Darrel J. McLeod explores his Cree family history.

Darrel J. McLeod

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alta., Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family's history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that would return to watch over and guide him at key junctures of his life.

The fractured narrative of Mamaskatch mirrors Bertha's attempts to reckon with the trauma and abuse she faced in her own life, and captures an intensely moving portrait of a family of strong personalities, deep ties and the shared history that both binds and haunts them. (From Douglas &McIntyre)

A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares — lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.- 2018 Governor General's Literary Award jury citation

Mamaskatch won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and was on the shortlist for the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize.

How writing Mamaskatch helped Darrel J. McLeod heal

"The whole thing was very beautiful. It was like I was drawing closer to my family. We were kind of conspiring or cooperating to get these stories out, even though, if they were still alive, my mother in particular, it would have been very hurtful to work through that stuff. But it was like we were giving each other permission to go through all that stuff again and heal.

I just put it all out there, bared my soul to the world and said, 'Here it is. Here I am. This is what I've been through. This is what I've done. This is what I've done.'- Darrel J. McLeod

"With the book now published and out to the world, is that I feel like a different person. I walk taller and have more confidence and am generally happier. I was always happy, but I feel even happier and more complete somehow. I went through life, all those years, carrying the burden of grief and guilt, feeling at different points in my life that I'd been a bad person. I just put it all out there, bared my soul to the world and said, 'Here it is. Here I am. This is what I've been through. This is what I've done. This is what I've done.'"

Read more in Darrel J. McLeod's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

I know I could never share stories the magical way Mother does. The structure of our language, Cree, is hard-wired in her brain, and English is still a challenge for her. She sees the world differently from the way they teach us in school. Rocks are alive — she calls them our grandfathers. The markers for I and you are attached as extra syllables to the verb forms. The second-person pronoun is always more important, so it comes first, whether it's the subject or the object. Unlike in English, I love you and you love me both start with the marker ki, for you. The third person is split into two parts; this distinguishes important characters in a conversation from secondary ones. The gendered pronouns he and she don't exist in Cree. Mother has told me this more than once, laughing at herself for getting the two mixed up.

Is that why my older brother, Greg, and my uncle Danny could play at dressing up as girls so often without Mother getting upset? Is that why my uncles aren't as hairy as the Métis or white guys around? What about me? Will I be a regular Cree guy, like most of my uncles, or more like Danny and Greg, who grew up mimicking Mother, my sister Debbie and our aunties? If I spoke Cree, would I see the world the way Mother does and have the answers to these questions? Would I be less afraid?

From Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod ©2018. Published by Douglas & McIntyre.

Interviews with Darrel J. McLeod

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