Kinew, Wab. “The Reason You Walk”

ISBN: 978-0-670-06934-7

While many literary critics would argue that “The Reason You Walk” is not eloquently written, and lacks the common appeal for literature- I beg to differ. We cannot put a value to a book simply by the choice of words its author chose; true value comes from the story it teaches.

This book holds the Truth- the raw truth; this is a Canadian, a member of the First Nations, who has chosen to share his world with us. How many authors can speak many languages, embody the entire history of their race and still give us the raw truth? Not many, that’s for sure. So, while many readers might have been wanting a more sugar-coated version of the Canadian Experience, they should opt for a more truthful version, such as the one “The Reason You Walk” offers. Yes, Canadians are the first to speak up against injustice, but only when it is done by others- they tend to turn a blind eye towards the discrimination here at home. I would suggest that this book becomes a mandatory read in high schools across the nation!

“The Reason You Walk” is not only a memoir, but it is a book on closure; closure from pain; closure from anger; it is a book that describes closure that comes from within one’s self, a closure that can only come through forgiveness and love. It is a tale told by one of the best storytellers, Wab Kinew, who keeps with the custom of his people, by trying to educate us through a story.

Few words are spent describing the abuses that took place in residential schools, instead, the majority of the book highlights the impacts these experience have had on future generations- effects felt to this day. A great injustice was done and is still being done to the individuals who came to this land before we were even conceived. To be punished for speaking one’s mother tongue, to be punished for paying respect for your deceased father, to be punished for being oneself-I can’t even- but to overcome all that hatred, and conquer it with forgiveness and love- that is a strength, we should try to achieve. I am proud that the Canadian Government acknowledged and apologized for their predecessors’ actions, but agree that much more work needs to be done.

Wab Kinew touches on various aspects of the cultures of his people, not to glorify them, or to put them on a pedestal- but to make the world educated. He doesn’t need fancy words, metaphors or sugar coating, as his culture’s richness speaks through the simple day to day activities. Whether he is describing a sundance, a smudge, a horse, his father’s appearance, or a vision- the power of his culture seeps through his words.

While the surface of this story is about a young boy watching his father, Tobasonakwut, whom he calls Ndede, transform. Forgiveness runs deep in this book. The Adoption ceremony, centre of this story, is so powerful that it uproots any hatred that might be in the history between the families of both participants- whether they come from the Lakota, or from a Catholic Race. Once humans understand that they all are from the same Creator, and must live in harmony while sharing the same resources, peace is achievable.

Tobasonakwut initially transforms from a young innocent boy to a child who is abused in every aspect possible. This young boy survives the extreme discrimination and lessons of hatred- but not without a price. He bottles his anger and resentfulness inside until he cannot contain the hate monster anymore. It is then, that he experiments with alcohol and continues his downward spiral. Luckily, his culture and beliefs are strong enough, to give him the strength to transform again- into a loving grandfather who forgives those who were responsible for the loss of his people and for the loss of his youth.

Try to fathom the impact this transformation had on the young Wab Kinew– who followed his father’s footsteps for a while, before venturing out to make his own path. Kinew has the qualities of a leader; a leader who fights to use the word “survivor” when describing those who survived residential schools, a leader who has remarkable visions that teach him empathy, a Chief who protects his culture by advocating for Native Language classes at University of Winnipeg; perhaps the most valuable qualities he holds is as a son who loves his father more than words can portray.

As a Canadian, as a fellow human, and a book addict- I strongly suggest that you pick this book up and give it a read.  While you are at it, try to read up on the various First Nations who reside in North America.

I must admit, despite being very familiar with the Haida, this was one of the first books I have ever read, written by an Anishinaabe- and I felt honoured to be given the privilege of catching a glimpse of the culture. So, with a humble heart, I say, Haw’aa.


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