A book that explores the destructive effects of colonialism on Indigenous peoples and the process of healing from hundreds of years of abuse does not make for light reading. In Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing, Nehiyaw writer and educator Suzanne Methot combines personal stories, community stories, and research across disciplines to present a narrative of historical trauma and offer ways in which Indigenous healing can have an impact in effecting change.
Methot addresses some of the same subjects as can be found in Tuscarora writer Alicia Elliott’s new essay collection A Mind Spread Out on the Ground; by contrast, Legacy occasionally feels like it’s written for settler colonial readers as opposed to an Indigenous audience. In particular, the first two chapters – “How Things Work, and Why Stories Matter” and “What It Means to Be Colonized” – act as background for readers who do not understand how colonialism functions, the history of abuses in colonial Canada, or the cultural value of Indigenous stories. The conditions of trauma are well understood by Indigenous peoples, who live them daily.
A particularly salient thread in the book – unsurprisingly, coming from an educator – involves the experience of Indigenous students and faculty. These sections highlight the dominant stereotypes of the Caretaker Child and the Angry Indian. Methot writes: “Indigenous peoples have been used as plot devices for settler stories since contact and colonization. When settlement began in what is now Canada and the United States, it was imperative that Indigenous peoples be portrayed as the Savage Indian, so that they could be seen as something to be feared (and thus destroyed).” The author goes on to illustrate how systems such as schools – residential schools as well as the public education system – are complicit in the continuance of this narrative.
The force of Methot’s personal testimony lends her psychological research greater potency: “I lie awake in bed at night, and I play movies in my head: I am holding a knife, and I stab my mother over and over, and there is blood everywhere. … Expressing my distress as rage makes me feel better for a while, because it gives me a way to control the emotions that I feel but do not have the skills to understand.”
Methot conceptualizes Indigenous healing as bound up in recreating connections – between people and with the natural world – that have been severed by colonialism. She also invokes the figure of the wittigo as metaphor, in the manner of Indigenous writers and scholars (for example, Waubgeshig Rice [Anishinaabe] in his recent novel Moon of the Crusted Snow). Through this invocation, and by recounting a Peskotomuhkati tale of trauma and healing, Methot illustrates a path for Indigenous healing.
Legacy is a book that is sure to be found on classroom syllabuses in years to come. It offers Indigenous readers testimony and some tools, and provides non-Indigenous readers depth of scope for understanding the relationships that exist between Indigenous peoples, their nations, and Canada.