The Next Chapter

Wab Kinew on reconnecting with his father and himself

The activist and journalist became an author in 2015 with the publication of his memoir, The Reason You Walk.
Wab Kinew's new memoir is The Reason You Walk. ( Penguin Random House Canada)

For Wab Kinew, 2012 started with a new job as the host of a CBC show, Eighth Fire, and ended with his father's death from cancer. The year in all its complexity is chronicled in his powerful new memoir, The Reason You Walk.

Kinew's father, Tobasonakwut, was a prominent political and spiritual leader for aboriginal people in Canada by the end of his life, but his journey was not an easy one. As a survivor of the horrific residential school system, where many First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, Tobasonakwut grew into an alcoholic, violent man. Despite a tumultuous upbringing, Kinew salvaged his relationship with his father in the last year of Tobasonakwut's life.


I went out into the world as an angry young man in my high school and early university years. I ended up getting into a lot of trouble. Not just mom-and-dad-trouble — real, legit, getting-arrested trouble, for drinking and driving or getting into fights. I've seen the worst of it. Twelve or 13 years ago, I was sitting in a jail cell, wondering if I was going to be able to make bail. I don't present that because I'm trying to make excuses for myself. I present that merely for the purpose of understanding. My father was put into a situation where he was powerless. It unleashed anger and rage inside of him, and that unleashed something in him that overtook a big chunk of his life. My experience growing up wasn't as severe as his was by any means, but it was similar in that I was made to feel powerless. Instead of a priest and a nun, it was my father.


As an adult, I look at how I parent and I recognize that, more often then I would like, I'm creating the same situations for my own sons to grow up with. I am still on the journey to dealing with my own anger and still on a journey with blocking that out and shielding my kids from it. To me that's the legacy of residential schools. That's the thing that was unleashed in those institutions that we're still carrying in our families and our communities today. It's the thing that, if we understand the trajectory and the path by which it is transmitted, we might be able to work towards doing the hard internal work in our own hearts, in our own spirits, in our own minds, to be able to make ourselves better parents, to be able to make ourselves the generation where that is going to stop.

Wab Kinew's comments have been edited and condensed.