Reclaiming our names

Our son’s full name is Jiikwis Dean Manoominii. There are many stories behind it, as with any name in any culture. He’s lived with it for more than two and a half years now, and we all echo it proudly amongst friends, family, and strangers. He can pronounce every syllable now, which are the sweetest sounds to a parent’s ears.

My wife Sarah and I put a lot of thought into his name before he arrived. It was important to us as Anishinaabeg to have his name reflect his culture, language, and family history. And as is custom in many Anishinaabe communities, we asked for help to determine what he would be called for the rest of his life. Naming him was a family affair, and we didn’t want it any other way.

Shortly after we found out a child was coming to us, I offered my father semaa (tobacco) to find a name. Where I’m from, elders are often asked to help name children. It’s a custom steeped in respect and ceremony, and we were proud to carry it forward. My grandmother named me after her father; an act that has firmly connected me to my family and community throughout my life. We wanted the same for our child.

He was born early and very traumatically. He spent his first days without a name because we weren’t ready for him. As he and his mother recovered in hospital, my father and stepmother visited us. It was then we learned from my dad that our son would be called Jiikwis, a word that can mean “first born”, “first son”, or “oldest brother” in Anishinaabemowin. It refers to Majiikwis, a key figure in immemorial Anishinaabe stories.

His second name, Dean, is an homage to his great-grandfather of the same name on his mother’s side. She and I are both of mixed Anishinaabe and Canadian heritage, so we felt a name in English was important to include as well. Determining his last name, though, was a more significant act of reclamation.

Manoominii is a variation of the word for wild rice in the Anishinaabe language, and it’s what his wild rice-farming ancestors on my side used to be called. In the mid-19th Century, they were among a group of Potawatomi people who fled the territory now known as Wisconsin, forced out by the Indian Removal Act signed by U.S. President Andrew Jackson years earlier. They settled around the Great Lakes, joining people who had established long-standing Anishinaabe communities in the region.

When the Indian Act was passed in Canada in 1876, the federal government forced Indigenous people to register as “Indians” under the state. My great-great-grandfather, known as John Menominee, was told he had to change what was considered his last name in order to do so. (Anishinaabeg didn’t traditionally use last names, and how he came to be called John Menominee is unknown.)

The Canadian authorities gave him the surname “Rice” because it was a translation they identified for Menominee (Manoominii), and it’s what that branch of my family has been known as since. Our wild rice heritage was thus erased in name, and would only be passed down in story.

In recent decades, though, some of my relatives have reclaimed that identity. Two of my aunts legally changed Rice back to Menominee, and one of my uncles registered his children with that last name at birth. That inspired us to do the same for Jiikwis, using a more modern spelling according to the now widely-adopted double vowel system. And it was fairly easy to do.

When we registered his birth online through Service Ontario, we had the option to give him a different last name. It was as simple as selecting an option from a drop-down menu and typing Manoominii into a box. There was no additional cost, and his birth certificate arrived shortly after with his name spelled out as such, for as long as he decides to carry it.

He’ll know the stories of his names as he grows up. Hopefully he’ll be proud of them. But he’ll be very aware of the history of his people, and how colonialism has attempted to tear down and erase their identity. Just speaking his name is act of resistance and reclamation. They’re words and stories the settler authorities didn’t want spoken on this land any longer. Yet here they are, echoing for generations to come.

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Mid-winter intermission

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It’s been a busy time since Moon of the Crusted Snow was published in the fall. But once winter arrived, I was able to slow everything down a bit and spend some quiet time with my wife and son. We’ve mostly stayed close to home here in Sudbury, which has been really nice and relaxing. It’s also been somewhat necessary to stay put, given the intense weather we’ve had here in northern Ontario so far this winter. So I’ve taken a bit of an intermission from writing over the past couple of months.

I travelled a lot over the fall to visit festivals and read at events to promote the new book. I also did a lot of writing in my spare time, hence no updates at this blog. But I did have one special opportunity that sort of reignited my interest to do a lot more personal writing here. To coincide with the release of Moon of the Crusted Snow, I was invited to serve as Writer-in-Residence for Open Book. It was a wonderful experience that allowed me to really reflect on writing that story, literary storytelling in general, and some of the issues I’ve grappled with as a Anishinaabe author. Here are the posts I wrote for Open Book over the month of October:

Binaakwe Giizis – Moon of Falling Leaves
Telling and Writing the End of the World
“How do you find time to write?”
Early Influences
My friend Richard
Uncomfortable Questions
Characters like family
Journalism and Fiction
We’ve always been here

Big thanks to the wonderful team at Open Book for that great opportunity. I will revisit some of those discussions in this space in the coming months. Needless to say the journey with this book has been an exciting one so far, and I’m very thankful for everyone who’s read it, and for those who have invited me to share it across the land.

