Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Book Review: As Long as the Rivers Flow

As Long as the Rivers Flow, by James Bartleman, Knopf Canada, 244 pages, $29.95
As Long as the Rivers Flow,
by James Bartleman,
Knopf Canada, 244 pages, $29.95

With Attiwapiskat in the news, it is timely that James Bartleman (call me Jim!) has released an historical fiction. A great man, he has worked tirelessly for First Nations in Ontario. He has established reading programs

Formerly a diplomat of 35-years, in 2002 he was appointed the first Native Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. He grew up in Port Carling, in the region of Muskoka, in central Ontario. He wrote a marvellous autobiography, which spoke of the poverty, ignorance and racism of the time. He has written four bestselling books:
  1. Out of Muskoka (a short memoir–2002)
  2. Raisin Wine: A Boyhood in a Different Muskoka (autobiography–2007)
  3. Rollercoaster: My Hectic Years as Jean Chretien's Diplomatic Advisor, 1994-1998 (2005)
  4. On Six Continents: A Life in Canada's Foreign Service, 1966-2002 (2005)
This novel integrates the story of Indian Agents, veterans given the job of doling out money from Ottawa to Native Bands. It speaks of residential schools, and the horrors of ripping children away from their families in the interest of what whites think determines an education. He weaves in First Nations spirituality, which was not accepted by the white men sent, theoretically, to educate and deliver treaty loot. He weaves in the abuse of the nuns, and residential school that haunt our Canadian spirit. For so long we did not understand issues like the decimation of the bison. I hope that now we know better we do better.

When I spoke to Mr. Bartleman, I told him how much joy I found in teaching my grade 6 students about this spirituality. I recall one of my favourite classes, a grade 4/5 class of 35 students, with a wide-range of abilities and disabilities. The 6 grade six students did some independent studies on First Nations. One student presented his research. He was horrified with the decimation of the Beothuks in Newfoundland. It gave us a greater understanding of the largely untold history of this country.
James Bartleman at a book signing in Perth

This is a great read. Heart-breaking story, but one which must be told as only this author can tell it, from the heart with humanity. The book is not without its faults, and I have not yet finished it, but for those who are thinking about First Nations, treaties, child sexual abuse in residential schools, and current issues like Attawapiskat (forget blame, find a solution), it is important to understand what has gone before.

More biographical information: This man is not an Occupier - he just gets the job done.
  • In 2004 he launched the first Lieutenant Governor's Book Drive
  • collected 1.2 million good used books for First Nations schools and Native Friendship Centres throughout Ontario. 
  • in 2005 His Honour launched a Twinning Program for Native and non-Native schools in Ontario and Nunavut. 
  • Established literacy summer camps in five northern First Nations communities as a pilot project. 
  • In 2006 he extended his literacy summer camps program to 28 fly-in communities and secured funding for five years.
  • He also launched Club Amick, a reading club for Native children in Ontario's North.
  •  In the winter of 2007, he completed a second Book Drive, collecting 900,000 books for aboriginal children in Ontario, northern Quebec and Nunavut.

For another review: 
In 1962, Martha is 6 when a float plane comes to her home in the Cat Lake First Nation in northern Ontario, and takes her away to the school on James Bay where she is to spend the next 10 years of her life. There she is abused by nuns – including a First Nations nun who is herself a victim of the residential school system – and sexually abused by a priest.


Sarah Laurence said...

Wow, this book looks really interesting and original. The author's personal story is intriguing too.

Red said...

I must read some of James Bartleman. I've got it written down so I don't forget. I was certainly influenced by the spirituality if aboriginal peoples.More people have to read this stuff with an open mind.

Linda McLaughlin said...

It sounds like an important book, but probably not easy to read. Thanks for the review.