As a small boy in remote Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family’s history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. There he is surrounded by her tales of joy and horror—of the strong men in their family, of her love for Darrel, and of the cruelty she and her sisters endured in residential school—as well as his many siblings and cousins, and the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea. And there young Darrel learns to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that will guide him throughout his life.
But after a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Sweet and eager to please, Darrel struggles to maintain his grades and pursue interests in music and science while changing homes, witnessing domestic violence, caring for his younger siblings, and suffering abuse at the hands of his brother-in-law. Meanwhile, he begins to question and grapple with his sexual identity—a reckoning complicated by the repercussions of his abuse and his sibling’s own gender transition.
Thrillingly written in a series of fractured vignettes, and unflinchingly honest, Mamaskatch—“It’s a wonder!” in Cree—is a heartbreaking account of how traumas are passed down from one generation to the next, and an uplifting story of one individual who overcame enormous obstacles in pursuit of a fulfilling and adventurous life.