Paying the Land

Metropolitan: Holt. May 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781627799034. $29.99. Rated: Teen+. nonfiction
For generations, the Dene lived in tight-knit communities with a strong sense of tradition tying them to one another and the land. In this exhaustive study of the Dene Nation’s history and current way of life, Sacco (Footnotes in Gaza) asks, “Why do the indigenous people of the Northwest Territories seem adrift, unmoored from the culture that once anchored them?” A partial answer is provided via firsthand accounts of the Canadian government’s deeply shameful attempt to assimilate Dene children by forcing them to attend schools where they experienced emotional and physical abuse, and the legacy of abuse and addiction attributed to this experience. Sacco also explores the ramifications of oil, gas, and diamond mining in the area, which some Dene embrace as an economic opportunity, and others find exploitative and ecologically disastrous.
VERDICT Sacco’s reporting, accompanied by impressively drawn black-and-white illustrations, is occasionally overwhelmingly detailed, but with good reason: this is a vitally important story about an underrepresented people.

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