North’s memoir insightful, engaging
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This article was published 27/03/2022 (363 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Social issues can seem theoretical and distant until they are connected to real people and shown as part of what makes members of the community who they are.
As former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North writes in her memoir My Privilege, My Responsibility, the direction of her life is the result of family history, the struggles of being Indigenous in Canada and her personal choices, both good and bad. Together, these influences have made her what she is now.
North is a journalist and activist currently living in Winnipeg. She served for three years as Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and later ran as a candidate for the position of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Much of her work has revolved around Indigenous issues such as the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women. She was named one of Chatelaine magazine’s Top 30 Women of 2015 and has been nominated for a Gemini award.
At times, the family story in My Privilege, My Responsibility might almost read like a case study of everything that has gone wrong for Indigenous people in Canada. The author’s grandmother attended a residential school, and North’s childhood in the Bunibonibee Cree Nation included food insecurity and inconsistent access to amenities such as running water.
The community where she lived was subject to outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis; meanwhile, limited access to the area in winter by ice roads left the people isolated from the outside world, an advantage during COVID-19 but otherwise a problem as the community dealt with many difficult issues.
Despite the struggles she experienced while growing up, North remembers her upbringing with gratitude. Her parents were hospitable and caring advocates in the community, showing their family how to live a good life. Even with this strong beginning, North went through many traumatic experiences, including an assault when she was still young and later a marriage that almost crushed her.
Yet North was still able to learn from what had happened to her and to take these insights into her campaign when she ran for the position of Grand Chief of the MKO, a position she held for three years. She later ran for leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, although she was unsuccessful in that campaign.
The second half of the memoir describes many of the insights North has gained into a variety of issues affecting the people from her community and beyond, including the missing and murdered Indigenous women and #MeToo movements.
My Privilege, My Responsibility is an engaging book with many insights into the issues Indigenous people face, told through the perspective of someone who has witnessed or experienced these struggles. While the first half of the book is much more personal than the second part, the two segments fit together to provide readers with many valuable insights into the author’s life and community.
Although the editing is inconsistent at times, the book is an interesting and informative memoir.
Susan Huebert is a Winnipeg writer and editor.
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