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Waubgeshig Rice balances historical accuracy with dystopian future in new novel

Whether it's in the classroom or a work of fiction it's important to get the history right. For author Waubgeshig Rice, balancing historical accuracy with a dystopian vision of the future in his new novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was essential.
Waubgeshig Rice is a novelist and host of the CBC Radio show Up North. (ECW Press)
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Whether it's in the classroom or a work of fiction it's important to get the history right.

For author Waubgeshig Rice, balancing historical accuracy with a dystopian vision of the future in his new novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was essential. 

In the novel, winter is looming when cell service suddenly goes down in a small Anishinaabe community in northern Canada. When the power goes out, the residents are cut off, food supply dwindles and outsiders come looking for help. 

Rice, a journalist and host of Up North, CBC's afternoon show in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, grew up in Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario. He said it was a challenge to include historical context without it sounding like a history lesson and while he drew on his own lived experience he also spoke with others who live farther north to get it right.

The Anishinaabe language is also peppered throughout the novel. Rice said he wanted to include the language in a way that's authentically representative.

"It was just about reflecting the day-to-day parlance that thrives in a lot of our communities. [Language] is part of band council meetings, it's part of family gatherings," he explained.

In some places the words are defined, in others they can be figured out in context, but the book doesn't have a glossary and pronunciation guide. A choice Rice said was intentional.

"There's some work that I think people need to do on their own and I think that's part of active learning."

Understanding who he was writing for, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, was another challenge Rice thought about while writing the book.

"I think it goes beyond that though, when you're considering things because there are a lot Indigenous people who don't necessarily have all the knowledge of this historical context either."

For example, Rice said Indigenous people who were scooped from their families and adopted by non-Indigenous parents, and urban Indigenous people who were not taught Indigenous history in the school system, would not carry that knowledge.

Rice said he wasn't exposed to Indigenous authors at school, but acknowledged reading something that reflected his life and experience would have had a profound impact. 

"It would have meant a lot. To have read a book by an Anishinaabe author would have changed my world at a younger age."

Fortunately, an aunt gave him books from authors like Jordan Wheeler, Thomas King, Lee Maracle, Louise Erdrich and Richard Van Camp.

"It was the first time I realized that Indigenous people could be authors," he recalled.

Rice is optimistic that with increasing appetite for Indigenous stories by Indigenous authors, kids going through the school system now will be able to read a range of books that reflect who they are.  

"Fortunately nowadays there is so many brilliant authors and storytellers out there producing books for young people and I think we're going to have a much more engaged and much richer palette of storytelling coming out of younger Indigenous communities because of that."