Saturday, September 27, 2014

Carl Nordgren's ANUNG'S JOURNEY: AN ANCIENT OJIBWAY LEGEND AS TOLD BY STEVE FOBISTER

Some weeks ago, a reader wrote to ask me about Anung's Journey: An Ancient Ojibway Legend As Told by Steve Fobister, by Carl Nordgren.

The first thing that caught my eye was the "as told by" part of the title. There are a lot of books published by non-Native writers... books in which the non-Native authors tells a story that was told to them by a Native person. There's some excellent critical discussion of that kind of book.

Second thing is the word "legend" in the title. People of any given faith don't call their traditional or creation stories legends. Native peoples don't do that either. Using 'legend' for a Native story is, for me, a red flag.

I got a copy of the book from Net Galley. I looked at the table of contents for a page of background information and found the author's note. But, it isn't a typical author's note. Instead, it is a letter to Steve Fobister. I wondered if Nordgren had sent the actual letter to Fobister, or if the letter in the book is the means by which Fobister will know that he figures prominently in Anung's Journey. The letter has several more red flags. Here's the opening:
Dear Steve,
When you told me the story of Anung I was immediately captured by the magic of it. When you asked me to popularize it, I was honored by your request. Where I have added to it, your magic has guided me.
I see that sort of thing a lot, too. Native people asking a white person to tell our stories. No--let me rephrase that. White people telling readers that a Native person asked them to tell this or that story. Invariably, that white author has spent some time with a Native community and finds us, well, as Nordgren says, "magical."

In his letter, Nordgren tells Steve about when they first met (at summer camp when they were 15 years old), and all that Steve taught him about fishing and Ojibway culture. He goes on to talk about how, when the two went fishing for the first time in 40 years, Steve told Nordgren the story of Anung:
You asked me to do my best to turn this legend into a full story that would delight and inform people of all ages and all cultures, and I promised you I would. I promised to work to get it published. And I promised that if Anung was published and widely read that, along with accomplishing your goals and fulfilling my promise, I would invest a share of the financial success back into the health of Grassy Narrows.
That is another red flag... the promise that the author will give some of his/her profits from the book to the tribe (in this case, one of the First Nations in Canada, Grassy Narrows.)

Are you wondering about the story?

Well here it is in a nutshell. An orphan boy named Anung goes on his vision quest and learns that he is supposed to find the greatest chief of all the First Nations. He sets out to do it, going east, east, east. He gets to the ocean where he meets a great chief that he thinks must be THE greatest chief, but that chief tells him that he's had a vision, too. In his vision, four young men would come to him and from them, one would be chosen to go across the ocean to find that greatest chief. Of course, Anung is chosen.

And he crosses the ocean, and keeps going, and finally he finds the greatest chief of all the nations. You know who it is, right? Baby Jesus in his manger.

Ancient Ojibway legend? I don't think so. 

I'm trying to get in touch with Steve Fobister. The title page for the book is different from the title on the cover. Inside, the words "based on" are added: Anung's Journey: Based on an ancient Ojibway legend as told by Steve Fobister. I'm really curious what part of this "ancient Ojibway legend" is Mr. Fobister's, and what part is Nordgren's creation.

With all those red flags, I cannot recommend Anung's Journey. 

__________

Anung's Journey: An Ancient Ojibway Legend as told by Steve Fobister
by Carl Nordgren
Published by Light Messages Publishing
Release date: October 27, 2014
NOT RECOMMENDED

UPDATE, Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fobister was in the news over the summer. He was on a hunger strike to call attention to mercury poisoning in his community. See Steve Fobister Ends Hunger Strike.

UPDATE, Monday, September 29, 2014

A reader asked for more details about the letter. Here is a screen capture of it:





5 comments:

Gabriele Bianchetti said...

What, seriously?
I think this book is just an awful imperialist mess.
I can't believe the author thought it was okay to take a traditional Ojibwe story and turn it into a blatant Christian propaganda.
I read Thomas King, and I know how much you suffered because of Christianity, so... wow, how bad is this book?

H. M. Grant said...

I would have believed the "ancient legend" claim if the resolution had been that Aung's journey to look for a leader had ended in becoming one himself through observation of others good doings. Sadly this reminds me of Book of Mormon accounts as to the Indian's true nature. Its rather appalling!

Truth Unleashed said...

I'm a Christian, and I honor Christ as King of Kings ... but this book as you describe it is disgusting! It's so disrespectful, both to the Ojibway and to any reader who might pick up this book hoping for insight into another culture. I enjoy reading traditional stories from many different cultural and religious backgrounds, both for their own beauty and wisdom and because they help me reconsider my own culture's familiar stories in a new light. (I don't believe a story has to be literal to be true, and that goes for Christian stories as well as any other.) If I picked up a book like this, I would feel cheated. If I wanted to read a Christian story, I'd read one.

Truth Unleashed said...

Also, I could add that Nordgren isn't doing Christians any favors with this book either. Some of us embrace a faith that at its best promotes tolerance, brotherhood, and the Golden Rule, and want no part of the evils that have been carried out in the past in the name of our God ... and then someone like this comes along pawing roughly into sacred things, carving the sign of the cross, as it were, into places it doesn't belong. As a Christian, these people embarrass me.

NAReader said...

I think you guys are a little too critical of a fable that is meant to meld cultures - not push a particular agenda. When it comes down to it - Native American stories, Christian stories, etc, are really all just stories, and Carl attempts to bring two separate tales together in a fictional story for children. If it's fiction anyways, what's wrong with rewriting it to bring together two distinctly separate stories from different cultures that would not otherwise intertwine? Teaching kids to reconcile differences, not accentuate them, is something we could all use a little more of.

He has a more adult oriented historical fiction (still fiction, guys) book called The 53rd Parallel, which captures and brings attention the Grassy Narrows mercury poisoning story through the eyes of two Irish people who become intimately tied with the tribe. It is much more historically accurate, and focuses on a narrative that would otherwise be lost in time. This book is also endorsed by Steve Fobister, who is an old personal friend of Carl (I believe Carl has a YouTube series where he's talking to Steve recounting their time together and about Anung - watch it and see that there is no ulterior motive for these stories!)