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The story of the native rights movement in Arctic Canada when southern consumers were pressing for more oil and gas.
The story starts with a young journalist working with a Toronto weekly. He is learning his craft but he thinks that there must be more to journalism than covering parent teacher associations and council meetings. Warren leaves the weekly and starts working for the august Globe and Mail. Warren is already having trouble taking care of himself and develops a drink problem. He finds his work at the Globe unrewarding. He joins CBC Northern Service and is sent to Yellowknife to become the north's first locally based trained reporter. Warren arrives just at the native rights movement is getting organised, spurred on by the application to build a gas pipeline over treaty and native land along the Mackenzie River Valley. Warren becomes deeply involved in the clash cultures between the northern natives with their rich traditions of a hunting and trapping society and the energy starved south with its "shopping mall mentality" and belief in its own importance.
White Bird Black Bird supplies the reader with an introduction to a unique northern society and the universal problem that is repeated around the world when an imported culture tries to impose its own needs and priorities on a native culture that has its own sense of order and purpose.
It was November. A cold, grey, overcast and menacing November, when the ice floes had already started to form at the Fort Providence ferry where the Mackenzie River unplugged itself from Great Slave Lake on its way down north to the Beaufort Sea. In Ottawa, more than 2,000 miles away to the east, the leaves were still turning on the maple trees. It was not yet Armistice Day but north of 60, 60 degress of latitude, that marked the geographical boundary between north and south, the land was quickly acquiring its winter blanket of hard, ungiving, frost. A shroud of isolation and contempt when the north turned its back on the outside and concentrated its energies on preparing itself for the dark purgatory ahead. Winter in the north was more than a season, it was a way of life when northerners saw themselves as a people apart, a people who had been tested and proved themselves; a people who knew how things worked in sub-zero temperatures when nature was in its foulest mood and gave no quarter. A northern winter was a time for a clear mind and a calculating order of priorities.
An Insight into a Bland Frozen Territory
White Bird Black Bird is a must read for those who want to define the northern areas of Canada by more than ice and snow, blizzards and polar bears in a wilderness. Val Wake brings those areas to life. He is an author of quality who tells a story with a brisk Hemmingway economy in the episodes of violence and who shows a sensitive humanity in handling the clash of cultures implicit-and more and more explicit- in the inevitable evolution of self-asertion by the indigenous peoples.The plural of the last word is important. I had never heard of some of the "indigenes" before but there are more than one or two in that vast territory and harmony between them takes on much the same complexities as the relationship between the new settlers and indigenous inhabitants anywhere. The "other" next door might be even harder to tolerate than the monster in Ottawa. Wake who knows the Territory well at first hand, has written an intriguing book, well worth the five-star rating.
Dr. James Cumes
White Bird Black Bird
A gripping account of a period in the Far North of Canada that is little known or understood. The plot twists through politics, relationships and extremism to reveal some fundamental truths about the fragile landscape of the North and its diverse population. The story's main character is a dedicated journalist who moves North to recharge his professional batteries but finds he has more than a professional interest in the people who make the news. He arrives at a time when native land rights are rising up the news agenda and gas and oil men are lobbying to build a pipeline in the virgin forest. The clash of interests triggers a series of events that culminates in violence and ultimately brings redemption. A really good read with characters you care about and issues that are still contentious.
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