Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One-Minute Book Review: All That We Say Is Ours

All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation (Ian Gill)

This book was constantly pulling me in two directions: one, where I enjoyed the format and the content, and another where I couldn't wait to be through with it.

For all intents and purposes, I totally judged this book by its cover. I *loved* its name. It is so simple and powerful, and reflects the title naming process that I (try to) emulate in my essay writing. What I understood to be the format - a mix of oral history, interviews, the author's reflections, legal history, media of the time, and so on - intrigued me as well.

I didn't so much appreciate the writing style. When the (non-Native) author took the text in his own direction, it was so clearly not the voice of the people that I found myself reading in a British accent in my head. He used western idioms and quoted mostly non-Native scholars.

Of course, he has the right to - it's his book and I, as a reader, have chosen to give it a chance. And that is where I started to kick myself in the butt. While reading this book I also picked up Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden and This is an Honour Song edited by Leanne Simpson and Kiera Ladner. Particularly as I reached the last couple of chapters I kept thinking, Life is simply too short and there are too many talented Native writers for me to be spending my time on a book like this.

Now, this review could quickly turn into a post about my idea of non-Native people writing about Native peoples. So I will turn to one thing (of a few) I liked. The book ends with (spoiler alert - d'uh) a speech given by Guujaaw (the subject of the book) about the late Bill Reid. The last line of his speech epitomizes a feeling I get that is so hard to describe. It feels like I was born to be Anishinabe, and that that fact is somehow incredible to me.

Final thought: This book might be interesting for Canadians looking to learn a bit more about Haida culture and worldviews, environmentalism and First Nations' experiences in Canadian courts, but it's always better to hear a story told by the people who live(d) it.


  1. My daughter-in-law lent me this book so that I could, as you mentioned, learn a bit more about her culture. I really enjoyed it. I learnt alot! I would love to read more books about First Nations. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks.

  2. Hi Kay. This is the only book I've read about the Haida nation. I think it's great to read books that are nation-specific - general sorts of textbooks, or other kinda of books, can be too essentializing. If there is a certain part of Native history or traditions or worldviews you'd like to learn more about, go there! For example, on storytelling I'd recommend Thomas King's, "The Truth About Stories." On traditional gender roles, try Kim Anderson's "A Recognition of Being." There's so much out there!