To immerse oneself in Elaine Alec’s CALLING MY SPIRIT BACK is to learn to cultivate the restorative energies of safe space, along with mutual respect within a system set up to implement and maintain destruction of native communities in service to land grabs which continue to this day. Undoing such longstanding damage is not a cakewalk, as the author’s memoir attests. Part personal stories somewhat reminiscent of works by Louise Erdrich and Chrystos, part outlay of raw, sorrowful facts regarding the world’s colonial legacy, in the vein of Murder By Decree: The Crime of Genocide in Canada, Alec’s book unfolds slowly in the rhythm of a spiral, often doubling back in time to revisit childhood events related to the author’s need to heal. The stories cannot be breezed through; they must be approached and absorbed mindfully. Unlike tales that reflect only painful experiences of First Nation individuals–hard stuff including child abuse, intergenerational alcoholism, and sexual predation by elders–there is also light, not only at the end of the tunnel but also all along the way.
Most likely to feel of value to both indigenous as well as non-indigenous readers are long suppressed truths revealing traditional means known to heal native individuals, their communities, and the Land. Such means are often encoded in the very stories (captikwl) and language (nsyilxcen) colonial forces tried to systematically stamp out. For example, the four stages of evolution from st’elsqilxw (“torn from the earth”) through ?awtma?sqilxw (those struggling since the arrival of the newcomers) are explored. Especially touching is the sweet, nurturing relationship between Alec and her tema (grandmother) who was also known as Philomen Francois, since missionaries invading native territories often renamed people to suit their purposes and record keeping.
Is it possible to move past the injustices that occurred? CALLING MY SPIRIT BACK journeys deep into how people from all communities might authentically begin to heal these kinds of facts: Indian Agents came bearing illegal alcohol to bribe native people to sign over land transfer deeds. Arriving settlers (many descendants of whom remain alive today) felt entitled to divert water from stolen native lands in order to benefit only their cattle and crops, leaving native elders noting that when the creeks dried up the teachings stopped. The Department of Indian Affairs and other agencies promoted (and continue to promote) divisive competition for Federal dollars amongst tribal nations, as well as activist groups. Can forgiveness across lines of race and culture take hold when full accountability for atrocities committed against children at involuntary residential schools in the name of religion/’civilization’ have yet to even be fully acknowledged by the perpetrating parties and while churches create statues to honor their genocidal efforts? It is likely there will be no real reconciliation until all Truth regarding such appalling wrongs are told. And heard. And equitably resolved. This memoir is a step in that direction, and should be required reading at educational institutions, seminaries, and governmental trainings.
In response to the oft-repeated question of why navigating towards positive change always seems so difficult, CALLING MY SPIRIT BACK by Elaine Alec provides mythical and modern-day answers regarding what it takes to become whole within an overall system still structured to uphold the harmful colonial priorities of profit before people.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader