Onkwehonwe-Neha: "Our Ways"


24 pages
ISBN 0-920813-93-3
DDC j971'.004975




Illustrations by Carlos Freire
Reviewed by Kelly L. Green

Kelly L. Green is the co-editor of the Children’s Literature edition
of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


These latest volumes in the Aboriginal Life and Culture series might
best be considered personal versions of history from First Nations
women. Not really stories at all, these picture books—a format that
seems inappropriate for young adult—metaphorically describe the First
Nations experience of European culture, each author choosing her
metaphor from her own tradition.

Onkwehonwe-Neha begins by defining the word Onkwehonwe as “natural
human being.” Onkwehonwe-neha means that “all life—earth, water,
plants, vegetables, trees, animals, rocks, winds, sun, moon, stars, and
spirit world—are all part of the circle.” From this promising start,
the book rapidly declines into a recounting of historical crimes
committed upon the First Nations by Europeans. (The cartoonish
illustrations show ugly, evil-looking Europeans perpetrating horrors on
noble and proud Native people.)

The Seven Fires, with its fluid drawings of beautiful faceless figures,
describes the seven fires of prophecy, each fire a metaphor for a
different period of First Nations history. Both language and
illustrations make this a better book, but unfortunately the same
anti-European polemic takes over, beginning with the Fifth Fire.

While I do not dispute many of the allegations made in the books as to
European crimes and insensitivity toward First Nations peoples, I cannot
accept that the way toward rectification or healing lies in presenting
young adolescents with scenarios in which the First Nations are victims
of a plot to despoil the planet’s last Eden, and European culture is
the root of all evil. This type of presentation does nothing to further
a true historical perspective or understanding of historical
relationships and causality. Ultimately the books fail—not only
because the authors could have presented First Nations culture as a
proud and honorable tradition (and demonstrated to readers that the time
has come for First Nations people to take back their heritage), but also
because the legislative history that they try to incorporate into the
stories becomes not a part of the story but a meaningless listing of
dates and facts. Not recommended.


Maracle, Sylvia., “Onkwehonwe-Neha: "Our Ways",” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/19209.