Turtle Island Reads: Elma Moses champions Dawn Dumont's Nobody Cries at Bingo

"It was the book that chose me," Cree storyteller and Concordia professor Elma Moses says of Nobody Cries at Bingo, the autobiographical novel by Dawn Dumont Moses will defend at an event celebrating Indigenous Canadian writers.

Marriage, bingo addicts, looking for a boyfriend on the rez: Cree storyteller identifies with Dumont

Elma Moses will discuss Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont (Thistledown Press). (Anais Kassardjian/CBC)

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, CBC co-hosts Turtle Island Reads — a live public event at Kahnawake Survival School, highlighting stories written by and about Indigenous Canadians.

Drawing its inspiration from CBC's Canada Reads, it's an opportunity to talk about and celebrate Indigenous Canadian writers and connect readers with their stories.

Three advocates will each champion one book of fiction written by an Indigenous Canadian author and try to persuade you to make that book the next one on your reading list.

Elma Moses, a storyteller, performer and Concordia University professor who is a member of the Cree Nation of Eastmain, tells us what drew her to Dawn Dupont's autobiographical novel, Nobody Cries at Bingo.

This is how the story goes: When CBC Montreal asked me if I would like to participate in Turtle Island Reads, I accepted.

I was so excited about the idea of sharing my passion with others about Indigenous literature and Indigenous writers. 

I also like the idea of reading other writers whose stories I haven't yet read.

Usually, you choose a book you want to read, but this time it was the book that chose me. I am very happy that it did.

I was looking to read something by an Indigenous woman writer, and someone suggested Dawn Dumont's book, Nobody Cries at Bingo.

Dumont is from the Okanese First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, and her story is written as a series of autobiographical vignettes. 

Nobody Cries at Bingo reminded me, at first, of Tomson Highway's two-act play Rez Sisters, but in the form of a novel.

The Dawn of Dumont's novel is a shy, young Indigenous girl who loves to read. We meet her sisters, brother, cousins,  aunties, grandmothers, nieces, nephews as well as others from her extended family.

We follow Dawn as she navigates pre-school and as she attends elementary school. We are with her as she has to deal with implicit segregation inside the classroom as well as in the schoolyard.

That oopsy moment

Although the topics in the book are very difficult, they are dealt with with humour and through the voice of a child as she goes through these periods in her life: being bullied, living in poverty without running water, living on the reserve right next to a white town, drinking, violence, what to do on the rez when there is nothing to do. 

She learns how to drive a truck – and flips it – an oopsy moment for Dawn. Marriage, bingo addicts, coming of age on the rez: I can identify with this character as she goes through these periods of her life.

How do you find a boyfriend when you are a shy rez girl who loves to read, and most boys in your community and the surrounding reservations are your cousins? What do you do?

I grew up in a northern community, and just like Dawn, most guys on the rez were my cousins. I can identify with the character in the scene at the community bingo, at the wedding, trying to find that boyfriend.

I found these scenes quite hilarious.

And the part about driving a truck on the back roads – it could have been me, my sister and my cousins, if we'd had a truck. But the first step in learning how to drive is practising on a tractor and having enough money for fuel to make it run.

Dumont's book is a great read and a great way to get to know about Indigenous literature on Turtle Island, also known as Canada.

Dawn Dumont's book Nobody Cries at Bingo is a collection of vignettes about life on her Saskatchewan reserve that rings true for Elma Moses. (submitted by Dawn Dumont)

Turtle Island Reads takes place at the Kahnawake Survival School on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

Co-hosted by CBC's Sonali Karnick and Waubkeshig Rice, the event is a CBC collaboration with community leaders on the Kahnawake Mohawk territory, the Quebec Writers' Federation and McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas.

Let us know you're coming by visiting our CBC Montreal Facebook Events page