From the Library: Indigenous Youth, Race Relations, and Adoption

Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson

Trickster Drift is the second in the series about a young man named Jared who is trying to get through life with a hard-core mom and a trickster for a dad. I read the first, Son of A Trickster, a couple of years ago when it was shortlisted for the Giller prize. The third, Return of the Trickster, is already out and I hope to read it soon. What a mess poor Jared is in at the end of Trickster Drift.

Staring down his future, Jared knew he had rotten luck and nothing backing him up but snark.

Jared is extremely resilient; he has been through a lot in his short life, including physical abuse, substance abuse, criminal activity, and some supernatural stuff. He wants to be done with it all. So he moves away from his mother, moves in with his aunt in Vancouver, enrolls in college, joins AA, and–most importantly–wants nothing to do with anything magic.

He wished life was more like Facebook. He wished there was a button that would let him delete everything.

If anyone were to tell me about these books I would feel pretty sure that they weren’t for me, but I’m loving them. Jared is a great character – he’s fun, he’s sarcastic, he’s moody, he’s kind, and his life is unpredictable. As much as he tries to stay away from magic (and trouble), he seems to attract it like a magnet. The ghosts at his aunt’s place won’t leave him alone, and his mother’s ex boyfriend seems to have it in for him.

He wanted the world to be a simple place where animals and humans stayed in their own bodies, where people who claimed to be family didn’t turn out to be monsters.

I’m looking forward to watching the TV series “Trickster” once I’m finished the books!

Halfbreed by Maria Campbell (Memoir 1973)

Spurred on by my (new) “project” to read all the books featured on the podcast Storykeepers, I have finally read this classic Indigenous memoir published in 1973.

I learned so much from this book – things I didn’t know I didn’t know. I thought I knew about the Metis, but I didn’t know about the Metis. I didn’t realize they were considered the lowest of the low. Or that they didn’t get along with the neighbouring First Nations communities. On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised to read about the blatant racism Maria Campbell and her people had to endure day after day, year after year.

Within these less-than-200 pages, you will also find poverty, depression, and substance abuse. Yet, for all the heavy stuff there is also joy and laughter. Campbell paints a warm picture of her childhood with her parents, her Cheechum, and her siblings. They were a close family; they knew how to survive the hard times as well as celebrate the good.

“We laugh through everything, we sing and dance through everything and, you know, when I look at my own community with all of the stuff that happened in that community and to our people, we have some amazing people that have come out of there.”

As It Happens, CBC Radio

In 2019, Halfbreed was re-released with the inclusion of two pages that had been left out during its first publication – pages that recount Campbell’s rape at the age of 14 by an RCMP officer. “”I feel like it’s finished now, because it never felt finished for me,” Campbell said. “I always felt like there was a part of it that was missing, and that it didn’t tell the complete story.”

Surviving the White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll (Memoir 2021)

Rebecca Carroll, a black woman, was adopted into a white family as a baby. This is not a horror story. Her adopted family was loving and provided Rebecca with all the same opportunities as they did for their biological children. The problem was, they ignored the fact that Rebecca was brown, causing confusion for Rebecca as she grew older and started noticing differences between her and almost everyone else in her small community.

There were days when I wanted to be, or believed I was, black just like Mrs. Rowland, but it also seemed as though I would have to give something up in order for that to remain true. Cocooned within a whiteness where my brown skin was mocha-colored, I spoke with an inflection similar to that of my white brother and sister and my adult guardians were welcomed and centered wherever we went. I was being ushered through my life via the powerful passport of white privilege.

When Rebecca was nine, she met her biological mother for the first time, who is also white. She was excited about it and wanted so badly to be loved by the woman who who couldn’t care for her as a baby, but Tess imparted a lot of confusing, hurtful information and comments over the years, causing Rebecca to struggle even more with her own identity.

I started to pick up on a bizarre pattern, where not only did Tess give herself permission to imitate her idea of blackness, but she also undermined my expressions of being black.

Rebecca continued to have a loving relationship with her parents, but in terms of learning about her ancestry and the Black community, she was on her own. Her ambiguity effected her romantic relationships as well as relationships with family and friends. She wanted to feel like she belonged somewhere and it was a long journey.

It wasn’t just that my siblings and parents didn’t see me; it was that they didn’t see race or thnk about blackness, mine or anyone else’s, and I felt like I deserved that, at the very least. To be adopted into a white family that did not see or care or think about my blackness or my experience navigating a racist country had always felt lonely and isolating, endlessly confusing, but now it just felt cruel.

Imagine Rebecca’s delight when she took a course in college that was taught by a black prof and was filled with literature written by black women.

Their words and worlds, and the structure and grace across every page, felt biblical and made my insides churn and my mind explode. It was like guzzling love, fast and warm and sweet in my throat. Thousands of words would present themselves, breathe and carry ideas and images clear through to the very end of an entire book without mentioning a white character.

Rebecca Carroll’s memoir has given me more insight into my own sister’s experiences growing up as part of our family. (If you haven’t yet, you can meet her here.) This passage about hair particularly reminds me of my sister and her desperate but failed efforts to grow out her hair…

I didn’t just not know how to take care of my hair; I had grown to hate it. I felt antagonized by its texture and unavoidable otherness. It wouldn’t stay or hold or shine or fall. I couldn’t tuck it behind my ears like all the white girls in school did with their straight, shiny hair, or casually flip it over my shoulder, run my fingers through it, or brush it out of my eyes.

