Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett & Natasha Donovan (Illustrations)

Publication Date: March 1st 2019 by Highwater Press

I was fortunate to be able to read a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Let me begin by saying that this isn't a story for the faint of heart. The history of indigenous peoples in Canada is rife with violence and oppression. This short graphic novel deals with one aspect of it: murdered and missing women, girls, and two spirited peoples.

Miikwam and Dez are best friends. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inninew. They have just finished their Berry Fast, a ceremony that marks the end of childhood and the beginning of womanhood. They are planning on presenting it as their heritage project.

Both of these girls carry heavy loads with them. Dez lives with her Kokum who she worries about. As her diabetes gets worse, it looks like Des will be taken away from her and moved into a foster home.

Miikwam lives with her father, but as the story progresses we discover that her mother is one of the missing women.

The two girls spend Saturday together and head on home on separate buses. When Dez arrives home she sees that the social worker is there and rather than being taken into care, runs away.

When Miikwam discovers that Dez didn't make it home to her Kokum, she is terrified that she will lose her.

In spite of having some insensitive teachers, these girls are lucky to have some strong adults in their lives. An important one is Geraldine, an indigenous worker at their school. Luckily Dez is discovered sleeping in the park by a concerned indigenous woman who takes her to a centre where she will be safe.

Part of what makes this book so profound is the artwork. The girls are beautifully portrayed in bold colours. Translucent ghosts of all kinds of women populate the pages. Some of them walk with the girls, sit beside them on the bus, and watch over them. 
Danger, in the shape of unwanted attention from men who are paired with dark evil looking spirits, lurks everywhere. 

I appreciated the information in the back matter that provides more details about MMIWG2S as well as an extensive bibliography. While the novel likens foster care to residential school, no details about this are revealed. According to data I read today, 57% of children in foster care in Canada are indigenous, but indigenous people make up only 7% of the total population.

This is the first book in The Debwe Series. I am excitedly looking forward to what comes next.

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