We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us
By Katherine Palmer Gordon
(Published by Harbour Publishing)
Review by Shari Narine
Recent health developments surrounding former Vancouver Canucks’ hockey player Gino Odjick is a clear indication that he is a man, who has broken through the racial divide.
Odjick is one of 16 First Nations people in British Columbia highlighted in Katherine Palmer Gordon’s book We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us. And Odjick’s song is strong.
Odjick, who is Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nations in Quebec, is claimed by Gordon as a west coast face because upon retiring from hockey in 2002, Odjick made B.C. his home. Gordon refers to Odjick as “put(ting) his money where his mouth is, investing in numerous initiatives and partnerships supporting First Nations development and employment.” Odjick’s commitment to bettering other peoples’ lives was recognized by fans, who gathered outside Vancouver General Hospital to show their respect when Odjick made it known through the Canucks website that he had been diagnosed with AL amyloidosis, a rare terminal disease. And Odjick, despite shortness of breath, went outside to acknowledge his fans, once more showing his commitment to others.
“I believe that seeing us as human beings, as people with our own unique perspectives and lives, is a fundamental first step toward understanding who we are, rejecting false and imposed stereotypes, and ultimately reaching reconciliation,” writes former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo in the foreward of We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us.
It is this connection between First Nations people and the rest of Canada that Gordon strives to relay through the array of people, whose lives she celebrates.
Reading about these people, who range from artists to environmentalists to scientists to actors, it is clear that they have one thing in common: a belief in the importance of their cultural heritage in all aspects of their lives. However, not all of them were raised with this belief. Some of them came to this understanding through trial. But all of them are now at that point and it is no accident that they are successful both in their professional and personal lives.
Gordon does not gloss over the struggle that continues for First Nations people when it comes to etching out a place for themselves. Individual stories talk about growing up in the face of racism and continuing the battle to be respected.
What stands out about Gordon’s collection of people is that they exist in the modern-day realm and whether the reader is Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, references to such events as the 2008 residential school apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper or the Idle No More movement, are relevant today. This is not a collection to be considered a history book.
By highlighting the people she has chosen and their variety of careers, Gordon also highlights that First Nations people are active participants in today’s society and have a bright future. First Nations people are by no means to be relegated to the past.
Writes Gordon, “… there really are literally thousands upon thousands of creative, energetic, ordinary and extraordinary and inspirational people in this country who happen to be of First Nations heritage and are simply living their lives…”
Writes Atleo, “We need these stories to be told, read and celebrated.”