Up Ghost River

Former First Nations chief Edmund Metatawabin describes the abuse he endured in residential school in the 1960s, and his struggle to rediscover his heritage.

Edmund Metatawabin, with Alexandra Shimo

After being separated from his family at age 7, Metatawabin was assigned a number and stripped of his Native identity. At his residential school — one of the worst in Canada — he was physically and emotionally abused, and was sexually abused by one of the staff. Leaving high school, he turned to alcohol to forget the trauma. He later left behind his wife and family and fled to Edmonton, where he joined a Native support group that helped him come to terms with his addiction and face his PTSD. By listening to elders' wisdom, he learned how to live an authentic Native life within a modern context, thereby restoring what had been taken from him years earlier.

Metatawabin has worked tirelessly to bring traditional knowledge to the next generation of Native youth and leaders, as a counsellor at the University of Alberta, Chief in his Fort Albany community, and today as a youth worker, Native spiritual leader and activist. His work championing indigenous knowledge, sovereignty and rights spans several decades and has won him awards and national recognition. His story gives a personal face to the problems that beset Native communities and fresh solutions, and untangles the complex dynamics that sparked the Idle No More movement. Haunting and brave, Up Ghost River is a necessary step toward our collective healing. (From Vintage Canada)

Edmund Metatawabin is a Cree writer, educator, activist and former Chief of Fort Albany First Nation.

Alexandra Shimo is an author and journalist based in Toronto. She is a former producer for CBC Radio and editor at Maclean's. She is also the author of Invisible North.

From the book

The day the furs were ready, Papa and I got up before the rest were awake. He helped me button my coat and pants, cooked bannock and tea, and we walked over to the Hudson's Bay store. We climbed the steps and opened the wooden door. A tall man about the same age as Papa was standing at the counter holding what looked like a bulky gun, which he was using to put sticky labels on some bread loaves. Papa had already told me that the manager was also called The Boss and that we all had to be nice to him. Ignoring Papa, the man straightened a price tag on a bag of flour. Above him were shelves stacked with supplies — sugar, Klik canned meat, tomato soup, lard, tea — and on the wall to his right, the more costly goods — ammunition and a number of rifles including a new one just arrived called The Savage 45. Furs were draped from the ceiling and counters, with the most valuable — otter, black fox and wolverine — sheathed in cotton to keep out the dust.

From Up Ghost River by Edmund Metatawabin, with Alexandra Shimo ©2014. Published by Vintage Canada.


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