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For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son

by Richard Wagamese

Aboriginal cultures are teaching cultures. Social cohesion – important to cultures in which individuals rely on the assistance of the group – is maintained through doctrine and a sense of personal responsibility taught through story and ceremony, among other means.

For Joshua is Ojibway novelist and journalist Richard Wagamese’s story, one he hopes will teach his son some life lessons. Wagamese finally beat the demons of self-hatred and self-destructive behaviour – including the binge drinking that resulted in his current estrangement from his young son. The book describes the author’s journey from foster child to teenage runaway to successful journalist to Ojibway man.

“Ojibway man” is the only label Wagamese now wants to wear, and unlike the other stations in his life, it’s a role he had to grow into. The novelist realized that in order to teach his son, he had to first take lessons himself – lessons in being fully human. Much of the book follows Wagamese through each of the four days that he sat on a hill facing the Rocky Mountains undergoing a fast or vision quest. Wagamese tells his life story in these sections, weaving in Ojibway stories that illustrate and illuminate the various concepts he grappled with on his journey toward a whole self.

Wagamese’s struggles with cultural dislocation, prison (he was locked up at least once for no reason other than racist police attitudes), and the anger and self-hatred that masqueraded as substance abuse are symptomatic of aboriginal life in Canada. These realities are reminiscent of so many aboriginal autobiographies, but here Wagamese takes responsibility for himself and chooses happiness and healing over fear and blame.

The writer who did not know himself – and who blamed “the white man” for his troubles – has become the man who understands how things happened and who resolves to go forward. This well-written and perceptive book shows that it is possible for aboriginal people – for any person – to get back from there to here.