Powwow Summer by Nahanni Shingoose

by Nahanni Shingoose
4 out of 5 stars

River is looking forward to starting university in the fall, but then her mother’s life upheaval, which also affects her, is too much and she runs away to her father’s house in Winnipeg. He lives on the reserve and she is soon in over her head with reserve life, which is much different than her life on a farm surrounded mostly by white people like her mom. River finds herself making bad decisions and in trouble with the Indian gangs, but she is saved by the grace of a kind soul and a healing circle before things escalate too far. However, she grows and changes over the summer and is a different person when she comes home – to her new home, with her mother’s new partner.

I am aware that other cultures’ storytelling norms are different than what I’m used to, so I want to not be too critical. I will say that I was surprisingly compelled by River’s story, even though the writing did not always follow conventions that I’m used to. Shingoose is a contributor on If I Go Missing, so it was not surprising that the story included some real teaching about missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. River makes some truly bad decisions, most fueled by being drunk for the first times in her life. That she was encouraged to drink by her father, and not punished for it by her grandmother, is addressed by her father during the healing circle and also highlights the difference between her farm life and her reserve life. I appreciated the chance to spend a summer on a reserve with River and her dad and Nokomis, learning along with her about her culture.

There are parts where River’s boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex, but playing the role of patient boyfriend. (As an aside, I sure would love to see a story where a boy isn’t ready to have sex!) There’s also a pretty violent scene near the beginning where River’s stepfather is smashing plates, and one where River gets beat up.

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