Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Launch of A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-nee Chacaby with Mary Louise Plummer

Elder Isabelle Mercier (with Joan Baril) who opened and closed the gathering with smudging and prayers

The launch of Ma-nee Chacaby's book, "A Two-Spirit Journey" was attended by laughter and smiles when she read about the antics of her childhood. It was also attended by profound sadness as she spoke about the violence she experienced when she was a child, a married woman and an alcoholic living on the streets. 

I have almost finished reading it (stayed up most of the night) and the contrast between light and dark, a life of brutality and a life of social activism, had me smiling and often, crying. Ma-nee's life was saved by her many friends, by AA and by a firm spiritual belief. Although she managed to survive many trials, she was still beaten on the streets for coming out as a lesbian. This book is an immediate classic on a par with Maria Campbell's book "Halfbreed." Every page trembles with a searing honesty.

The first sentence: "My name is Ma-nee Chacaby. I am an Ojibwa-Cree elder, and I have both a male and female spirit inside me. I have experienced a long, complicated, and sometimes challenging journey over the course of my life."

This is a book about violence and secrets. When a girl was raped in Ma-nee's community or a child was sexually abused, the victims were cautioned to keep quiet. Marital violence was overlooked. Ma-nee is blunt about the alcoholism in her village, her own alcoholism and the alcoholism, drugs and physical and sexual violence on the streets of Thunder Bay where she lived as she said, "as a bum." Pervasive racism worked to keep her there but she also received help from many kindly friends, social workers and members of her family.

The book is a first rate production with many photos and examples of Ma-nee's art work. In the excellent "Afterword," Mary Louise Plumber tells us how the book came about and its place in the broader field of indigenous literature. I was happy to see, at the end, a glossary of Ojibwe words, a list of people mentioned and a strong bibliography. A class act all round. 

The large audience at Lakehead University on Monday afternoon May 16, were spellbound with wonder at Ma-nee's great strength and resilience. Afterwards people  lined up and sold out the books within a few minutes Then they lined up to put their names down on a list to be called as soon as more books came into the University Bookstore.

Ma-nee signing books. One of her paintings lies on the table as an example of her work as an artist.
Ma-nee Chacaby at the Launch
photos Joan M. Baril

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