Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and Kim LaFave, Toronto: Groundwood Books, December 2, 2008, Hardback, 40 pages, reviewed by John Hall
Some books you have the privilege and good fortune to read and never forget. These books leave such a lasting impression that inspires you to change your outlook on life. Partly because it exposes you to the suffering and triumphs of a People who endured such degradation and hardships that it is difficult to understand how they survived and the same time hold onto their beliefs and customs against bitter and brutal odds.
Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell is one of those books. It is beautifully and written, which is all the more remarkable because Campbell chose to write her story is such quiet and unassuming language, simple and direct. Yet each image possess a poetic and compassionate quality that overshadows the sense of sadness and despair that flows throughout the drama that unfolds as we become acquainted with the characters, especially the young female character, Shi-shi-etko and her six-year-old brother Shin-chi
‘The morning sun was shining so bright,
Shi-shi-etko had to squint.
She was on her way back to
Indian residential school
and this year she wasn’t alone
Shin-chi, her younger brother was coming, too”
In another powerful passage, Campbell writes
“Last year, on her first day at Indian residential school,
Shi-shi-etko had been punished because
she could not understand the English words.
Then they cut her long braids and threw
and washed her head with kerosene.
And so that morning, before the
“Yayah, can you cut
our hair today”
Afterwards, Shin-chi, Shi-shi-etko and Yayah
went up to the mountain to put their braids away.”
In this next passage, Campbell introduces the major cultural symbol, part of Native People’s living tradition.
When the cattle truck arrived,
their dad tucked a tiny canoe into Shi-shi-etko’s hand.
“My children,” their mom said, with tears in her eyes
“If we could, we would keep you her at home
We would never, ever let you go, but it’s the laws
that force us to send you away to residential school.”