Lee Maracle’s most recent book is a collection of oratories delivered and performed by the author over a 20-year period. In indigenous culture, oratories are speeches given to transmit knowledge and values preserved through generations. Maracle’s style of oratory is unique to the Coast Salish people, and the Stó:lo people in particular.
One of Canada’s most prolific and active aboriginal writers and thinkers, Maracle touches on the importance of memory as a way to understand the culture of Canada’s indigenous people. Her oratories are philosophical, gutsy, and entrenched in personal and political history. In “Salmon Is the Hub of Salish Memory,” Maracle connects death of the salmon with the tragedy of 9/11 to illustrate how the natural world is connected to human pain and tragedy. Elsewhere, she pays homage to other indigenous writers and their work, and honours feminist tradition and indigenous spirituality. Memory Serves is political, eco-critical, and environmental, as well as being feminist and historical.
The book is similar to Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian, but more philosophical and less geared toward western sensibilities. The oratories force the reader to adjust to the weaving, circular indigenous way of storytelling and conveying meaning, which results in a work that is less accessible and straightforward than King’s, and written for an audience that may already have some familiarity with indigenous culture and history.
But Maracle’s collection is a powerful showcase of her work, and would be a worthy addition to any university indigenous studies course. The topics she covers, the approaches she employs, and the strength of her language highlight the reasons the author has been a driving force in Canadian aboriginal culture for decades. Memory Serves adds to the vital canon of Canadian aboriginal literature.