A critically-acclaimed Sooke author aims to touch readers’ hearts with his newly released memoir, Peyakow.
Darrel McLeod won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2018 for his first book, Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age. His newly released memoir, Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity, is a sequel.
“Peyakow basically picks up where Mamaskatch leaves off,” said McLeod, noting the book looks at his younger self, around the age of 30, when he becomes a school principal in the small community of Yekooche First Nation in northern B.C.
“The reason I did that because my mother passed away. She was ultimately the bridge to my culture, my language, and my extended family. When she passed, I felt that bridge was gone, and I desperately wanted that connection to my culture back. So I applied for jobs on reserves all over Canada, and low and behold, the principal position came up.”
McLeod said he came to love the people in the Yekooche very quickly. Though the experience of moving somewhere so rural was a psychological shock, he found the experience enriching.
The book follows McLeod later into his adult life, working as chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations.
McLeod identified some key themes in the book: the historical injustice Indigenous peoples faced, which he says still has not been adequately addressed, the important role of education in getting out of poverty, and how indigenous rights are advancing.
“Education is making a difference, and the period of oppression, grief and suffering for Indigenous people in Canada is going to come to an end,” said McLeod.
Another important topic covered in the book is suicide and how it affected McLeod throughout his life.
“In Canada, we have an epidemic of youth suicide in Indigenous populations,” said McLeod, who encountered multiple suicides within his own family.
“Over the years, I have struggled with the topic of suicide. I have come to some conclusions now on how the process works and what leads someone to commit suicide. In the book, I write about this topic quite explicitly and openly.”
Peyakow took about three years to complete the book from writing to publishing, and during the process, McLeod would spend many hours working on it at Stick in the Mud Coffee House in Sooke.
McLeod is shifting directions slightly with his next piece of writing, as he is now working on a fiction novel titled A Season in Chezgu’un. Along with being an author, McLeod is a musician, working as a jazz singer in Puerto Vallarta in the winter months, and also dips his toes in the waters of stand-up comedy.
His memoir Peyakow can be bought at Victoria book stores, Amazon, and soon at A Sea of Bloom in Sooke.
“I hope the book has the effect of freeing people from whatever restraints, troubles and burdens they have, to realize that they can go to dark places, either on their own or to support family and friends, but you can come out of it,” said McLeod. “That really is the whole gist of Peyakow, that you can go through very difficult trauma and still come out to have a phenomenally beautiful life.”
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