The Next Chapter

Darrel J. McLeod's memoir Mamaskatch is an ode to motherly love and Indigenous identity

The author chats with Shelagh Rogers about his memoir, which won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
Darrel McLeod is the author of Mamaskatch. (Ilja Herb, Douglas & McIntyre)

For Darrel J. McLeod, his late mother Bertha Cardinal, was someone who instilled an unshakeable sense of self and identity. His memoir, Mamaskatch, looks at his upbringing in Smith, Alta., and being raised by his fierce Cree mother. In describing memories of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, surrounded by siblings and cousins, McLeod outlines his mother's experience of residential schools and how she taught him to be proud of his heritage.

Mamaskatch won the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

This interview originally aired on Oct. 29, 2018.

The meaning of a word

"The word, mamaskatch, has stuck with me over the years. Mom used to say it a lot when we were kids when things happened that were a bit extraordinary. I gave the book that title after going online with some fluent Cree speakers. I asked them what it meant and they gave various meanings, ranging from, 'How strange' to 'It's a miracle.' It is the perfect title. I keep saying that word over and over again now. Somebody asked me yesterday what would your mother say if she read that book and I said she would say, 'Mamaskatch.'"

Lost generation

"In writing the book, I got to reflect on the fact that it was within one generation that we lost so much. My mother, as a child, was still living in the bush on the land. She was forced to learn and speak English. She was forced to go to the residential school and was taken from her mother's arms at six years old. The book is about the impact of colonization on my family and on me."

The here and now

"I like think of my mother in the present. Bertha Cardinal is an amazing and powerful woman who, given the opportunity in different circumstances, would have accomplished more amazing things than I have. She was incredibly smart and very strong willed. She had a strong spirit and wouldn't let herself be defeated. She wanted to pass that pride of being Cree onto us. She used to lecture us constantly and repeatedly tell us to be proud of who you are, to not be ashamed or let anyone else feel that they're better than you."

Darrel J. McLeod's comments have been edited for length and clarity.