Up Ghost River
A powerful, raw yet eloquent memoir from a residential school survivor and former First Nations Chief, Up Ghost River is a necessary step toward our collective healing.
In the 1950s, 7-year-old Edmund Metatawabin was separated from his family and placed in one of Canada’s worst residential schools. St. Anne’s, in northern Ontario, is an institution now notorious for the range of punishments that staff and teachers inflicted on students. Even as Metatawabin built the trappings of a successful life—wife, kids, career—he was tormented by horrific memories. Fuelled by alcohol, the trauma from his past caught up with him, and his family and work lives imploded.
In seeking healing, Metatawabin travelled to southern Alberta. There he learned from elders, participated in native cultural training workshops that emphasize the holistic approach to personhood at the heart of Cree culture, and finally faced his alcoholism and PTSD. Metatawabin has since worked tirelessly to expose the wrongdoings of St. Anne’s, culminating in a recent court case demanding that the school records be released to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Now Metatawabin’s mission is to help the next generation of residential school survivors. His story is part of the indigenous resurgence that is happening across Canada and worldwide: after years of oppression, he and others are healing themselves by rediscovering their culture and sharing their knowledge.
Coming full circle, Metatawabin’s haunting and brave narrative offers profound lessons on the importance of bearing witness, and the ability to become whole once again.
“Up Ghost River is at times painful. It’s at other times a wonderful lesson in the importance of laughter. It’s certainly deeply connected to the land. It is, in part, a tale of a world changing too quickly. But most of all, it is a heart song, a love song to a very special people and place, to a geography and a culture that are a foundation of who we are as a nation.” —Joseph Boyden, from his foreword to Up Ghost River
“Edmund Metatawabin’s voice is clear, brave and full of the grace of his Cree homeland. Up Ghost River is a powerful and unsettling read, full of heartbreaking truth-telling, resistance and Metatawabin’s uncompromising love of land, his people, his language and his culture. These stories are full of the real lived violence of colonialism and of the beautiful tiny moments that our Elders and storytellers wrap around our children to teach them, protect them and nurture them. Metatawabin is a gift to all who are lucky enough to read him, and the key to reading Metatawabin is a willingness to simply allow these stories to transform you.” —Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back and Islands of Decolonial Love, and recipient of the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award
“Moving documentation, recollected tragedy and personal triumph, this book is a necessary first-hand account of being First Nations in contemporary Canada. From the atrocities of residential schools, to the present-day policy challenges, Up Ghost River will open your eyes to the all-too-recent history of Canada’s First Peoples, through the experiences of a resilient individual and his family.” —The Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada
“Up Ghost River is a very difficult story to read, but a necessary one in the reckoning of Canada’s abusive and exploitative relationship with its First Nations people. Edmund Metatawabin’s measured and honest account shows evidence of remarkable healing, and his story has much in common with the history of colonized indigenous people around the world. Metatawabin’s journey is a metaphor for the journey we must all take if we are to heal our relationship to the land at this crucial hour in the environmental fate of the planet. With Alexandra Shimo, Metatawabin writes about his life in a way that is both agonizing and redemptive, personal and political, gut-wrenching and level-headed; it will break your heart.” —Christine Pountney, author of Sweet Jesus
“A harrowing and redemptive story of a man’s personal battles with one of Canada’s worst practices. Edmund Metatawabin’s tale of residential schools and government bureaucracy will leave you angry at the evils of colonization. Yet it will also show you a man’s—and a people’s—incredible ability to survive and seek justice. There are plenty of ghosts in this book, apportions of shame and responsibility, but Metatawabin’s journey and destination on that river will definitely leave you full of hope and richer for it.” —Drew Hayden Taylor, author of Motorcycles & Sweetgrass
“A shocking, sadly revealing Canadian story. Cree elder Edmund Metatawabin has the courage to tell how ‘white learning’ stripped him of his name and systematically brutalized him—including strapping him into a school-built electric chair and electrocuting him—traumatizing him throughout his childhood, youth and adulthood, until he could finally let it all ‘pass through’ him and find himself as a human being. ‘We are still here,’ he asserts, and ‘our forefathers . . . are still here, all around us, guiding those who listen.’ Every Canadian needs to hear this story.” —Rudy Wiebe, author of The Temptations of Big Bear and Come Back
Harvesting: Cree Hunting and Gathering Techniques
The Mushkegowuk of western James Bay know what it’s like to live off of the land. Such was the destiny they received from the Creator. A contract—a way of life started—and the people have followed the arrangement to this day. It is Mother Earth who provides sustenance in the form of animals and plants.
This book, told in the form of a story, highlights and explains some of the ways these plants and animals may be harvested.
Photos detail traditional methods of collecting berries and medicines, conservation fishing and hunting techniques.
The book Hanaway is about resistance and survival. It is about character transformation and cultural confusion. It is about the state of First Nations in total institutions.
The author, Edmund Metatawabin, (Ten Sunrises to the English) grew up in the natural environment for the first seven years of his life. Life then was full of exploration, laughter and story-telling. It was a quiet lull before the gathering storm. At seven years of age the author was registered at St. Anne's Residential School located in Fort Albany where he was to be incarcerated for eight years. Through the use of legends he brings us the story of the residential school experience as it impacted everybody within the circle.
Hanaway awakes from the mists of ancient legends to once again walk the earth and help fulfill the destiny of the Mushkegowuk. This cultural group that occupies the western shores of James Bay in Northern Canada has been in the area longer than ten thousand years. An ancient curse is revived, threatening the existence of the indigenous sector, where the cry of 'Erase them!' loudly reverberates in the traditional Nakapayhano Washahebayow lowlands.
The warrior of old arrives as a young boy who will walk the trail. Is the personal shield, given by the Elder, sufficient to protect and keep intact the essence of the Sacred Fire? The Sacred Fire that represents the inner soul of the man and family will undergo a severe test to survive. Will Hanaway do honour to the task or is this the end of the legend?
☆☆☆☆☆4 out of 5 stars. Chapters
Powerful story of Canadian Residential School experience
I bought this book, read it, then ordered another to share with people because it does such a fine job of telling a story of the horrific torture First Nations children endured in residential schools. Ed Metatawabin actually goes easy on the reader in his descriptions of the abuse forced upon him when he was in school, for it was so vile many readers could not bear to have too much detail. So he leaves it to our imaginations. Then the second half of the book, when he speaks of his struggles to somehow deal with it all, is very powerful, and had me in tears as he learns to speak out and to support others in his community. I recommend this book to all Canadians as a vital tool in understanding Canada's relationship with First Nations.
"Searing new memoir." Toronto Star
"This aptly titled, well-crafted book is an especially poignant reminder of the harm [residential schools] caused.... A memoir containing a polemic wrapped in native history." Winnipeg Free Press
Paul Lantz on Aug. 30 2014
An important book written with brutally self-effacing honesty. One man's life, battered by residential school ands it's legacy of shame and secrecy, described in such a way as to make all too clear the evil that was perpetrated on whole nations.
Miss Chris on Nov. 12 2014
Edmund has shared his soul with the reader. I am saddened by what this poor fellow and his mates endured and that it was not found out for years. Can it be any worse that the church paritcipated in this horrible abuse to these isolated children and found pleasure in the torment?
A sad read that we should make time for in our lifes so that we might better understand the sad reality of these innocent children and the grief that have had store somewhere deep in their conscience if they were able to survive.....