Editor's note: “From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way” by Jesse Thistle is the winner in the Indigenous Writer category of the 2020 High Plains Book Awards.
“From the Ashes” is a national bestseller in Canada and was the 2020 selection for Canada Reads, a program similar to the Big Read or One Book Billings, but for the whole of Canada!
Jesse Thistle is from Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan, and is an assistant professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto. He won a Governor General’s Academic Medal in 2016. So, one knows by reading his bio that he survives. What you wouldn’t know is the incredible struggle he went though from birth on to become who he is today.
Like Native American memoirs from Sherman Alexie and Tommy Orange, this story does not hold back any punches. Abandoned by a drugged-up father and soon abandoned by his mother to be raised by grandparents, Jessie and his two brothers struggle with poverty and hunger as children, only to move into a world of trauma, racism, and addiction. It is sometimes hard to call a book of such brutality, lyrical. But from the very beginning there is something in Jesse’s spirit that tells you he will survive. He’s a strong and resilient boy who overcomes heartbreak and pain to find his way back to his Indigenous culture and family.
After getting caught stealing three robin’s eggs from his friend, he confesses, “The truth is, when I saw the three eggs tucked into that nest it reminded me of my brothers and me and our home back in Saskatchewan. I thought how much that mother robin loved those eggs and how well she and Brian’s family took care of them, and I got jealous. The eggs had their mother and my brothers and I didn’t anymore. So I took the eggs. I thought that if I had them, in some way I’d have the same love the eggs had, and that would mean that in some way I’d have a mother’s love again.”
Regardless of the culture or language, the best stories stay with you; “From the Ashes” is such a story.
Corby Skinner is the director of The Writer’s Voice and coordinates the High Plains BookFest.
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