The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (@cherie_dimaline) is a challenging, beautiful, terrifying book, and it covers many themes and lessons that are important — but one of my favorite things about the book was its lessons about love. In the book, many people have lost their ability to dream. Without dreams, people become sick and die. The Canadian government starts hunting down First Nations Peoples and taking their bone marrow to create serums that cure the sickness. Despite all of the horror the main characters of The Marrow Thieves experience their love for each other only grows. They work together to stay safe and head North in hopes of finding safety and their kin.
In the book, an elder named Minerva creates a jingle dress as an act of love and survivance. She knows that it may not be safe for them to dance or sing, but she makes the jingle dress anyway because it is important to pass on the tradition to the next generation. Her love for her kin shines through in everything she does, and her choices to protect what is important and sacred creates opportunities for her kin to have a better future.
In the chapter of WILM that discusses the question, "How do we become good ancestors?" Daniel Heath Justice wrote, "We're the ancestors of future generations, just as the ordinary people of past times became the ancestors to whom we now look for good guidance and cautionary example."
When I think about how I can become a good ancestor, I realize how much work that may require of me and it can feel a bit overwhelming. I know that there are many things about the way I live that don't make the world a better place, and it's difficult to imagine giving up certain aspects of my life for something better. However, I think about the lengths I would go, the sacrifices I would make, for the people I love, and I realize I am capable of doing more. Reading The Marrow Thieves, I saw how love motivated the actions of the characters and allowed them to keep pushing forward even when they were exhausted. Survivance, Resistance, and Love are all interconnected. We fight for the people we love, we survive so we can pass something onto the next generation, and we resist so we can make the world a better place for them.
"Love then becomes the binding cord that links us to the world, and from it come all the other meaningful connections between the ancestors and descendants of generations to come: respect, reciprocity, accountability, commitment, generosity."
— Daniel Heath Justice, Why Indigenous Literatures Matters
While reading The Marrow Thieves, I thought about the way my lifestyle contributes to the ecological disasters that lead to the dreamless sickness that effects non-Indigenous people in the story. I asked myself if my lifestyle would eventually lead to a dystopia like that of The Marrow Thieves. As a result, I wrote this prose:
HOW THE DREAMS DIED
You crawl into bed, wrap yourself in a comforter made soft by a machine that purrs, chemicals that burn. The plastic against your skin keeps you warmer. The TV explains, "plant fiber is a bummer, try polyester!" The dyes in the fabric softener smell better than scents caught on a clothing line in fair weather.
You close your eyes and blink; there goes the alarm: beep, beep, beep, then the traffic starts.
Acrid exhaust fumes sting your eyes, you cough but feel no surprise. You're used to seeing how the smoke flies. Every morning you pass the factory.
That night you fumble with the keys, the lock on the door requires more grease. You roll your head from side to side, trying to remember how the vertebrae are supposed to align after hours sitting at a desk and writing lies.
Your phone screen turns yellow as the blue-light filter switches on. You stare at it for hours longer and wonder, passively, "where has the time gone?" Your Brita filtered water tastes like steel spoons and candlewax. You peel the foil off some yogurt and eat it by streetlight pouring through the glass. Outside it's so bright the birds sing at midnight in confusion. Then you open a bottle of pills and take two to block the musing that maybe if you turned the lights off an hour before bed, you'd be able to sleep without drugging yourself 'til you felt dead.
Beep. Beep Beep. "It's funny; I don't remember dreaming."
I hope that the people of what is currently called the United States (and other settler-colonizer countries around the world) will begin seeing that everything about our way of life needs to change so that the events of dystopian novels like The Marrow Thieves do not continue to pass. We need to practice environmental justice, social justice, and begin treating each other with kindness, love, compassion, respect, and reciprocity. Most importantly, we need to return the land that was stolen from Indigenous and First Nations Peoples. We need to have hope and faith that our love for our kin and our neighbors will be enough to lead us to decisions that will make the world better, safer, and healthier.
Check out the interview with Cherie Dimaline below to learn why she named the book "The Marrow Thieves" and what she hopes people take away from reading the book.