What have you been reading from the library lately?

28 thoughts on “From the Library: Indigenous Youth, Race Relations, and Adoption

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Rebecca Carroll’s memoir sounds like essential reading for adoptive families of children of a race other than their own. I’m so glad she was able to find the sense of belonging she needed.

    • Naomi says:

      I hope that adoptive families know now the importance of sharing their children’s culture with them. It sure took Rebecca a long time to get where she needed to be.

  2. madamebibilophile says:

    I just started reading Traplines by Eden Robinson today – so your post is perfectly timed for me 🙂 I read Monkey Beach back when it first came out and loved it, then for some reason I never picked her up again. Great to know I have the Trickster books and tv series ahead!

  3. wadholloway says:

    I feel sorry that Campbell has to take a terrible word like Half-Breed and attempt to break its power by using it herself. I read, and of course, loved the interview with your sister. I don’t do many interviews but I think they are an excellent way of getting closer to the heart of a given subject (I was thinking subject/topic but it also works for subject/person). Why would you ever think it was too long! There are adoptions in my family, including my first daughter (high school romance!) who was adopted out, so it is something I think about a lot.
    To follow on from one of your sister’s observations, I was dating an indigenous woman for a year or so and one time an old guy came up to her and asked her where she was from – he was indigenous too and needed to be able to place her. As it happens they were from neighbouring language groups.

    • Naomi says:

      That’s a good story!
      Thanks for reading my interview, Bill. I was really nervous about posting it, because I felt like it was too personal, but Kate was okay with it and I thought it was an important story to share. Like Rebecca Carroll’s memoir. We just can’t always know things unless we listen to other people’s stories.

  4. Rebecca Foster says:

    I would enjoy reading all of these, but especially Carroll’s memoir. I’m reading a novel about transnational/interracial adoption now. It brings up so many issues, interesting for anyone to think about but especially relevant for your family.

  5. Karissa says:

    I read Halfbreed last year and learned so much too. I had always heard about the European immigrants who were given land to settle in the prairies, including some of my own ancestors, but had somehow never clued in that that land already belonged to someone. It was very eye-opening.

    And Rebecca Carroll’s book sounds fascinating too. I just went and read your interview with your sister and was very moved by her sharing of her experiences.

    • Naomi says:

      I hadn’t known anything about the land and the displacement out west – I guess I’m a little more aware of what happened here in the east. Halfbreed is one of those books that you can’t believe it’s taken you so long to read!
      Thanks for reading the interview, Karissa. Kate’s pretty amazing. 🙂

      • Karissa says:

        My family didn’t stay in the prairies so my knowledge about that area’s history is pretty spotty. Halfbreed wasn’t really on my radar until it was rereleased so I’m glad it is finding an audience once more.

  6. annelogan17 says:

    I remember reading Half Breed for an Indigenous literature course over a decade ago-that’s where I first learned about residential schools. It’s an important book that all Canadians should read. I have Surviving the White Gaze on my shelf, but haven’t gotten to it yet…hopefully soon!

  7. buriedinprint says:

    It’s pretty handy to be reading the second in a trilogy when the third’s just been published. It’s a real roller-coaster so expect to be glued to it once you start! You know that I loved the last two as well. (I’m so glad you enjoyed the Carroll! I preferred it to the one you’ve been reading more recently, by far.) I didn’t know that the first edition of Campbell’s bio had that part removed. Now I want to reread to see the whole story. I just read Freeman’s Life among the Qallanuut and her narrative was edited too, and distribution crippled, but no scenes pulled (AFAIK).

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad to hear the Carroll was your favourite of the two, because I reluctantly took the other one back to the library without reading it. I took a few back so my stack wouldn’t feel so overwhelming and it didn’t make the cut. Lol
      My copy of Halfbreed was an older copy, so I was glad to find that article and get to read the missing pages. So horrifying, though.
      Should I add the Freeman to my list?

      • buriedinprint says:

        I think you’d love the way that she moves between times and places in her story; in the end, you have a real understanding of how challenging it would have been, to have been between such different cultures (and it doesn’t feel like it’s soooo far back in time when you’re reading). But if it’s an ILL for you, I know it’ll have some competition for your reading time!

  8. BookerTalk says:

    Trickster sounded interesting until I got to the mention of the supernatural, at which point I knew this book wouldn’t be for me. I just can’t do books with any elements of magic. Good to know you have enjoyed the series so much though.

    • buriedinprint says:

      I’m here revisiting to reply above and saw this; I’ve just finished the Trickster books and wanted to add that, within Indigenous cultures, the border between realities is not viewed the same way, so Jared’s battles aren’t what you might be thinking of as “supernatural” in an Anne-Rice-the-Vampire-Lestat kinda way. Robinson writes from the Haisla/Heiltsuk perspective; I think you might enjoy her Monkey Beach, which also has some very funny bits! (And fewer battles, fewer bloody bits! LOL)

      • BookerTalk says:

        Ah yes, now that’s a good point about the different understanding of realities. I’ve found that in a number of novels set in or written by African authors, there can be a focus on the spirit world which is entirely different to the ghost world

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