Publisher: Douglas and McIntyre
Source: Personal Copy
One Native Life sat on my shelf for years, and as soon as I started reading it, I was so happy I decided to pick it up. It’s really hard to even review this one, because it was such a personal read for me. I saw so much of my own identity struggles in this book. Richard Wagamese is an Ojibway man, and a master storyteller. I previously read Indian Horse, and loved it as well but this book REALLY SPOKE to me. It made me reflect on my life in so many ways and made me understand that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with what it meant to be Native.
One Native Life is Wagamese’s story about his own life. He was taken away from his biological family at a young age, and went through the foster system and eventually was adopted. As a young Ojibway child, he never felt like he fit in. He learned to expect that nothing is permanent. Just as he learned to be comfortable with one family, he was moved to another. One story that broke my heart was when he mentions that a foster family went on vacation, and they didn’t take him. He felt like he was different, and not loved. None of these families were Native and that had a significant impact on him. He had no one to answer his questions, and guide him in the ways of his people.
As Wagamese grew older, he became enamored with books. He lost himself in the knowledge, and the different worlds. He started collective Native artifacts and wearing them, thinking they made him “more Native.” When asked about his Native culture, he would lie because he had no idea what those answers were. At the age of 16, he turned to alcohol and living on the streets. He wanted acceptance, and he wanted to feel like he belonged.
I don’t want to give too much of the memoir away, each section should be savored. At the root of the story is a lonely boy, but also understanding, and optimism. As Wagamese walks his readers though his story, he offers hope and healing. Knowledge is important. Every Native person is entitled to their own culture, their own understanding and their own opinion. You don’t have to agree with every Native political issue just because your Native. This really stuck with me!
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