About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Canadian Crime Fiction and Our Indigenous Peoples

Canadian crime fiction often touches upon the challenges we have as a nation in our treatment of our indigenous peoples variously described as First Nations, Metis, Inuit, Indian and aboriginal. Our history often reflects they have been treated badly by governments and fellow Canadians. Often there has been a perception of them as less Canadian or living on the wrong side of town whether in town or out on the reserve. Canadian crime fiction has dealt with both the prejudice towards indigenous peoples and how they have been respected.

Margot Kinberg in her excellent blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, inspired this post with her post, People Put Me Down 'Cause That's the Side of Town I was Born In. I appreciate her sparking my thoughts.

In The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder by Roderick Benns, a part of the Legacies and Leaders series involving young future Canadian Prime Ministers, a young John Diefenbaker in 1908 refuses to join the prevailing community view that an Indian, River’s Voice, has killed his neighbour. Diefenbaker’s white neighbours are all too ready to put the blame on River’s Voice.

Saskatchewan author Gail Bowen, in her Joanne Kilbourn series, sets out the way Indian people can be looked down upon in Saskatchewan while providing new perspectives that lack prejudice. It is little surprise Gail should have considerable insight into the issues as she taught at the First Nations University in Regina until she retired.

Midway through the series Gail breaks through the stereotype of White – Indian relations by introducing Inspector Alex Kequahtooway as a major character with whom Joanne becomes romantically involved for a time.

Most recently in her current book, The Gifted, she looks at current public perceptions. In the book her husband, Zack Shreeve, is working on a massive redevelopment plan that will change North Central Regina. The neighbourhood in fiction and real life has notoriety across Canada for its high level of crime. There are tensions between the developer and the residents, mainly indigenous.

Personally her daughter is living with Riel Delorme who has come from a difficult indigenous background, been involved with gangs and still has major personal demons.

Scott Young’s two mysteries feature another indigenous Canadian, Matthew “Matteesie” Kitogitak, who has achieved Inspector status. Matteesie, an Inuk from the North West Territories. It is striking that Matteesie is the first Inuk RCMP inspector in the late 1980’s on a force that has been in the Arctic at that time for a century.
Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte had reached Inspector status in Australia in the 1930's in the series by Arthur Upfield.

In a fictional trial occurring a generation earlier in the early 1960’s in I’ll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell a young Indian, Gabriel Swift, is charged with murder. From a poor reserve near Vancouver the police look down upon him as a “lippy Indian”.

The same book touches upon the problems and abuse that took place in residential schools to which many rural Canadian Indians were sent, especially in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Indian children were sent away to the schools for up to 10 months of the year. Many were abused. All had to deal with efforts to remove their cultural identity.

In Arctic Blue Death by R.J. Harlick there is an exploration of the business of Inuit sculpture and art both historically and present. Inuit artists have gained great respect for their works around the world.

Louise Penny’s most recent book, How the Light Gets In, includes as part of the plot how senior corruptHHowH Quebec police officers had in the reserves in Western Quebec, far from the major cities, manipulated and killed Cree Indians. While I found some of that subplot over the top it reflected an attitude that still exists.

It is a topic that will continue to appear in Canadian crime fiction. Approximately 10% of Saskatchewan’s population is First Nations people. The issues of white and Indian peoples living together is not going to disappear in Canada.


  1. Thanks Bill - interesting and thought-provoking. I've read some Gail Bowen, and really liked the books: the indigenous peoples thread was only one of many different issues she tackles. I should take a look at some of the other books you mention.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. Gail's books provide a good look at the people of Saskatchewan. I hope you read more of her books.

  2. Bill - Thank you very much for the kind mention. And what a fascinating and thought-provoking look at the way Indigenous Canadians are treated in crime fiction. You've also given me some titles to check, for which thanks. And your post is making me think of the work of M.J. McGrath, whose sleuth is Edie Kiglatuk. Several larger issues are raised in that series, among them the relations between White and Indigenous Canadians.

    Your mention of the residential schools reminded me too that in some ways, the history of U.S. Native Americans has been sadly similar to that of Indigenous Canadians. Native American children were also sent off to school, often abused, and always expected to 'stop being Indian.' There are still some deep wounds there.

    1. Margot: Thank you for your generous words. I should read McGrath. Through work on Indian Land Claims I gained a different perspective on indigenous issues than I had a generation ago.

      I know little of the American story on residential schools. It sounds too much like the Canadian experience.

  3. This was a very interesting post that I have been looking forward to, Bill. I like mysteries that include issues like this, making us think and enlightening us as we read.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I enjoy when a mystery is wrapped around real life issues of society. I admire authors who can enterrain and inform readers.

  4. Interesting post Bill. Thanks for sharing. Hope all is well in Canada.

  5. Craig: Thanks for the comment. I am doing well. I hope life is going well for you.