We were driving down Main Street in Winnipeg and I was looking out the window at the Indigenous people I saw on the streets. I think I was about six or seven and I hadn’t seen many Indigenous people up to that point in my life. It was a summer day and we had the car windows open. And then my Dad said…….”Close the windows. This is a dangerous section of town.”
I thought about that incident when I read David Robertson’s book Black Water, which is both a biography of the author’s father but also an autobiography of the author himself. David Robertson is Swampy Cree on his father’s side of the family but he grew up in the River Heights area of Winnipeg completely disconnected from his Indigenous heritage. So he was scared of Indigenous people. Robertson writes about being at a house party with kids from his school and hiding in fear when an Indigenous teenager showed up.
One of the things that I appreciated so much about David Robertson’s book Black Water is that it makes the reader examine the roots of their own inherent racism as David Robertson looks honestly at his own.
There are many other ways the book struck a personal chord with me. David rarely saw his father as a child because his Dad was very busy with his work as an educator. I too had a childhood where my Dad’s busy medical profession meant he was rarely home. Later however David and his father become an integral part of one another’s lives. That’s happened for me too.
David and his father make a pilgrimage back to Norway House and from there to the wilderness area where his father lived with his family during his childhood. The trip is such an important one for both David and his Dad. It reminded me of the trip I made to Ukraine to find my family roots. It was a powerful experience.
I have heard David Robertson speak at a number of writing workshops so I knew bits and pieces of his personal story. It was great to read it in more depth and detail in his book. I am currently working on writing a kind of memoir of my own and so it was interesting to see how David had researched, organized and shared his.
David Robertson and I are different ages and are from completely different backgrounds but there were so many ways I could connect with his story in Black Water. I think other readers will find this too.