kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly

29 August 2018

kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly
edited by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-542-8

kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly, referring to the area now known as Saskatchewan, has something for every taste, especially those with an appreciation of Indigenous literature. It’s an eclectic mix of stories, poetry, historical documents, and creative nonfiction. Inspired by an anthology of Indigenous writing in Manitoba, editor Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber undertook a similar project in Saskatchewan. This ambitious anthology is the result.

kisiskâciwan follows a variety of themes – treaties, residential schools, conflict, women and families, everyday life, First Nations culture – all written by Indigenous people. These include members of the five main First Nations cultural groups in the province – Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota, Dakota, and Dene – as well as Lakota and Métis

This anthology is the first time a collection of writing by Saskatchewan Indigenous authors has been assembled. It contains significant historical material by such notable Indigenous personalities as Poundmaker, Big Bear, Piapot, Sitting Bull, Louis Riel, and Gabriel Dumont.

It also contains important historical documentation predating the colonial period. It’s amazing that such accounts even exist. They only survived because Indigenous culture is rich in oral storytelling traditions. Readers are fortunate these spoken words were transcribed so we can access them in print.

Among the chiefs were some shrewd negotiators who examined the pros and cons of signing treaties. Some leaders spoke with a certain eloquence ordinarily reserved to trained orators. Chief Piapot’s statement to the Superior-General of the Oblate Order has a rhythm that is almost poetic, reading much like a found poem.

kisiskâciwan combines traditional and modern stories. These writings come from both established authors such as Maria Campbell and emerging authors such as Lisa Bird-Wilson, authors who are carving their niche in Saskatchewan’s literary scene. Ernie Louttit, better known as “Indian Ernie,” only the third Indigenous person in the Saskatoon Police Service when he joined in 1987, walks a tightrope between his love of policing and his Indigenous background.

Humour abounds in Indigenous literature. Look at Warren Cariou’s humorous take on the Athabasca tar sands, or Tenille Campbell’s erotic love poems. There’s also a selection of songs by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tom Jackson, dubbed the “minstrel with a message.” Erroll Kinistino’s “Kokom’s Kaddillac” is particularly rollicking.

An observant reader can find philosophical gems throughout this book. Look at the thoughts in the poem “āniskōstēw – connecting,” by Sky Dancer Louise Bernice Halfe, Saskatchewan’s first Poet Laureate: “Sometimes the end is told before the beginning. / One must walk backwards on footprints / that walked forward / for the story to be told.”

kisiskâciwan is just a sampling of Indigenous literature. There’s a lot more material where this came from – more stories to be told and more stories to be transcribed or translated. One can therefore hope that kisiskâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly is but the first in a series of anthologies of Indigenous literature in Saskatchewan.


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