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Kreiner, Philip.

Toronto, Doubleday, 1987. 243pp, cloth. $19.95, ISBN 0-385-25102-5. CIP

Reviewed by Sharon A. McLennanMcCue

Volume 16 Number 1
1988 January

Since Jacques Cartier first set foot on what would eventually be Canadian soil, the relationship between whites and Indians has been puzzling at best, hostile and destructive at worst. For almost that long, Canadian writers have been trying to describe this white-Indian relationship, first in non-fiction and then in fiction, with varying degrees of success. The challenge of setting white-Indian relationships down on paper is not an easy one because it is difficult to be objective, and yet, without that objectivity, the reader cannot honestly understand the relationship's dynamics.

This is Philip Kreiner's second attempt at describing these relationships. His first attempt, People Like Us in a Place Like This,* was short -listed for the Governor General's Award, but this is a much better book on more than one front. The narrator of this book is Joe, a white school teacher who comes to teach secondary students in Fort Henrietta—Maria, an isolated community in the James Bay area. Joe wants to know more about the Indian way of life, which is in danger because of the rapid technological changes taking place to accommodate a huge dam which is being built in the centre of the Indians' hunting lands. Does this sound familiar? Perhaps knowing that Philip Kreiner was a teacher in Fort George when the world's largest power dams were being built on the river that passed by will put this in perspective.

There can be no doubt that the 1970’s were an incredibly difficult time in the lives of the free of James Bay. This novel chronicles some of those difficult times, but it is, for the most part, a record of white observations of the social upheaval that the dam and consequent relocation of the village caused. It was a time when nothing could be counted on. The teachers could not count on support from cither their administrators or the Cree community they served. The Crees could not count on support from the federal government, whose duty it was to protect them, nor from the provincial government, whose greed for electrical energy led it to totally disregard the environmental destruction and cultural genocide which the hydroelectric development was causing to the land and the people of James Bay.

Many of the whites who came, came only for the jobs, but others came to learn, to help and find out more about the people amongst whom they were living. The Cree did not make it easy for the second group, but why should they? They had three hundred years full of reasons to mistrust. Joe is eventually befriended by a Cree family, and he is allowed to see a part of their life, a part that most non-Crees can only hope to learn about. But in the end, the truth about the Cree-white relationship comes from Joe's best friend, a Cree who tells him "Today, as on every other day, you're just gathering stories about us to take back and amuse your friends."

The village Philip Kreiner writes about has been relocated to accommodate the world's largest power dam. The community is now made up of different shades of cedar-sided houses, each with running water and electricity. There is a hospital, a large school, and a community shopping centre with three stores, a post office and a bank. But white-Cree relationships haven't changed a lot since Philip Kreiner was here. I have some idea about that because Fort George, now Chisasibi, is my home.

This is not an easy book to take if you think a lot about it. It is a book centered around how great the lack of understanding can be among the members of the human race. I hope that Mr. Kreiner's friends are amused.

Reviewed vol. XI/5 September 1983 p.202.

Sharon A. McLennan McCue, Cree School Board, Chisasibi, James Bay, Que.
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