Without Reserve: Stories from Urban Natives
James S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie Builders.
Shorten contacted a wide variety of Native people living in a large
western-Canadian city and asked them to recall and present vignettes of
their lives. This collection of short stories is the result. The book
begins with a four-page introduction outlining the strategy utilized in
obtaining the stories. As the subjects reminisce about different aspects
of their lives, the author tries to weave a story for the reader,
synthesizing hours of tape recordings into a few pages of print. Each of
the 11 chapters profiles a single subject.
Unfortunately, the material presented does little to inform the reader
about the lives of these people. It focuses on the old stereotypes of
Natives: drugs, alcohol, violence, unwed mothers, poverty, and sexual
abuse—good story material for the media. Even when one of the
interviewees is a successful Canadian artist, the resultant profile
unnecessarily focuses on her neglect as a child and on her being saved
by the white woman who raised her (hence her success). Alas, the other
subjects were not raised by white stepmothers, and thus are condemned to
a quality of life unacceptable to decent white folk.
In the end, the reader learns little about either the subjects or the
people they represent. There are no insights into the complex lives of
the individuals and the social milieu in which they operate. The book
neither illuminates the issues faced by these urban Natives nor provides
a context in which the material can be interpreted or understood.
Shorten’s silence about the institutional structures that have forced
Natives into a dysfunctional lifestyle is deafening. This book
disappoints in both substance and style; in the end it represents a
ghoulish voyeurism that serves no productive purpose.