Reviews for Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song and Thoughts

After taking more time to ruminate on the reviews I had read for Celia’s Song, I have been thinking a lot about Nolan and bad medicine. More specifically, can ‘positive’ reviews be bad medicine if they praise the author and the book but seem to completely miss the implications of Indigenous literature on settler society and representation of narratives and histories? It wasn’t something I had considered when all of the bad reviews were so obviously bad. I often think of subtlety and insidious nature of ongoing colonial violence and the ‘soft assimilation’ policies that the canadian govt. traded for residential school and cultural bans / restrictions to voting. Why should seemingly positive reviews not be subject to the same careful critique that I apply to speech habits, ‘progressive’ legislation and reconciliation efforts? The answer is, I now believe, that they shouldn’t be.

I am not upset about the positivity that Maracle has the ability to attract from popular media and from such a varied set of reviewers. Only, I am suspect of taking positive reviews and praise at their face value and am interested in the ways that positivity and approval can act as veiled colonial violence or white / settler narcissism (popularly called ‘white guilt’).


I’ll post links from some of the reviews I read, excepts I found relevant, and some thoughts on the implications.

Vancouver Sun – Maracle’s Celia’s Song well worth hearing

  • “Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song well worth hearing… While Maracle invokes many voices in telling her tale, the mythic Mink and the conflicted Celia, torn between her awakening powers to see hidden realities and her discomfort with the harsh responsibilities imposed by what she sees, are the lead singers in a book that is like an intricate communal song, recording the storms of colonialism, racism, and residential school abuse that have swept through her community and the consequences of those storms in the lives of her family and village.” –  Tom Sandborn

If I can use the vernacular of our time, this reviewer seemed to be the most ‘woke’ in terms of reading and reviewing Indigenous literature. He recognized the impacts of settler colonialism throughout his review and used diction common to the field (ex. “in what settler’s call B.C.” ) and even spoke to the gendered way that colonialism disproportionately favored Indigenous men when it came time to start publishing Indigenous authors. This was one of the better, more productive reviews I have read during my time in our class.

Quill & Quire

  • “In gentle yet powerful prose, Maracle underscores the horrifying impact of the Residential School System, the ongoing problem of suicide, and the loss of tradition that continue to plague First Nations communities. She also suggests that alongside death and destruction there is hope for new beginnings.” – Dana Hansen

So, on the surface I guess there is nothing really wrong with this article. But this is what I was referring to in my introduction to the reviews. It pretty consistently uses past tense verbs, which is a not-so-subtle way of telling the reader / audience that these issues are of the past – even as Maracle is writing about them. It is also more focused than many of the others on the aspect of reconciliation, healing, and moving forward from these traumas and ongoing colonial imposition. This seems to be a popular narrative for white settlers; they’d rather Indigenous folks on the land ‘forget about it,’ or at least be responsible for their own fast healing practices. Settler society – white or otherwise – must not turn away from the hard and harsh aspects of healing. We are all implicated in the colonial present and community healing must involve all the inhabitants of the land – even if that healing means that settlers will see some harsh truths and have to face their own involvement in and benefit from colonial violence. It’s almost like this article is lauding Maracle for offering a narrative of a family and community who have gone through terrible trauma and heal despite it, because of it. This narrative of healing is a powerful and necessary one, but not to be interpreted as proof that Indigenous folks can ‘get over’ colonialism or that they shouldn’t still be fighting, along with their allies, for liberation from the colonial system that continues to ensnare us all.


The Winnipeg Review

    • “Reading Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song feels like the best breathing I’ve ever done…Maracle includes a funny chapter in which a group of white marine biologists see a mysterious shadow on a film – the serpent. Their argument for what it could be reflects the limitations of Western empirical thought.” –  Lynne C. Martin

This review, while again very positive, seems to be the type of review that could have the most potential insidious damage. This reviewer is expounding upon her personal revelation that the novel gave her and her relateability to Celia based on her womanhood. I’m sure we are all aware of the shortcomings of the type of feminism that calls for ‘universal sisterhood’ and unity while ignoring intersectionality, inherent privilege and the complexity of social justice issues. To drive this home, the reviewer mentions how happy she is that Maracle included white characters as part of Celia’s chosen family (reminding me of Grand Mamas) and doesn’t dehumanize the abuser of the story. I get the sense from this review that the reviewer is of a group of people who want absolution of their possible ancestral involvement with colonial violence while ignoring that they are taking part in the ongoing violence of colonialism; not being personally racist or violent herself. It is ok to stand with Indigenous folks, but not to watch and listen and then hope for your involvement to end once you decry the colonial system and the violence it perpetuates. As we spoke about in class witnessing and deconstructing the colonial power structure is an active and an ongoing procedure for Native and non-Native folks and any allies to the causes of social justice.


There are many more reviews of not only Celia’s Song but all of Maracle’s work and I would recommend, if you want more examples to comb through and critique, reading through them to see more of this subtle bad medicine at work.