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I also had many kind invitations to discuss the story in a variety of media. I’m honoured that many tremendous people took the time to chat with me about this book. Here are those interviews:

CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers
CBC Radio’s Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild
Can’t Lit with Dina Del Bucchia and Jen Sookfong Lee
Get Lit with Jamie Tennant
The Hamilton Review of Books with Andrew Wilmot
Black Gate: Adventures in Fantasy Literature with Brandon Crilly
Eden Mills Writers Festival Author Q & A with Anna Bowen
Book Box Love

Some generous reviewers and writers also took the time to offer their thoughts and analysis of Moon of the Crusted Snow, and to have it discussed in so many ways is a humbling and encouraging experience. Here are some of those articles:

Dystopian novel pays ‘homage to the everyday people on reserves across Canada’ (The Toronto Star)
Dystopian reservation fiction delivers (Winnipeg Free Press)
Moon of the Crusted Snow author Waubgeshig Rice and the stories that shaped him (Globe and Mail)
Kevin Hardcastle’s favourite Canadian book of 2018: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (CBC Books)
Foreword Reviews
Seattle Book Review

And to my greatest surprise, Moon of the Crusted Snow ended up on a few best-of-2018 lists. What an honour!

The Globe 100 (Globe and Mail)
2018 Books of the Year: Fiction (49th Shelf)
The 18 Best Books Of 2018 (Chatelaine)
The best Canadian fiction of 2018 (CBC Books)

I share all these links not just to draw attention to the book and the praise it may have received, but to provide a resource for future discussions about its characters, setting, literary elements, and more. The Moon of the Crusted Snow journey continues with more events and readings this spring. I’ll share details as they’re confirmed, and I promise to write more here. Miigwech!

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Moon of the Crusted Snow has arrived

Moon of the Crusted Snow

While it’s already been on shelves in many stores for weeks, today is the official publication date for my new novel Moon of the Crusted Snow. I’m very happy to have this story out in the world, and I can’t wait to share it with more and more people as I travel across the land this fall. This book has been a labour of love for many years now, and it’s both a relief and a thrill to have it finished and available to readers everywhere. My sincerest thanks to my wonderful publisher ECW Press for making this dream come true. For those unfamiliar with this latest endeavour of mine, here’s a synopsis:

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.
The community leadearship loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.

In the lead-up to the book’s release, I had the privilege of attending festivals in Eden Mills, Toronto, and Kingston last month to read and discuss it with some great audiences. The response at these events was very overwhelming and heartwarming, and I’m honoured and humbled to be able to share this story in these ways. And this tour is just getting started; I have more events lined up for the rest of the fall.

Moon of the Crusted Snow Tour

Here are details for the remainder of those dates:

October 13-14 – Calgary Wordfest
October 18-20 – Vancouver Writers Festival
October 27 – Toronto International Festival of Authors
October 28 – Ottawa International Writers Festival
November 2 – Wordstock Sudbury
November 10 – Parry Sound Books
November 17 – McNally Robinson Winnipeg

And there’ll be more to come in the winter and spring! I’ll post updates here as well as on Facebook and Twitter as more readings and events are confirmed, so please follow those accounts for the latest.

To coincide with the book’s release, I’ve been invited by the great people at Open Book to serve as their Writer In Residence for the month of October. It’s an exciting opportunity to write about the story’s origin, some of its wider themes, my writing and storytelling background, my thoughts and experiences related to publishing and literature in Canada, and more. They kicked off my residency with a fun Q & A, and my first post went up yesterday. I plan to write at least ten more entries before the month’s over, so please visit the Open Book site regularly. Hopefully it’ll inspire me to write more on this here blog 😉

I’ll also likely share more articles and other media connected to the book in the coming months, including both positive and negative reviews in the spirit of balance and accountability (here’s a nice little one from Publisher’s Weekly). Because I spend most of my time on the questioning side of the mic, being interviewed is always a little strange for me, but I’m always happy to have the opportunity to talk about the things I love to do. So hopefully there’ll be some worthwhile insights and interesting anecdotes in those forthcoming articles and interviews.

Having Moon of the Crusted Snow available to the world is a dream come true. I’m very thankful for all the guidance and support I’ve received over the years to get here. The growing interest in this story is truly humbling. It’s an honour to be able to share it with you all. Chi-miigwech!

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