Check out our Aboriginal Job Board!
Reality replaces romance
North Spirit: Travels Among The Cree And Ojibway Nations And Their Star Maps
By Paulette Jiles
Anchor Canada edition 2003
391 pages, $21(sc)
In 1973, Paulette Jiles left behind a failed relationship in Toronto and accepted a CBC assignment to work in Big Trout Lake, where she helped establish a radio station that would be run by the local Aboriginal people. With a book of published poetry to her credit and work in progress on another, and a much greater body of publishing credits since, Jiles' precision with language comes through in a lyrical and evocative first-person account of her northern experience.
She describes North Spirit as a book of creative non-fiction. Most of the book's characters are composites. So is the fictional community of North Spirit Lake, which is based on the real communities of Big Trout Lake and Sandy Lake. The events in the book are all true, the author says. North Spirit reads like a well-woven memoir, for that is what it is, selected accounts from a significant phase in an adventurous writer's life.
North Spirit is a lot more than that, however. Through Jiles' eyes, the reader gets to see the effect of the dawn of modern communications on remote communities and on Indian reserves in particular. A sense of nostalgia may come upon the reader for the traditional way of life that is vanishing in the sweep of technological change.
While the old values of sharing and caring remain, the compromises with the outsider culture are starkly evident. As television and VCRs creep in, consumerism gets a foothold, and the old gatherings for storytelling and family-centred entertainment decline. By the 1970s, the mythology that has underpinned both the stories and the beliefs of Indian peoples for eons is already fissured and split. Here and there, the old people remember and relate portions of their stories, and Jiles dutifully records them.
At the heart of Jiles' book, first published in hardcover in 1995, lies her fascination with the Star People and the night sky, and the Ojibway and Cree legends reflecting differing cultural beliefs about the constellations.
Anyone who has lived in the North will recognize that Jiles so often gets the details right: the culture shock on both sides, the daily interactions and interdependence of community life, the self-reliance and stoicism and humor of northern peoples, the seasonal transitions, the precarious balance of life and death.
Where Jiles falters a bit is in the first chapters, in places. There are a few too many speeches about the play she is writing, which struck me as self-absorbed and boring. I wondered if she had found it difficult to find a starting point for her tale. In addition, sometimes the dialogue by Native people just does not ring true-speeches there too-devices Jiles used to fold in the necessary exposition, when the likelihood is that a word or two, or a look, replaced a lot of the talk.
When Jiles describes something-a place, an incident-her voice is a waterfall cascading over little stones, eddying, carrying the reader deftly to a new experience, but the book would have benefited from stronger character development throughout.
The other weakness I found irritating for a book that has been reprinted several times is sloppy copyediting in the early pages, starting with page one of the preface. Either that improved after a few chapters, or my awareness of it was subsumed by a beautiful story told by a writer of great skill.
- Community Access
- Contact Us
- Our History
- Archives Search
- In Depth
Share this with friends
- The #IdleNoMore Movement
- Relationship between Canada's Justice System and Aboriginal People
- 2013 Guide to Powwow Country Events Calendar
- Play Radio Bingo to win!
- CFWE-FM Alberta Radio Network
- Buffalo Spirit Foundation
- Western Association of Aboriginal Broadcasters (WAAB)
- June Windspeaker - May 27
- June Raven's Eye - May 27
- June Saskatchewan Sage - May 27
- June Alberta Sweetgrass - June 10
- Download 2013 AMMSA media kits for:
* Sage - Raven's Eye - Birchbark
- Online advertising on www.ammsa.com.
Subscribe & Donate
- Order a Windspeaker digital subscription
- Order a Windspeaker print subscription
- Support independent, Indigenous media in Canada by making a donation via paypal