Scattered Bones Review - Herizons

Reviewed by: Lisa Tremblay

Readers who like to learn Canadian history through storytelling will be pleased with this new offering. Set in the Cree community of Pelican Narrows in northern Saskatchewan in 1924, the fascinating story that unfolds in Maggie Siggins' Scattered Bones was inspired by events reported in official documents and memoirs.

Scattered Bones offers a glimpse into early colonialism in Canada. The prologue to the book recounts two deadly battles in the 1700s between Cree who traded with the British and Sioux warriors who worked for the French. White men's conflicts with each other over land, furs and other resources resulted in enormous suffering for the tribes.

Jump 200 years later, to 1924, and we see how colonial settler conflicts-in this case between the Anglican and Catholic churches over the hearts and souls of the Cree-continued to divide, oppress and wreak havoc in the lives of the Cree nation. Exactly how the missionaries carried their gospel to the heathens is revealed: They provided food in times of need, they promised health in times of epidemics and they would put in a good word with Indian agents - if the Cree destroyed their drums and stopped practicing paganism.

While the pettiness and sheer hypocrisy of the missionaries is destructive, the Cree's restistance to assimilation is affirmed. They know that the divine is in the ancient landscape. They continue to show respect for the spirits of the animals they kill for food. Even as they succumb to the pressure to attend services in the Catholic or Anglican Church, they fight back against white merchants who unearth and sell their ancestors' bones and the belongings that were buried with them. Strong female characters in Scattered Bones enrich the story and illuminate the sexism and racism at the core of Canadian colonialism.

Siggins is an author of 12 books, including a biography of Louis Riel and a non-fiction book entitled Bitter Embrace: White Society's Assualt on the Woodland Cree. 

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