Starting the conversation: A review of First Nations 101: Tons of Stuff You Need to Know About First Nations People

Reviewed in this essay: First Nations 101: Tons of Stuff You Need to Know About First Nations PeopleFirst Nations 101, by Lynda Gray (Adaawx, 2011, 275 pages).

I’m a First Nations survivor of the ’60s and ’70s “Scoop”, the government-imposed movement that took hundreds of Aboriginal children away from their families, culture, traditions and heritage. I was subsequently adopted out to a non-native family, and then raised in the foster care system. I wish I had had Lynda Gray’s recent book First Nations 101: Tons of Stuff You Need to Know About First Nations People in my earlier years, when I was trying to learn about my people, and our culture, traditions and heritage.

It was in 2004 that I walked into the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto to not only inquire about volunteering but to also gain further knowledge about my people. It was due to the circumstances in which I grew up that I had to look to sources outside my family in order to learn about my culture’s traditions, ceremonies, and protocol. The knowledge I gained from my experiences at the Native Canadian Centre also helped to foster in me a further desire to go back to post secondary education at the University of Toronto, and specialize in Aboriginal studies.

First Nations 101 is an informative and opinionated guide to First Nations issues. It speaks about identity, who First Nations people are, and the groups to which we are assigned by the Indian Act, status or non-status, who is Metis and who is Inuit. It touches upon the many ways in which non-Natives, including Canada’s governments, have imposed a form of social control over First Nations peoples. And it asks how we all, as a people, can forge a new path in order for everyone, Native and non-Native alike, to get along.

Unlike many other books written on Aboriginal issues, First Nations 101 gives the reader a first-hand account of the experience of a First Nations individual. Gray, who is herself Native, understands the issues and wants others to envision First Nations people in a more contemporary fashion. Her book does not present First Nations people using the usual stereotypes that are often ascribed to them in mainstream media.

Gray writes of the resilience of First Nations people, and the positive ways in which the Native people of Canada have overcome hardships. At the end of each section of First Nations 101, Gray offers a list of other resources that the reader can draw upon for more information. Educating the non-Native population is needed in order to foster widespread and long lasting positive change, and First Nations 101 does a great job of starting the conversation. Especially since many First Nations issues have been caused or perpetuated by external forces.

You can visit www.firstnations101.com for more info about the book and where to buy it.

About the author

Christine Smith (McFarlane)

Christine Smith (McFarlane) is a Saulteaux woman from Peguis First Nation and a contributing editor at The Toronto Review of Books. She has a regular column in the Native Canadian Newsletter, and freelances for Anishinabek News, First Nations House Magazine, Windspeaker, New Tribe Magazine, and firstperspective.ca.

By Christine Smith (McFarlane)