Close encounters of the native kind

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Oct.4, 2016

Barbara Howe

The Durham College Chronicle

Imagine if your computer had a conscience, or an old battered toy robot sprang to life and initiated a suicide intervention. The belief all things are alive and everything on the planet has a spirit exists in many aboriginal cultures. This thread weaves through Drew Hayden Taylor’s new collection of short stories, ‘Take Us to Your Chief’.

‘Take Us to Your Chief’ is the latest work by award-winning Ojibway novelist and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, who was born in Curve Lake, Ontario, and has published around 30 books and over 70 plays. It is a collection of nine science-fiction short stories told from an Aboriginal perspective and tries to bridge the gap between cultures using humour.

Taylor has a knack for keeping the reader entertained by writing insightful witty observations of aboriginal life twinned with ironic and unexpected twists of futurism.

The stories cover subjects such as hostile alien invasions, government conspiracy theories, stargazing stargazers, plus space exploration, time travel and the first gay First Nations superhero.

While the writing is tongue-in-cheek, Taylor touches on some sobering issues Canadian First Nations’ communities face, many of which are ignored, or get scant coverage by the media.

Subjects such as the poor water quality in many reservations, the high suicide rates in young aboriginal males, the disappearance of native women, the lopsided native prison population and drug and alcohol addictions in the aboriginal population are interspersed throughout.  All are thought provoking issues worthy of dinner table discussions.

In ‘Petropaths’, Taylor uses time travel to illustrate the importance of cultural heritage. It is the story of Duane, a troubled Anishinabe youth, who has spent more than one stint in jail. To help him rehabilitate, and to give him some focus, his community send him to uninhabited Thunderbird Island to “understand his place in the universe” by studying ancient petroglyphs.  What happened next was not what either party expected.

Connections to the arrival of the white man are found in the title story, ‘Take us to your Chief,’ which compares the landing of an alien spaceship in Newfoundland to the first meeting of the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq chiefs with the Vikings centuries ago.

Taylor’s writing is easy to read and would appeal to anyone from a teenager to a college student, or a college student’s grandmother.

In a recent CBC interview, Taylor said he thinks people need to broaden their perspectives on Canadian literature. He pities anyone who has not.

‘Take Us to Your Chief,’ is an entertaining read.  The stories blend subtle undertones of serious social issues with 1950s style Sci-Fi story telling.  The collection can be used as a jumping off point for discussions on the wider issues of aboriginals worldwide and their treatment by the dominant culture.

The book is due to be published on Oct, 8 by Douglas and McIntyre. There is a book launch on Oct,16 at 6.30pm at Bakka-Phoenix Books, 84, Harbord St., Toronto.

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