After attending an inspiring workshop by Krista Foss, Writer in Residence at the County of Brant Library (Paris), I was interested to read her sentinel novel, Smoke River. Foss lives in Hamilton, Ontario and is a former journalist who has published multiple short stories and essays. She is an energizing presenter who is excited to share her craft and inspire others with their writing.
Smoke River begins when a blockade is built by indigenous protestors at the site of a proposed subdivision. The highway has been blocked and the development has been halted. A local family has a significant financial stake in the development and a Mohawk family is committed to protecting the land which is between the reserve and a neighbouring town. As tensions escalate, a violent crime occurs that impacts both groups as they fail to negotiate a solution.
The story touches on historical land claim issues and provides the reader with additional insight into the issues surrounding indigenous families such as the aftermath of residential schools. Growing up close to the Six Nations reserve, the descriptions of the treatment of indigenous students at school cause me to pause and think of situations that I had witnessed in high school. The story addresses a sensitive issue that continues to be in the news including land claims and violence to indigenous women.
Foss was the guest speaker at the Paris Lectures (by Jane and Jury) in August and spoke of creativity in relation to settings. Although this novel seems reminiscent of the Caledonia land dispute of 2009, Foss shared that “any place closely observed is every place” and that her novel is actually a compilation of issues that have taken place across Canada with the “same pattern and same template”. Reading the story with recognizable events and geography provides familiarity for the reader as they absorb the details of this narrative.
Smoke River had an interesting cast of well-developed characters who were dealing with their own internal and family struggles juxtaposed with the land claims issue. I enjoyed the tension but similar to the real land claims issues, missed a resolution. The novel helps readers to understand both sides of issues and I look forward to the next novel by Krista Foss as well as the next workshop in her writing series.