Views / Opinion

Jasmine Kabatay: Dystopian novel confronts Canada's uncomfortable past

The Marrow Thieves lifts Indigenous youth up with a story about them as heroes, while also educating non-Indigenous readers about the truth of Canada’s history.

Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves can help readers face some uncomfortable truths through a fictional story, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

Torstar News Serivce

Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves can help readers face some uncomfortable truths through a fictional story, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

Cherie Dimaline’s book, The Marrow Thieves, hits a lot of things I like when escaping reality for a bit — dystopian worlds, hope, survival.

When I read science fiction I try to go inside the mind of the author to decipher how and why they made their world. But Dimaline doesn’t hide her inspiration; as she told the CBC, she just looked back through Canadian history and moved it to the future.

The award-winning book is set in a future ravaged by global warming, where non-Indigenous people have lost the ability to dream, leading to madness. The only way to cure it is to eat the bone marrow of Indigenous Peoples, who are harvested in factories.

It’s quite imaginative and extra grim. But when you look at the history of residential schools and the treatment of Indigenous Peoples past and present, it’s not difficult to see how the past laid the groundwork for this novel.

And though it was born of a dark past (and present) the book has hopeful aims.

The young adult novel was written with Indigenous youth in mind, a group dealing with a suicide epidemic, as Dimaline told Torstar News Service in November when she won the Governor General’s Literary Award.

She wanted Indigenous youth to read a book where “they literally see themselves in the future, and not just surviving but being the heroes and being the answer.”

The book also does double duty: lifting Indigenous youth up with a story about them being the heroes, while educating non-Indigenous readers about the truth of Canada’s past in a way that’s different and interesting.

For non-Indigenous readers, Dimaline told Torstar she wanted them to “walk beside (the Indigenous characters) through hardships” and to foster a tie to Indigenous communities.

“These are our future leaders, so when they’re sitting at the negotiating table for the government or developing policies, or deciding whether or not to do business with First Nations communities, then maybe this will be one of the stories that influences their opinion of Indigenous people,” she said.

Dimaline’s novel and its acclaim also highlights how important it is to have an Indigenous writer telling these kinds of stories, especially in a genre like sci-fi where Indigenous Peoples are often seen as beings of the past, not the current or future.

If you’re looking to sit back and enjoy a refreshing sci-fi novel, I recommend this one. From its parallels between the past Canadian horrors to present, it can help readers face some uncomfortable truths through a fictional story.

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