Books·How I Wrote It

The message YA novelist Cherie Dimaline has for young Indigenous readers

The Georgian Bay Métis author talks dreams, appropriation and what she wants readers to take away from her YA novel The Marrow Thieves.
Cherie Dimaline is the author of The Marrow Thieves. (Cherie Dimaline/Dancing Cat Books)

In the dystopian world of Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves, climate change has ravaged the Earth and a continent-wide hunt and slaughter of Indigenous people is underway. Wanted for their bone marrow, which contains the lost ability to dream, a group of Indigenous people seek refuge in the old lands.

In her own words, Dimaline discusses the creative process behind The Marrow Thieveswhich won the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text and was chosen for Canada Reads 2018 by Jully Black.

Connecting with Indigenous readers

"I wanted Indigenous readers to feel strong and powerful. I wanted them to see a narrative that actually is reminiscent of my own understanding of being an Indigenous person: That no matter what happens, you always belong to our land, we're always going to belong to each other and we'll seek each other out. I wanted to break down some of the isolation that Indigenous youth might feel. To feel like they belong. To know that they belong to a larger community and they're loved."

Reaching a broader audience

"I wanted to reach non-Indigenous readers at an age where the book could change their view of Indigenous people. We're often seen as either this primitive society or this trauma narrative. Those are two very specific, isolated pieces of who we are, who we can be or who we have been. I wanted them to see an ongoing Indigenous identity. I set it in the future so that those barriers of guilt weren't thrown up, and instead they can say, 'Well, this can't happen. We need to make sure it doesn't happen.'"

Respecting others' stories

"When we're talking about appropriation, it's not just about Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It's even within our own communities. There are so many nations and languages and protocols and cultures within the Indigenous community; we're not one lumped group. And we need to respect each others' stories. Because even when I'm telling a story that involves the Cree narrative, or even a Métis community outside of my territory, I reach out to those people, and I talk to people. You have to get it right.

"I can only tell things from the perspective that I've been gifted with. So I'm always really cautious about people assuming that one Indigenous author can give you the narrative for all of us. We can't. Not only are we not allowed to, but it's impossible to write every culture and every community."

The significance of dreams

"Dreams, to me, represent our hope. It's how we survive and it's how we carry on after every state of emergency, after each suicide. Hope is the backbone of our survival, and it's the core of our strength. Our grandparents survived residential schools and still brought through the stories, still carried our language, still made sure that we had ceremony and it was because we had that hope that there was going to be survival and revival. So I think dreams are the epitome of the hope that we carry."

Cherie Dimaline's comments have been edited and condensed.