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Book Review: Long River by Joseph Bruchac

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I remember as a child having an illustrated history of Canada whose early pages were filled with images of Native Canadian life. One of the images that still stands out in my mind was a picture of a group of Asiatic looking people struggling against the elements as they made their way along a land bridge across the Bering Straight separating Asia from North America. It was the accepted theory in those days that the first people had only been fairly recent immigrants when the Europeans showed up, having only come here within the thousand years prior to first contact.

It has only been in the last 20 years or so that the Asian migration theory has been seriously challenged, and is now starting to fall out of favour. Of course if anybody had bothered to listen to the stories told by the people living here when the Europeans arrived they might never have come up with it in the first place. There isn't one story among any of the nations corresponding with people crossing from Asia over into North America. Nearly all the creation stories have them starting life here, not somewhere else on earth and travelling here.

Of course listening to the first peoples was the last thing on the minds of the governments of North America; in fact they did their best to ensure those stories weren't heard by anyone. Generations of children were stolen from their parents in one of the worst examples of cultural genocide ever attempted. Cut off from family, friends, and community, they were forbidden to speak the language of their parents and were prevented from learning anything about their own people.
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It's a blessing that governments are as inefficient as they are as enough people escaped their nets to prevent the complete obliteration of all the stories. Today there are men and women across North America who have taken on the huge responsibility of keeping those stories alive for future generations either by writing them down, telling them like their ancestors did in circles around a fire, bringing them to life in theatre, or using them as the basis for creating new stories.

Joseph Bruchac is one of those people who have made it his life's work to preserve the stories of his people. A member of the Abenaki nation, one of the Algonquin peoples whose numbers also include the Cree and Chippewa nations, Bruchac has published over 25 collections of stories that deal with every aspect of Alogonquin life from how to live a good life to the history of the people. He is also in high demand across North America as a storyteller and lecturer, and tours schools and universities bringing the old tales to life.

In the early 1990s he began a series of books set in a North America that none of us would recognize; not only is the time period pre-contact, it is far enough back that the land still remembers the ice age. I read the first book, Dawn Land, when it first came out back in 1993 and was very impressed with the way Bruchac integrated traditional tales, and descriptions of what life would have been like at the time as an adventure story. At the time I had no idea he was intending to make a series of these books, and it wasn't until a short while ago that I discovered he had written a sequel called Long River. Published by Fulcrum Books, Long River picks up the adventures of the hero of the first book, Young Hunter, where the previous one left off.

In Dawn Land Young Hunter had headed out on a journey to defeat an evil race of stone giants – known as the Ancient Ones – who would have rained ruin upon his people if given the opportunity. On his journey he discovered many things about himself, not the least of which was that he had some talent for "far seeing", what we would call astral projection, or the ability to send your spirit travelling to check out the surroundings while your body stayed in one place.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.