In the first part of Fly Away Snow Goose the reader enters the traditional way of life pursued by First Nations people. The Thcho band is one of different bands of people who inhabit the Canadian North West. Their lands “lie east of the Mackenzie River between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake”.
The Thcho respect for the land is summed up by Rosalie Tailbones.
“It’s the land that keeps things for us. Being our home it’s important for us to take good care of the dwelling, the land, for wherever you go is home.”
At the beginning of this historical novel, Yaot’l and Sascho are innocent teenagers who enjoy each other’s company. Intelligent, brave-hearted Yaot’l, whose name means Warrior, lives with her parents and extended family. Decisive, Sascho a born leader, an orphan, reveres his Uncle John, who teaches him: “It is important to remember the elders for they are still here, lying in the land that had borne them.”
While Sascho is honouring the dead, who died of the white man’s sickness an old man warns him to beware of the white men. “They will cross your pathway and take you to a place where your spirit will be forbidden.”
Neither Sascho nor Yaot’l know that the Canadian Government has passed a law which decrees all Thcho children must leave their families to be educated.
In the second part of this well-researched historical fiction, they are captured by an Indian agent and taken to Fort Providence Residential School where the teachers intend to “kill the Indian inside their pupils.” Abused and half-starved, Sascho is determined to take Yaot’l home.
From the moment they made their escape I wanted them to cross the rivers and make their way through unknown territory. I dreaded either the Indian agent or a Canadian Mountie capturing them and returning them to school. I crossed my fingers hoping their courage would not end in tragedy.
Their people’s way of life is changing. In spring fewer men in the Snow Goose Band made the trek to the fishing grounds. “Some no longer looked to the land for their living but to the white man’s jobs.” This is not the life Yaot’l and Sascho want. They hope to marry and follow their ancestor’s way of life free of interference.
Fly Away Snow Goose is one of the best historical novels I have read in 2017. I travelled with the young lovers, shared their joy and sadness, their triumphs and failures, stumbled on paths with them and rejoiced when they continued. At times, I needed a handkerchief to wipe my tears away.
The authors, Juliet Waldron and John Wisdomkeeper, are to be congratulated on showing me the Snow Geese’s traditional way of life and sharing their legends. They are to be praised for the quality of their writing.
The sun high and bright warmed her black hair. The ache in her shoulders diminished. A little breeze blew as she walked along, inviting tendrils that had escaped from her braids. The creek sparkled and danced nearby, whispering over a bottom of rock. Carried on the breeze were bird calls – the bright sounds of courtship. The birds were singing to set territories, calling from scrub and bush that marked their home range.
“Yaot’l held her arms above her head, allowing the warmth from Father Sun to seep into her hands and down her arms. It was one of those blessing moments, when the light flowed through her body and joined with her spirit making all one.”
Review by Rosemary Morris
(reviewed 49 days after purchase)