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K-12 Evaluated Resource Collection

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age

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Author/Publisher/Website: McLeod, D.
Copyright: 2018
Evaluation/Record Entry Date: May/2019
Submitting suppliers/Website: Not Available
Primary Identifier: 9781771622004
Recommended Grades and Subjects/Courses: 11-12
(View recommended grades and subjects)

Resource Description

This winner of the 2018 Governor General’s award for non-fiction details the author’s life from youth to adulthood, and his Cree family and heritage. It reflects the socio-economic reality of growing up in poverty, and the racial discrimination, sexual abuse, and neglect that he and his family experienced. Despite the hardships, with sheer determination and resiliency, he pursues his passions, discovers his own identity, and prospers. Suitable for grades 11-12, the memoir could be used in literature circles and to foster discussion, and focuses on perseverance through adversity, self-reflection, growth mindset, sexuality, and self-love, and is rooted in Aboriginal cultural and identity. Social considerations noted.


Does the resource support BC curriculum?
This product supports the Core Competencies of the BC curriculum:
Creative Thinking
Critical thinking
Positive Personal and Cultural Identity
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Mamaskatch extensively supports the rationale and goals of the ELA and Social Studies curriculum at the senior level due to its Canadian Aboriginal content. Specifically, opportunity is provided for students to learn about and engage with Indigenous creative expression and the worlds of First Peoples provincially. In addition, in Language Arts, students can be encouraged to "think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts" and to "recognize and identify the role of personal, social, and cultural contexts, values, and perspectives." Moreover, the book supports several Core Competency categories, as well as aspects of Aboriginal perspectives.


Indigenous Peoples:
There are references included in popular culture that portray Aboriginal people as drunkards. In addition, there is a scene of an elementary school class singing "Ten Little Indians" as Darrel does his "best Indian call" as the class surrounds him. Darrel later realizes that Aboriginals are seen as less than in the eyes of many and are seen as a commodity by others in sexual relationships.
There are multiple references to "white people" being negative and causing pain, for example taking aboriginal children and "send[ing] them to white families", being untrustworthy, etc. Rory, Darrel's brother-in-law, refuses to have children with Debbie because he "doesn't want kids with Indian blood." There are many instances when Darrel expresses shame in being of Aboriginal decent and feels less than "well-educated white folks".
Belief System:
Because a significant portion of the book describes Darrel's mother's experience within the residential school setting and surround negative and fearful experiences, Catholicism is portrayed in a negative light as a result of abuse, stripping rights, severe punishments, etc. In addition, there are references to Aboriginal ancestors, medicine men, ceremonies, and sacred herbs being sources of actual help and guidance. Later, when Darrel moves in with his church friends from high school, he is accused of being "possessed by the demon of homosexuality" and given an ultimatum to deal with it through prayer and an exorcism or move out. Ultimately, Catholic values are associated with intolerance.
Socio Economic:
At school, students group themselves in distinct groups based on socio-economic status and race; Aboriginal children are associated with the poor and looked down upon by those from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Darrel feels both flattered and validated, as well as confused and frustrated, when "white guys from a higher social class wanted intimacy with [him]".
There are multiple occurrences of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse especially within the Residential school. The majority of the abuse is inflicted upon the Aboriginal children; however, there is also a scene which includes the children fighting the nuns and gaining freedom. In addition, there is a rape scene and domestic violence situations that Darrel witnesses. Debbie's husband, Rory, beats her so that she loses her pregnancy as he does not want a child with "Indian blood". Darrel's mother, in a drunken rage, hits her daughter in the face with a beer bottle. There are references to suicides. In addition, when Darrel works as an orderly, there are instances of death and medical trauma.
The majority of abuse in the book is inflicted by those in power (adults, religious figures, teachers, etc.). As a result of being under the influence of alcohol, multiple persons in the book inflict abuse upon others. There are also multiple situations of infidelity in romantic relationships.
There are several instances of humour in the book that are presented in a bullying or self-deprecating manner. Attempts at humour are focused on sex, others' personal appearance, race, death, etc.
Darrel's mother puts herself in vulnerable positions, specifically riding around the town on a bicycle naked and leaving her children alone as she drunkenly leaves. Children sneak out of the house at night. Several characters act irrationally and engage in risky behaviour as a result of being drunk. There are also references to drug use and addiction. In addition, Darrel learns that his transgender sibling engages in prostitution to earn money.
There are occurrences of occasional profanity, sexual innuendos, and racial and homophobic slurs, such as, "Fucking Indian", "queers", "chink", etc.
Do the social considerations support, rather than detract from, student learning?
Social Considerations Comments:
Although there are some graphic social considerations, specifically of abuse, Darrel's story is an important and timely read for students due to its themes. Thus, the social considerations enhance the message in the book. The main themes are to persevere and to love and accept oneself and one's culture through self-reflection. The scenarios used in the book provoke the reader to consider topics such as identity, isolation, and the outsider. These themes could springboard into several engaging class discussions. In addition, gender roles are challenged as the females in the book are seen as fierce protectors, especially when family members, particularly males, suffer injustices.


