Dystopian reser­va­tion fic­tion de­liv­ers


WIN­TER is tough even with cen­tral heat, fully stocked gro­cery stores and ac­cess to TV and in­ter­net.

Now imag­ine en­dur­ing the cold sea­son while cut off from hy­dro, food de­liv­ery, mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in-home en­ter­tain­ment.

Moon of the Crusted Snow tells a cap­ti­vat­ing story that seam­lessly blends apoc­a­lyp­tic fic­tion with thought­ful so­cial ob­ser­va­tions.

While this novel can be en­joyed on a sur­face level for the story, it is at heart an in­sight­ful al­le­gory about the dan­gers of colo­nial­ism. In the era of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, it’s an im­por­tant read for Cana­di­ans.

Author Waubgeshig Rice also ex­plores themes of com­mu­nity, Indige­nous cul­ture and fam­ily ties in a thriv­ing, small reser­va­tion set in north­ern On­tario.

Read­ers may best know the Sud­bury, Ont.-based Rice as a for­mer Win­nipeg CBC per­son­al­ity, or the host of CBC Ra­dio One’s Up North, which fo­cuses on life in north­ern On­tario.

He’s also achieved recog­ni­tion for Mid­night Sweat­lodge, a 2012 short­story col­lec­tion in­spired by his ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up in Wasauk­ing First Na­tion in On­tario, and Legacy, his 2014 de­but novel about vi­o­lence against Indige­nous women.

His third book opens in the present day, in­tro­duc­ing read­ers to Evan Whitesky, a hard-work­ing Anishi­naabe fam­ily man liv­ing on the fic­tional Gaawaandagkoong First Na­tion.

Evan and his fam­ily work hard to blend tra­di­tional cul­ture with their in­creas­ingly mod­ern lives.

While Evan, his part­ner and chil­dren live in a mod­ern home and en­joy ameni­ties such as in­ter­net and satel­lite sig­nals, they also hunt and butcher much of their own meat and fol­low teach­ings from com­mu­nity el­ders.

“He’d learned to hunt when he was a boy out of tra­di­tion, but also ne­ces­sity... hunt­ing, fish­ing and liv­ing on the land was Anishi­naabe cus­tom, and Evan was try­ing to live in har­mony with the tra­di­tional ways,” Rice writes.

The reser­va­tion’s sim­ple but sat­is­fy­ing way of life is thrown off when the com­mu­nity’s hy­dro, in­ter­net and cel­lu­lar ser­vices sud­denly fail and trucks in­ex­pli­ca­bly stop bring­ing gro­ceries.

With­out com­mu­ni­ca­tion sig­nals, the com­mu­nity can’t even ask for help. The lit­tle news they do get shows that the power out­age has spread to the south.

As food and emer­gency fuel be­come scarce, sick­ness and fear grip the com­mu­nity. This wors­ens when refugees from other af­fected areas ar­rive and di­vide the com­mu­nity be­tween those re­ly­ing on tra­di­tional ways for sur­vival and those fall­ing un­der the sway of the new­com­ers.

Rice tells his story in the third per­son, mostly from Evan’s point of view. His writ­ing style is read­able and well-paced.

As in Cor­mac McCarthy’s 2006 apoc­a­lyp­tic novel The Road, Rice never of­fers an ex­pla­na­tion for the events, adding ex­tra chill to the nar­ra­tive.

Rice points out the irony of colo­nial views that Indige­nous ways are out­dated, and that west­ern cul­ture is su­pe­rior.

Many younger com­mu­nity mem­bers rely on mod­ern con­ve­niences in­stead of tra­di­tional ways of liv­ing on the land, yet those who know those tra­di­tions can sur­vive any­thing.

As Evan re­flects of their sit­u­a­tion, “Now it was crit­i­cal that they learn how the old ones lived on the land.”

Rice over­turns many ca­su­ally held as­sump­tions some peo­ple hold about band coun­cils as cor­rupt and reser­va­tions as un­safe.

He doesn’t hide the prob­lems that af­fect some iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties, such as al­co­holism, un­em­ploy­ment and un­rea­son­able food costs; Rice por­trays this com­mu­nity’s lead­ers as gen­uinely car­ing and in­no­va­tive.

Sim­i­larly, com­mu­nity mem­bers, even those with vices, care for each other and trea­sure their fam­ily and friends.

With win­ter ap­proach­ing, it’s the Moon of the Crusted Snow By Waubgeshig Rice

ECW Press, 224 pages, $18

per­fect book to read and re­flect on our own life­styles and points of view.

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