Friday, September 16, 2011

Two-Minute Book Review: Life Stages and Native Women

Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine (Kim Anderson)

So, you're supposed to read the entire book before you write a review, right? Well, I have a confession: I've only read the foreword and introduction.

In my defense, I'm a firm believer that the introduction is the most important part of the book. (Ask R.J.--I was aghast to learn that he skipped the introductions to his books and, needless to say, he doesn't do that anymore.) Why? The textbook answer is that "it sets the tone." As an aspiring writer and scholar, I am interested in the story of the person writing the book: why they chose this topic, what their processes were, how they feel now that they've finished it. The introduction is where you listen to that story.

I got my book in the mail the day after attending Kim Anderson's book launch here in Ottawa at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. A shame that I couldn't get her to sign it, but they say everything happens for a reason. I was half an hour late for the launch (working at a university in September, it's impossible to leave by 5) and Kim was well into her reading. The room reminded me of gatherings at the community hall back home. Hectic. A baby was crying, couches and chairs all spoken for, a girl lying on the ground in the fetal position. (Okay, maybe that last one didn't remind me of home.) But, Kim's voice rose above the bustle, as she spoke from the heart about the tradition of finding a tree at whose trunk to lay an infant's umbilical cord; the role of old ladies in cleaning/preparing dead bodies and feeling "death without loss" (thanks Kat); and her love for Maria Campbell.

Kim describes her intimate relationship with Maria Campbell. She talks about how, dejected and discouraged at not being able to get an interview for the book, Maria took her by the wrist and pronounced, "We'll do it together!" (I can picture Maria, now an elder, just as energetic as she was in the youth/adulthood she describes in Halfbreed, determined to get everything from her family's stories to political clout to an escape from the streets.)

In reading texts like these, I look for opportunities to identify a relationship with the seven sacred Grandmother/Grandfather teachings: wisdom, love, humility, courage, honesty, respect, truth. Writing with an honest voice, Kim's introduction is both courageous and humble. In the margins of my copy of the book I've scribbled "honest" as Kim references her anxieties in the introduction's opening paragraph, and "humble" next to where she writes:

I have not lived long enough nor have I done all of the work that is necessary to carry this knowledge.

Perhaps that's why I've found it easy to refer to her as "Kim" in this (slightly longer than) one-minute review rather than "Dr. Anderson" or, *shudder,* the detached "Anderson."

But, the most important pencil scribblings I've made in the margins are these: ask Nanny this question; Mal & R.J. to do this; where does Grandpa fit in these categories?

Kim's book, although adapted from her dissertation, is not an academic text. Sure, a student can reference it in their papers and no professors will think twice about it because she "is" a PhD. It caused me, as I'm sure it will others, to situate myself and my partner and my grandparents and my family in the text. It isn't written in some distant academic jargon; Kim promises teachings about pregnancy and vision quests and how to deal when you're "stuck" in one life stage. Her book will for me act as a "guide" (for lack of a better word) to understand myself and reconstruct my spirituality and relationships with those around me.

This book is so much more than just a book for us as Native women, families, communities, nations.

It is us.


  1. Just added it to my shopping cart because of your review. I can't wait for it to get to my doorstep!!

  2. That's great! You will not be disappointed.

  3. Great book! Using it for an Education course about Culture, Values & Socializaton in Kawachikamach, QC (Naskapi Nation). The student are engaging with the book and it is reminding them of their own story medicines!