Analyze the complex dynamic between patriarchal power, colonialism, and gender as articulated in Five little Indians by Michelle Good and I, Rigoberta Menchú .
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
Review by Dee Raffo
Five Little Indians follows the lives of five young adults as they grapple with life after ‘Indian School’ in the 1960s. From their prison-like residential school on Vancouver Island, they are turfed onto the streets of Vancouver with no support, money, family connections or life skills. We join them as they try to deal with years of neglect and trauma in a world that has no place for them, never mind any understanding.
“Indian School seemed like a hundred years ago, but with Lucy in my living room, it seemed like yesterday. Even though it made my stomach tighten when I looked at her and thought of Father, I couldn’t help but think, in spite of it all, we were here.”
Five Little Indians is the debut novel by poet, lawyer and political activist Michelle Good, and a member of Saskatchewan’s Red Pheasant Cree Nation. As a daughter and granddaughter of people who went through the residential school system, Good tells this story with compassion and insight, with relatable characters who you feel and root for.
Although the subject matter is inherently dark, Good opens a window into the human cost of colonialism without judgment. Through her words, we find ourselves in the shoes of these survivors, delving into their individual and interlacing stories, understanding why they make the choices they do.
“Lily’s face seemed to hover in the air in front of Clara, soaking and shivering on that bench, and once again the anger rose up in her. She leapt up from the bench and ran across the parking lot, the rock rising high above her head. With a scream, she threw the rock through the lobby of the Manitou, and then raced away into the night.”
Escape-artist Kenny never finds a sense of place, Howie grapples with uncontrollable anger, Maisie internalizes the pain of sexual abuse, Lucy uncovers an inner strength and determination, and Clara reconnects with her lost heritage in order to regain a sense of self. Without shying away from the truth, Good writes the character’s stories with a sense of light and hope. The spare prose gives the novel a simplistic quality for a topic that’s incredibly intricate, which makes it digestible without losing any sense of the issues she’s illuminating.
In interviews, Good explains that one of the reasons she wrote this book was to open up conversations about the trauma people suffered at these institutions and its ongoing ramifications. She has fictionalized and humanized something that, perhaps for many people, seems so unbelievable that it’s hard to relate to, and to understand. Five Little Indians is a heart-wrenching and heart-warming read, and one that will likely stay with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.
Michelle Good is appearing in the Writers of Fiction event, Sat. Oct. 17, 4pm at the Whistler Writers Festival online, which runs Oct. 15-18.
Dee Raffo is the content editor for Tourism Whistler. She loves revelling in the mountains with her young family and can often be found on the ski hill, bike trails, or pushing a swing in the park.
Violence against women maintains the structures of gender oppression; be it carried out by individuals in private and/or by institutional forces in the public sphere. A UN Women study reveals that in combat zones, it is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier. Families, communities, and social, legal and civic institutions may covertly and overtly endorse it. Whilst violence commands greater attention and fear; sexism and misogyny do their share to shape inequality, by defining and upholding restrictive gender norms.
Patriarchy is about the social relations of power between men and women, women and women, and men and men. It is a system for maintaining class, gender, racial, and heterosexual privilege and the status quo of power – relying both on crude forms of oppression, like violence; and subtle ones, like laws; to perpetuate inequality. Patriarchal beliefs of male, heterosexual dominance and the devaluation of girls and women lie at the root of gender-based violence. Patriarchy is a structural force that influences power relations, whether they are abusive or not.
Power sets the agenda for patriarchy. But, conflating it with abuse or masculinity is problematic and we need a more complex analysis of the typical power and control explanations. Feminism, which is about women claiming their rights to self-determination and equality, confronts gender conformity and aims to replace relationships of power with relationships of meaning.
Culture is used to justify gender inequality and violence by evoking traditional cultural beliefs about how women should be treated. The defense of the culture of a place, country, religion, etc., is in fact a defense of the culture of patriarchy in that country, religion, identity; and the culture of violence everywhere. The culture of patriarchy is not static: its manifestation on an army base differs from that in a rural town; just as the culture of patriarchy in Chicago differs from that of Dubai, or Manila.
Analyses of violence by men of color against women of color tend to over-emphasize how racial oppression contributes to men’s use of violence. But, within communities of color, women and non-abusive men who are exposed to similar social histories of oppression, do not resort to battering to cope with racism; just as LGBTQ women and men do not resort to hate crimes or intimate violence because of homophobia. While oppressions based on race, class, gender, heterosexuality, etc., are undeniable; explanations relying on oppression are inadequate. Because the intersection of race and gender are complicated, race is all too often privileged over gender. Holding this and other intersectionalities together offers a more effective route to accountability and transformation.