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Season's Readings

Season's Readings

Northern book reviews, just in time for the holiday season.
By Jacob Boon, Kaila Jefferd-Moore
Dec 13

From Bear Rock Mountain: The Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor
Antoine Mountain
(Brindle & Glass)

Antoine Mountain spills his soul in an intimate new memoir chronicling his storied life. A writer, newspaper columnist, artist, and advocate of the North and the Dene Nation, Mountain has born witness to radical change in northern history. The author brings readers through those changes, from his childhood growing up on the land in Denedeh, to his involvement founding the Indian Brotherhood (and its eventual change to the Dene Nation) and his co-founding the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in Yellowknife. It spans his time participating in Dineh ceremonies with kin on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona to recollections of feeling at home in the ‘motherland’ of Siberia and studying art in Italy. The memoir also includes intimate details of Mountain’s life, such as his habit of sleeping with a piece of moose hide under his pillow because the scent is comforting. The chapters—compilations of vignettes arranged around Mountain’s prolific life—are connected by poetry that punches you in your gut and leaves a lump in your throat. He unleashes the abuse and trauma he endured as a survivor of the Inuvik Federal Indian Day School and its Catholic residence building, Grollier Hall, with a twisting nuance. It’s all woven together with Dene knowledge. From Bear Rock Mountain offers absorbing life lessons without lecture. It’s casual, breezy storytelling delivered with Dene humour and charm. –KJM


Nitinikiau Innusi: I Keep the Land Alive Tshaukuesh
Elizabeth Penashue
(University of Manitoba Press)

“The Innu have woken up and found strength in each other to walk this long, hard road together.” So writes Tshaukuesh Elizabeth Penashue in this collection of diary entries composed over a lifetime of advocacy, and translated with help from former CBC journalist and friend, Elizabeth Yeoman. Penashue was one of the key organizers battling against the NATO forces who, in the 1980s and ’90s, began conducting explosive tests and low-level military flights over traditional Innu lands in northeastern Quebec and Labrador. She and other Innu women travelled the world advocating for Indigenous rights against an indifferent government system. Her feet, as she jokes, have “walked a thousand thousand miles.” As one might expect from diary entries composed in media res, the writing is simple but contains a poignant core underneath its surface. Gleeful births of new grandchildren and the tearful deaths of loved ones are interrupted by periodic arrests as Penashue fights for land and water rights. While not always a gripping narrative, the book’s historical importance is without question: the life of one of the last generation of Innu to grow up on the land, told in her own words. –JB


Itee Pootoogook: Hymns to the Silence
Nancy Campbell, editor
(Goose Lane Editions & McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

Canadian artists, creators, and writers pen essays on the legacy of Cape Dorset artist Itee Pootoogook in this gorgeous hardcover art collection. The book, containing over 80 images from Pootoogook’s canon and printed in both English and Inuktitut syllabics, is a companion piece to a curated exhibition that showed this past summer at the MicMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario. Pootoogook, who died in 2014, was the son of artists Ishuhungitok and Paulassie Pootoogook. Like other third-generation Dorset illustrators (such as his first cousin, Annie) he recreated the scenes of everyday life around his small island community—notably basing many of his pieces on photographs. A carpenter and draftsman, his work pays particular architectural attention to doors, archways, and buildings. Straight lines form rigid angles on an inventive landscape, while other illustrations capture commonplace activities such as hunted food being prepared or music played. “Silence and stillness resonate from Itee’s works in coloured pencil on paper, and one can sense the artist’s absorption in making them,” writes editor Nancy Campbell, who’s gathered a collection of penned thoughts on Pootoogook’s impact. Artists such as Tarralik Duffy, Wayne Baerwaldt, Mark Igloliorte, and many more contribute to this elegant tribute. –JB