Review by Jennifer Langreck
The commodification of the human body has been a central practice of imperial conquest, and Natives in North America are no strangers to this. In 1863, Minnesota State Treasurer Charles Schaff reported the purchase of a “Sioux Scalp” for $25.00. Similar cultural trauma is examined in the dystopian indigenous futurism novel The Marrow Thieves. Dimaline’s story follows young Frenchie and his mismatched indigenous foster family through the ravaged Canadian wilderness. The group is on the run from the revitalized boarding schools, where indigenous bone marrow is harvested for the benefit of non-indigenous people who lost their ability to dream. The story addresses themes of colonialism versus Native culture, capitalism versus human rights, individualism versus collectivism, and environmental abuse versus the necessity of sustainability.
Dimaline’s novel highlights the differences between both Indigenous cultures and the dominant one, as well as the diverse indigenous cultures themselves. It is narrated using elements of a traditional circular storytelling style. Although the relationship between Natives and non-Natives is presented as a deadly conflict, the diverse tribes are united in a common human struggle to survive. The Marrow Thieves highlights the importance of embracing diversity and humanizing our neighbors. White people will not survive alone, but we must not make the same mistakes we made a little over 150 years ago, when others’ bodies were commodified for personal gain.
The Marrow Thieves
By Cherie Dimaline
Cormorant Books, 2016
Jennifer Langreck, English Education graduate student at the U of M who discovered after the death of a family member as a child that she has close family ties with the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, and is now an active member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.