Glass Beads is an easy read but the subtext just beneath the storyline is deep and disturbing.
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The dialogue is fast paced and the events that occur demonstrate the harsh and horrifying realities that face many Indigenous young people living in First Nation communities across Canada. These experiences leave scars that are very difficult to overcome. The book tells an engaging story about four people growing up Saskatchewan but more than that it tells the story of the turbulent systemic injustices that First Nations people had to face during that time period and still do as a matter of basic survival.
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However, each story contains important references to the political events that were taking place at the time the story is unfolding. The book is primarily written in the voice of Nellie, who left her home on the rez with top grades to attend university. She is hard working, confident in her academic skills and from a stable family but she is filled with self-doubt and low confidence in her personal life and about her looks. Her friend Julie, on the other hand, is slim and beautiful; abandoned by her mother, she meets Nellie as she is running away from a foster family on the rez.
Both characters are fundamentally flawed as individuals and as friends.
Everett is the from the same rez, also abandoned by his parents and raised by an uncle. He is content to party and sleep around and take advantage of whatever falls his way. Taz is from the north and meets Nellie at university; he is smart, and driven to succeed in First Nation politics but he too likes to drink to excess and has violent tendencies.
Everett and Taz are also likeable characters who are fundamentally flawed. These young people are among the first of their families to live off the reserve for most of their adult lives, and must adapt and evolve. As well as developing her characters experientially, Dawn Dumont carefully contrasts them, as we see in the fragile and uncertain Everett and the culturally strong and independent but reckless Taz. She works full time in Saskatoon and is the proud mother of a precocious little boy. It is now available online and in book stores. In Saskatoon they meet Taz Cree-Dene and the four quickly form two on-again-off-again couples.
Instead, Dumont balances characters off one another, offering a range of experiences as the four navigate 15 years through education, ceremony, politics, work, violence and love. The tales are so credible-from the diction to the romantic disasters-one can easily believe the author, who hails from Okanese First Nation, is writing exactly what she knows.
Nellie Gordon is the responsible one, and the majority of the Saskatoon-based book is told through her perspective. Dumont has an ear for the real. I howled.
I winced. I recognized. Hey, Canada? Please read Dawn Dumont. The first in their respective families to live long-term off the reserve, all four characters are out of place among both their own people and the wider world, in different ways and to different extents.
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Despite their diverging life paths they fit well together and understand one another, as they struggle variously with alcohol abuse, cultural disinheritance, racism, and class structure. Nellie is a weary feminist and anti-racist killjoy, pointing out the root causes of various problems and social ills while looking to her education and a career in law as her ticket away from her troubles.
Julie, staggeringly beautiful, drifts through life with a lack of self-confidence, never truly recovering from the deaths of her mother and her baby. Everett, an unreliable womanizer, goes through a cultural and spiritual awakening in his early thirties, becoming upset that he's never learned Cree and knows little about his cultural background.
Taz has big political ambitions and a lot of vision, but still cannot escape his origins or other people's assumptions. Dumont's talent for comedy shines in a great deal of snappy, wry wit. She uses this both for universal concerns like interpersonal interactions "Their relationship was a broken vase that Nellie kept gluing together.
And then once she got it to stand, she would proclaim, 'Look at it! We had an absolute blast with this substitution — Painting with Water Beads was a major hit!
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What I loved about this activity is that while it was very messy, it was super adaptable to meet the needs of both of my kids! To set up play is insanely easy. Simply prepare your water beads and set them and your art materials out for kids to explore.
Personally I did not explain to my kids what to do with the water beads. I just stood back and watched what they did. Her end result was a beautiful abstract piece of art! Meatball on the other hand has never painted with marbles before, but he has played extensively with Water Beads in sensory bins. So he approached this activity like a sensory bin and dumped ALL of his water beads directly into his paint and then poured all of that on to his paper.
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BEADS - Dennis Warner
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