In her haunting, lyrical debut memoir, acclaimed Indigenous activist and writer Helen Knott – recipient of a 2019 RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Author honour – sheds light on her addiction and mental health struggles, providing a frank and unflinching look at a young woman’s emotional journey to reclaim her heritage and self.
Raised in a loving family that nonetheless struggled with its own ghosts – an alcoholic mother, a father who dealt with his family’s troubles by working long hours and leaving his children to weather home life alone – Knott’s life as a young Indigenous woman falls into disarray in her teens, as the spectre of childhood sexual abuse rears its head in a vicious cycle of rape and substance misuse. The cycle culminates in Knott, as a young twentysomething, fleeing her parents and young son to seek oblivion in Edmonton. It is here, helped by the grace and love of friends old and new, that Knott unexpectedly manages to find her own path forward once again.
Knott is a powerful stylist who uses the cyclical nature of story to her fullest advantage, gradually revealing the catalyst for her own descent in a manner at once gripping and gentle. It comes as no surprise to read about the impact of Knott’s activist work: her journey to Sweden to speak at the United Nations on Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and a recounting of her time in South America building a school are testaments to the writer’s ability to let both belief and despair propel her as she moves through the world. Her journey toward reclamation and the full embrace of her identity as a Dane Zaa and Nehiyaw woman is likewise tender and complex, and the empathy Knott ultimately extends toward herself speaks to the power in her voice, and the power of her ancestors, in a way that’s genuinely thrilling.
In My Own Moccasins is an incredibly forceful and moving book, the embodiment of what it means to reconcile, both with oneself and with others.