Wab Kinew: My life in books
Wab Kinew is an activist, journalist, former Canada Reads champion — and now he's an author too. His memoir, The Reason You Walk, looks back at Wab's relationship with his father and how he grew from a troubled young teen into the community leader and devoted father he is today.
Here are some books that have shaped Wab's life and work.
The Road to Wounded Knee by Robert Burnette and John Koster
"The Road to Wounded Knee by Robert Burnette and John Koster gives an account of the history of the American west. I read it when I was a young teen and it rocked my world. It answered several questions I had growing up, like why do people outside my community view my people a different way than I do? I see my people as strong and proud and positive, but when I go to Winnipeg, that's not how people see us. It answered questions like why did the Canadian military get deployed in a community like mine in 1990. It gave me the historic context for all these things I grew up wondering. This was the book that changed my life in a lot of ways. It changed my outlook by providing a summary of history of a lot of experiences of native America."
The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X forced me to think about politics, political organizing, and the ethics of activism. I read it as a teenager, so it was pretty formative in shaping my world view. The transformation that he underwent — in embracing true Islam at the end of his life and renaming himself El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz — laid the groundwork for how I think about reconciliation in Canada. You need to move beyond anger and retribution and towards compassion and being concerned with our fellow humanity."
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? by Alan Duff
"What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? by Alan Duff is a sequel to Once Were Warriors, which is an amazing account of a Maori family living in New Zealand, dealing with the after-effects of colonization. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? is even more powerful because it asks questions about how we put lives back together after they've been damaged. What role is there for people who have been very harmful, disrespectful to people in their lives? They aren't going anywhere, so how do we rehabilitate, how do we deal with them, how do we bring them back into the community? On a literary level, it's written in Maori slang, so it also opened up to my eyes to the power of using oral narrative when writing, with different uses of tense and language. It's a really amazing story."
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
"Reservation Blues is the story of this quasi-indigenous, multi-genre fusion blues band that starts on a reserve in the Pacific Northwest, but it draws in a number of the things that make Sherman Alexie's writing amazing. He's the premiere voice of indigenous North America. This is because he speaks the many truths that we witness growing up in a reserve or a reservation or in the city as an indigenous person, but he also captures the humour. So much of his writing is laugh-out-loud funny. He hints at the spirituality. And yet, at its core, he has a strong instinct for what is good about people, what is their instinct, why people survive devastating experiences. To me, Sherman Alexie is the epitome of Native American writing."
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
"Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a master work. It was an African writer re-taking the narrative of colonization and retelling that story from the indigenous African perspective. But beyond that, it's an amazing work of storytelling. It is an epic tragedy of this man and what happens when, not just your family and your life, but your entire civilization falls apart around you. What is left? Who are you then? It asks the questions I think a lot of people are asking themselves now, whether they are native to Canada or indigenous Africans or displaced people around the world. I was a warrior, what am I now? I was an intellectual, what am I now? I was a spiritual person, what am I now? Those are questions almost all of us ask in the post-modern era. The identities that were constructed for us in the past no longer seem to apply, so who am I? It also speaks to colonialism, but it also speaks to a much broader, much more robust truth that all of us are seeking."
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
"I loved This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. It does change everything. It's an issue that I've tried to be very balanced and level-headed about and try not to fall into the hyperbole on either side. But combined with what's happened in our country over the last few years, I recognise that a lot of what Naomi Klein argues is true and particularly strong, for me, was her argument around divestment. Divesting from oil and gas may not be the most efficient way to exert economic influence on the carbon extraction industry but it is a way for students, for people in the general public, to say we are committed to changing for the benefit of the environment and we want to the carbon extraction companies that we don't think their behaviour is ethical and they need to change now. It's helped me crystallize my thinking about what I think is one of the great issues of our time."