Valley of the Birdtail by Andrew Stobo Sniderman & Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii)

In Valley of the Birdtail, alumni Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson tell the story of two communities in Manitoba “divided by a valley, a river and 150 years of racism”. 

This book held a special significance for me, given my close proximity to Rossburn and my mother's upbringing there. It narrates a poignant and sobering tale of how two communities diverged, becoming segregated and unequal—a narrative with implications far beyond their borders.

In Rossburn, settled by Ukrainian immigrants seeking refuge from poverty and persecution, the average family income mirrors the national average, with a notable proportion of adults holding university degrees. Conversely, in Waywayseecappo, families often struggle below the national poverty line, and educational attainment levels are significantly lower, compounded by the haunting legacy of residential schools. Through the lens of multiple generations from two families—one white, the other indigenous—the book intricately intertwines their stories within the broader Canadian narrative. 

"And what was it, exactly, that was holding the Indians back? Laziness, surely! Meanwhile, the federal government was trying so hard, spending so much, decade after decade, to fix Waywayseecappo's problems. And everyone knew the Indians on the reserves were paying lower taxes. They had it easier yet somehow still did worse... or at least that's how it looked from across the valley.

This story, built on stereotypes, is the kind of story that explains and justifies... Nelson did what most people instinctively do when confronted with a disparity between groups: he blamed the individuals. The decades of government policies that had held reserves back were largely invisible to outsiders, while the shortcomings of particular Indians were on clear display." p. 199

Growing up, I heard these statements being made- and have had to unlearn many ignorant stereotypes.

"Valley of the Birdtail" doesn't shy away from the complexities of our past; rather, it bravely confronts them, offering a nuanced perspective and envisioning a pathway towards a more equitable future. It challenges readers to reconsider historical narratives and inspires hope for a society built on understanding and mutual respect. 

"Racial inequality is a problem of bad policy, not bad people." Ibram Kendi


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