Title: I Am Algonquin
Author: Rick Revelle
Opening lines: ‘…I woke up with the stark realization that I was in unrecognizable surroundings…’
Synopsis: Mahingan and his family live the traditional Algonquin way of life in what is now Ontario in Canada in the 1300s. Life is not easy as they hunt for food, get involved with violent and bloody conflicts with other Native Nations, undergo rituals and survive a forest wildfire.
My Thoughts: Author Rick Revelle is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and he wrote I AM ALGONQUIN to try and stem the continued ignorance about the First Nations people. His aim was to be as historically accurate as possible as he wrote about his ancestor’s lives in the early 1300s. There are certainly lots of interesting facts, which unfortunately read like a text book on one or two occasions but there was enough of a connecting story to keep me interested and I do like learning new things. The author is right in thinking that there is misinformation out in the community; thanks to Hollywood the average person in the street think that if you’ve seen one First Nation group then you’ve seen them all and that all of the tribes lived by the same rules which is very disrespectful. I AM ALGONQUIN clearly demonstrates that this isn’t the truth, The Algonquin, like their allies, the Nippissing and Huron nations, were nomadic nations – and while there were certainly some similarities in their traditions, there were many differences. The Nippissing and Algonquin did battle over traditional hunting grounds but they eventually came to a peaceful agreement after a ceremonial lacrosse match. It was a different story with their mutual enemy, the Iroquois, who lived in a permanent settlement and sent out raiding parties to the surrounding nations to bring back food, women and children. There were no discussions with this group – it was war.
The flow of the story was a bit disjointed – the plot was propelled along by a series of different incidents which may have worked better if each chapter had been short stories rather than try and work them into one novel. I also found I struggled a bit remembering the what the Algonquin words meant when they were repeated later on in the story – there is a glossary at the end but I had an e-book version so was unable to flick back and forth, in fact to be perfectly honest I didn’t discover the glossary until I finished the story. I ended up just guessing the meaning of the word so felt I may have misunderstood some of the action. I am not sure what the answer is to this, using the authentic language is part of the learning experience but maybe the use of fox and bear with the Algonquin word as a footnote may have been smoother to read. Other than that the only other problem for me as a read was that there was no clear beginning or middle before the abruptly ended finish that left me hanging. Instead the story started with a battle and ended with a battle with a series of mini-adventures on the way which is why I suggested maybe a book of short stories rather than a novel may have been easier to read. Revelle did manage to divide the drama filled events with the quieter moments which balanced the story out some; and his writing was so evocative that when he described the wolverines attacking an elderly moose, what it means to run the gauntlet, scalping in battle and trapping and slaughtering buffalo you felt that you were actually there.
Despite the few minor difficulties I had, I really enjoyed learning about another culture, one that does not exist in its entirety any more, how they did their hunting and processed the animals after, such respectful hunting. Then there were the ceremonies such the marriage ceremony and when the twins became men, I do love to look at these social traditions and couldn’t help wondering how the modern Algonquin youths become men nowadays. I played lacrosse at school as a young girl but never a game such as this – a ceremonial all day non-stop event where the team members could not stop to eat or drink. I also enjoyed the fact that despite the harshness of the way of life there were strong family ties and time for fun and laughter which brought the tribe alive for me.
For more about Ardoch Algonquin First Nation visit here: http://www.aafna.ca/history.html
Rating: D – Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish whatever redeemable aspects there were to this book, they were not fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy it.
For more about the author – Click Here
With thanks to the Dundurn Group and the author via Netgalley.