetual sexual abuse, rape – including a gang rape in which her attackers cut her and she was found bleeding and naked in a ditch – colonialism, and racism. The brutal gang attack had the then Grade 9 student begging her mother to let her move. After six months in Prince George, Knott returned to find her “mom had disappeared” and “an angry drunken woman [was] living in her skin.”
Disappearance is almost a theme in this riveting first book. Knott writes: “Us Native women know how to disappear. It’s an art, really – we can disappear even when we are right in front of your face.” Fortunately, through much hard work and disparate therapies – from reading and rehab to writing and embracing traditional healing practices – this admirable young writer, mother, presenter, and social worker “reappeared”/healed, and is using her experience to help others on difficult journeys.
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