This compelling chronicle of the smash-up of one small Canadian Ojibwa (Chippewa) village is grim evidence of ""how we as...


A POISON STRONGER THAN LOVE: The Destruction of an Ojibwa Community

This compelling chronicle of the smash-up of one small Canadian Ojibwa (Chippewa) village is grim evidence of ""how we as humans may respond to conditions of unprecedented stress by destroying ourselves."" For the people of Grassy Narrows in northwestern Ontario, ""stress"" snowballed from the white supremacist doctrines of early missionaries and trappers. In 1919 smallpox killed more than a thousand. After World War II, provincial officials increasingly regulated land use and resources, disrupting tribal economy and traditions, and ""educated"" Ojibwa children for ""assimilation"" in the white man's way. In 1963 the federal government relocated the tribe to a more accessible, compact ""village,"" newly made at odds with traditional tribal living spaces, and infested (as the elders knew) by bad spirits. In 1970, when mercury pollution was found in the river on which the Ojibwa depend--and in the Ojibwa themselves--the government ""closed"" the river. Today the once hardy, self-sufficient Ojibwa are dependent upon the ""welfare"" of the white bureaucracy which--with the best intentions--has unstrung their livelihood and traditions, the very fabric of their society. In response to this ""collective trauma"", the Ojibwa fly apart. Most adults use alcohol (""a poison stronger than love"") on frequent ""sprees"" which last for days and culminate in violence--assault, murder, gang rape, suicide--and indiscriminate sex. Rates of child neglect, child abuse, incest, and suicide (including child suicide) are staggering. Meanwhile, the racism of the nearby white community (which profits from the dependency and alcoholism of the Indians) increases. All this horror Shkilnyk narrates straightforwardly, producing a cautionary study of the fragility of human communities that is original--though based in the theoretical work of Kai Erikson (who contributes an introduction)--thoroughgoing, carefully documented, and absolutely riveting.

Pub Date: March 13, 1985

ISBN: 0300033257

Page Count: -

Publisher: Yale Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1985

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