Midnight Sweatlodge is a collection of short stories by author Waubgeshig Rice that explores the unique challenges faced by young Aboriginal people in contemporary Canada. The stories follow the characters as they confront isolation, depression, substance abuse and identity crises while on the verge of reclaiming their culture. Their experiences are woven together in a sweatlodge setting, where an elder guides them through an ancient healing process and helps open their eyes to the old ways. Each journey is heartfelt, introspective, intense, and enlightening. The book ends as one of them stumbles upon a venerable relic and tips off a watershed moment for himself and his people.
The rocks lit up, and scorching steam pumped out of the pit and billowed into the tarps and branches that made up the low ceiling of the sweatlodge. The glow of the stones faded and it became instantly hot and hard to breathe. Brown skin shimmered in the dark. Heartbeats vibrated through bare shoulders and thighs rubbing side by side. The elder splashed water on the rocks four more times.
“I have brought you all here tonight because you need this. I have known each of you since you were babies, bringing new hope and joy into this community. But that hope has been gone for a long time and I know you aren’t happy anymore. None of you. It’s not your fault, but it’s up to you to restore that hope, and the old ways. This can help.
“We sit here tonight because we need to cleanse our spirits. We’ll sing songs to the four directions and learn from each of them. This will give you a better understanding of who you are as Anishinaabe people. This place represents the womb of Mother Earth. In here you are back with your mother. The purest you have aver been. But there is a delicate balance between here, the Spirit World, and the world we know outside. The world we struggle with every day. When I pour this water on these rocks it cleanses you inside and out. But you need to help yourself too.”
Waubgeshig Rice is a broadcast journalist and author. He grew up in Wasauksing, an Anishinaabe community on the shores of Georgian Bay. As a child, traditional Anishinaabe storytelling enthralled him, and he began writing his own stories as a creative outlet and to pass the time on the rez. At 17, he spent a year in Germany on student exchange, and writing reports on his experiences for newspapers back home gave him his first taste of journalism. He graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 2002. Since then, his articles, essays and columns have been published in national newspapers and magazines. As a broadcast journalist, he has filed reports from across Canada, produced current affairs radio shows, and hosted and produced television features and documentaries for CBC. Midnight Sweatlodge is his debut collection of fiction, and was published in 2011 by Theytus Books.