I’ll post here one of the questions I had wanted to ask at the end of this presentation but didn’t get the chance to:

  • How does Maracle use storytelling differently than performance based artists? What are some of the different advantages and disadvantages to producing varied types of media?

– i ask this because of some negative comments i have heard about written texts: stories are alive and should change to reflect the audience, the situation, the time, etc. theatrical productions, through the work of dramaturgy, can be and often is a living and changing piece of artwork. dances tell specific stories or phenomenon, etc. although i will say, that for any who have seen Maracle speak, i think its fair to conclude that if she were the one reading the written texts would be as fluid and situation specific as a story that is being told through memory.

Songs sung by Jack Charles

hi everyone!

i just thought i’d post a video of my favorite recording i’ve found of Jack Charles singing Son of Mine (the song i brought up in class a while back) which he performs in Jack Charles v The Crown.

i’m also going to provide the link to buy the cd with the music from the play. just in case any of you, like me, really loved the music and want to be able to listen all the time!

the poem for the song Son of Mine (below) is transcribed under the video. the poet who wrote the words Jack is singing is called Oodgeroo Noonuccal and she is also Aboriginal Australian. enjoy!


My son, your troubled eyes search mine                                               Puzzled and hurt by colour line.                                                                 Your black skin soft as velvet shine;                                                         What will I tell you, son of mine?

Well, I could tell you of heartache, hatred blind,                                              I could tell you of crimes that shame mankind,                                            Of brutal wrongs and deeds malign,                                                              Of rape and murder, son of mine.

But I’ll tell instead of brave and fine,                                                      When lives of black and white entwine,                                                        And men in brotherhood combine,                                                              This will I tell you, son of mine.

Reel Reservations: Number 14 and Dancing the Space In Between

ermen’s notes for FNIS 401M presentation:

Reel Reservations Films Shown: Number 14, Dancing the Space In Between

Synopsis: This ‘docu-drama’ is about a 17 year old Gitxsan and Coast Salish hockey player named Jordan Wilson. Jordan is a kind and charismatic young man who loves his family, is involved with his community and is a naturally talented fisher. We spend the first half of the movie following Sasha Perry, the actor playing Jordan, through what seems like a normal day. He wakes up, plays video games, checks his facebook page and gets ready for his hockey game later that day. During the game, we are provided facebook updates from his family and learn of his altruism when he passes the winning shot to a teammate who hasn’t scored a goal all season. Jordan plans to stay home the evening after the game, but he receives what seem like endless texts asking where he is, when will he get there, do you know whose here?? Jordan ends up going to the party, though his parents think he has stayed home. At the party, he drinks beyond his capacity and gets highly intoxicated. On his walk home, he gets into a car that we have previously learned is his dream car and it has the keys in it. While he is sitting in the driver’s seat he gets a text from his sister saying that his friend Mike, who he had been looking for earlier, had crashed his bicycle on the way home and was at the hospital. Some of Jordan’s family members believe that he was trying to make sure his friend was ok when he started the car and began driving toward the vicinity of the hospital. He gets into a fatal car crash to the devastation of his family, community and team.

Maintenance of protocol: Before the screenings began, the MC of the event began by making a land acknowledgement and thanking the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh people for the continued use of their lands. This acknowledgement was noticeably different, for me, than at many of the other events I have attended – the difference was that there was no round of applause after the speaker was finished. I don’t know which factors may contribute to these differences in reception and reaction of a land acknowledgement.

Protocol was also maintained throughout the talkback which occurred after the show. Everyone who decided to ask a question of or give a comment to Jordan’s mother first thanked her for sharing her story and for allowing them to be a part of the message that Jordan had for the world, and she would return the thanks. During the talkback, there was also a lot of discussion on the grassroots nature of this film and the support and strength of the Gitxsan community and family network. Marie Clements is dedicated to Jordan’s story and his family, community included. Some of the talkback discussion was about how Jordan’s story pushes against stereotypes for Native Youth and shows the strong and rippling impact that the youth have on a family, a community, a Nation. All of this reminded me of Nolan’s discussions of ceremony throughout that titular chapter of Medicine Shows. The ceremony discussed by Nolan in the context of performance and performance based media involves the processes of speaking, singing, and dancing people, places and times into existence. Jordan’s mom shared with the audience how she ended up working with Marie because she felt that Jordan had a message to share and more work to do for people left behind. This film will hopefully be shown in highschools are to hockey teams in order to help teach youth the importance of relying on your loved ones and also the importance of making sure you are actively teaching the children around you how to stay safe. The short piece played after Number 14 was called Dancing the Space In Between and was a comment on the time and space between life and death and the ceremony song and dance that occupy that space. It is very complementary and grounding after the very emotional showing of Number 14.


Discussion Question: – What are some of the other ways we have witnessed / heard about performances and performance based media that function acts of healing and teaching for audiences and communities?