In his debut, the winner of the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction, McLeod recounts his childhood and coming-of-age in Treaty Eight Cree territory in Northern Alberta.
Told predominantly in English, with a smattering of French and infused with important moments of untranslated Cree language, the fragmented and seemingly dissonant episodic chapters contain elements that are present in many Native/First Nations memoirs: alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, abuse, racism, religious intolerance, and poverty. However, these details don’t exist to pleasure the white gaze or to satisfy any savior complex. These aspects, delineated in the segmented narratives, reflect candid truths and the brokenness that occurs in a life surrounded by settler colonialism and fueled by historical trauma. They also serve as an acknowledgment, which is the first step to healing. Whether retelling his mother’s stories, such as her escape from residential school, or recounting the grooming and abuse he experienced from his brother-in-law, his search for intimacy, or his desire for reconnection to Cree tradition, the author ably conveys all of the devastating guilt, shame, remorse, and emptiness that he has experienced. Still, it’s clear that McLeod isn’t “looking for pity.” As the title of the opening chapter, “Spirals,” suggests—and just as his mother did in her own “magical way”—the author shares his stories in a spiral, revisiting “each theme several times over, providing a bit more information with each pass,” until it “wash[es] away the heaviness.” Readers able to “just sit back and listen without interrupting” (a lesson young Darrel learned from hearing his mother’s stories) will share in the secret knowledge that coming-of-age has little to do with losing one’s innocence and everything to do with maintaining one’s hope.
Lyrically written and linked by family, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, Mamaskatch sings out as a modern-day celebration of healing.