For Joshua, an Ojibway Father Teaches His Son by Richard Wagamese

for joshuaWagamese is a gifted writer and writing has been his way of surving being down and out and his way to the upper echelon of Canadian literature.  In For Joshua, Wagamese writes a poignant story to his (estranged) son, not asking for forgiveness, but for an attempt at understanding and an attempt at teaching.

Wagamese and many First Nations people like him, grew up disconnected from the land, from indigenous culture, from mainstream/non-native culture and ultimately from an essential ‘self’.  For some, like Wagamese, this lead to delinquency and booze.

There are stages that Wagamese has recognized.  First is the Indian-amongst-Canadians: the kid who tries so hard to be an Indian that he’s willing to fabricate a history and mythology just to fit in.  Second is the rebel/outcast who doesn’t fit in anywhere, who turns to superficial relationships and substance abuse for a feeling of belonging.  Third is the pseudo-warrior: the guy who wants to fight the system with the little bit of traditional knowledge he has learned, he belongs, but to the margins of an angry subculture that uses “Indian-ness” as a rallying point.  Fourth is the spiritual participant, the person who powwows, sweat lodges, vision quests, smudges, can relate legends and has (sometimes) a better than beginner’s knowledge of Ojibway cosmology.  Fifth is kind of unstated.  It’s a realm of interbeing that transcends ethnicity or race.

Wagamese takes the reader through these levels as he narrates his own personal history.  He offers the journey to his son (and us) as a chance to learn from someone who, really, has been quite far down that dark road.

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