Should this product be identified as Canadian?
Is the resource engaging?
Is the content current for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content accurate for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content timely and important for student broad understandings?
Is the resource an Authentic First Peoples Text?
This resource supports the characteristics of Aboriginal worldviews and perspectives:
Connectedness and Relationship
Awareness of History
Local Focus
Engagement with the Land, Nature, the Outdoors
Emphasis on Identity
Language and Culture
Is the content appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
Does the resource provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking?
Is the level of detail appropriate?
Is the content of particular interest to male students?
Is the content of particular interest to female students?
Is the language use appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
Since it is an autobiography, the reading level cannot be adjusted. The subject matter of perseverance and self-reflection lends itself to analysis and critical thinking.


Does the resource make effective use of the medium?
Is the location of illustrations appropriate?
Is the resource easy to use?
Is the use of font, text size and presentation uniform?
Are extraneous elements/illustrations kept to a minimum?
The resource is a hardcover. The font size, text size, and presentation are uniform. There are 17 chapters, each with a title. The book includes various black and white pictures from Darrel's life which provide visual insight into his life and experiences.


Does the text show insight into the complexity of the human condition?
Does the text broaden students’ experiences and understanding?
To what degree is this text stylistically rich?
Plot description:
This book is written from the narrator Darrel's perspective of his life as a young boy to becoming an adult. He talks about the socio-economic reality of growing up in poverty, racial discrimination, sexual abuse, and neglect. Despite all of these adversities Darrel acquires resiliency and determination to pursue his passions while trying to support family members. He navigates his own identity both sexually and culturally and prospers in spite of the vast hardships he endured growing up.
Related Comments:
This book is about perseverance, overcoming challenges, and accepting one's self. This book could easily connect to current and contemporary discussions in the ELA and Social Studies classrooms. Moreover, the book highlights a focus in the new curriculum on persistence through adversity, self-reflection, and having a growth mindset. In addition, Darrel's navigation of his own sexuality is a topic that many adolescents may connect to.
Literary Highlights:
Complex conflict
Rich Characterization
Well-developed themes
Point of view


At intended grade level(s)
Mamaskatch won the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction. Interviews with Darrel J. McLeod, as well as multiple reviews of the book can be found online. CBC Radio posted a recent interview with McLeod regarding the book (November 2018).


Mamaskatch could be used in a secondary English class as a choice for literature circles. The book showcases a strong and personal point of view, which could be used to learn writing skills and to encourage discussions of the reliability of narrators, perspective, and non-fiction and autobiography writing genres. It deals with the Core Competencies, particularly personal and social identity, personal awareness, communication, and both critical and creative thinking. The book aligns well with the redesigned curriculum and its focuses of perseverance, self-reflection, and self-love rooted in Aboriginal cultural and identity.