The Marrow Thieves

TW: rape, repeated rape, assault, murder, violence, genocide, body horror, medical experimentation, torture, and torture of children

My entire being hurt reading this novel.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is a heart-rending mixture of truth, possible futures and the pain of the present.

We follow the story of a fifteen-year-old Indigenous boy Francis, called French by most as he journeys with others through a cataclysmic world where the Indigenous people in the North American region are hunted down. The rest of the world has lost the capacity to dream, the water is poisoned, any game is scarce and Indigenous people are on the run because their marrow contains the key to giving others dreams but at the cost of their unwilling lives.

The thing is, exactly how is this dystopian if this is happening right now? We are poisoning the world with our actions and destroying or enabling the destruction of people and their culture.

Moments that hit hard for me: the magic of when an elder shares a word with the found family. How the members repeat it like it’s candy they’re sucking on in their mouth. The pain of everyone’s story. How the eldest of the people do their best to guide the kids using their knowledge.

It’s fascinating how Dimaline uses the concept of a found family to juxtapose what it feels like to be with immediate family and how the idea of “all my relations” is reinforced here. When you can easily traverse backwards in time to show who your family is and yet when all these people get together they are a family, they are all cousins.

Dimaline also closely examines how those bonds of people interact with each other for the community. Miig and Minerva lead and guide and pass on knowledge to the younger people. The youngest watch the older kids and their elders closely to learn how to live and interact within a community because everyone contributes to improving and helping the community thrive.

The feeling of resilience expressed by all the characters, of all the pain, fear, hurt shown to each member and how they all live together is painfully beautiful. There isn’t a focus of fixing or healing anyone, which is not what anyone needs. It’s the concept of being there for someone as they struggle through difficult times and knowing there will always be someone there to sit beside.

I find it fascinating how despite the book being named “The Marrow Thieves”, it’s all about Indigenous people, their stories, their communities and their learnings.

An important aspect of the book is how it looks at the elements of climate change, of how entire places have disappeared underwater and the Great Lakes are gone due to the marrow thieves. There is a needed mention of how with fewer Indigenous people around, there are fewer stewards for Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples learned through their families and centuries of experience how best to preserve the land for future generations while also living off it in the present. Without those people, climate change has had such a damaging impact on the world and the people around it. There are many papers examining the conservation efforts of areas and species where if you combine that knowledge with the knowledge of the nearby Indigenous populations, we could learn much. This is literally the concept of two eyes seeing, combining what we’ve learned through Western science and discovery, combined with what Indigenous peoples have learned.

I am looking at the big ideas, at the concepts involved in this story because I want everyone to be thinking of these ideas as they read through it, and because I think even though it is fiction, the majority of the book contains elements of truth.

This should be required reading for every single middle or high school student in North America. We should all be more aware of what we give ourselves or others to do to enable our own self-interests.

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