*Published March 1, 2019*
This was another book that I had chosen to read and do a book talk for Native American Heritage Month for my library. It’s definitely a book that talks about something that directly impacts Native American women more than nearly any other and it does so in a way that isn’t trashy or all about objectifying Native American women more.
Tasha Spillett’s graphic novel debut,Surviving the City, is a story about womanhood, friendship, colonialism, and the anguish of a missing loved one. Miikwan and Dez are best friends. Miikwan is Anishinaabe; Dez is Inninew. Together, the teens navigate the challenges of growing up in an urban landscape – they’re so close, they even completed their Berry Fast together. However, when Dez’s grandmother becomes too sick, Dez is told she can’t stay with her anymore. With the threat of a group home looming, Dez can’t bring herself to go home and disappears. Miikwan is devastated, and the wound of her missing mother resurfaces. Will Dez’s community find her before it’s too late? Will Miikwan be able to cope if they don’t?
What would you do if your friend, whose homelife isn’t that great to begin with, decided not to go home after school one day? And what would you do if this felt similar to how your mother disappeared? Would you call the police? Would you think “oh, she’s fine.” Or would you do all that you could to find your friend?
For Miikwan, this is exactly what happens and as Tasha Spillett shows the world what is going on in the heads of girls and women alike when a friend, a sister, a loved one goes missing and you know the probability of her not coming back is high. Miikwan and Dez are two best friends and you can feel it in the way Tasha talks about their ceremonies, not only with each other but with the mother figure at their school. You can also tell that Miikwan is nervous and desperate for Dez to respond to her when Miikwan hears that Dez hasn’t come home but she’s still reading her texts.
As Miikwan learns how she can lead change and trust in herself and her culture, we also see that Dez is learning as well. We can see that Dez, while desperate not to be taken away from her grandmother who is her guardian, does what most teenagers would do and runs away. She finds help and is able to return to her school, her friend, and her home. She comes home safely, which is more than a lot of Indigenous women can say.
This story shows that there are always ghosts hanging around us, and sometimes those ghosts can help us. But we want to stop the creation of these ghosts and let every girl and woman who goes missing the ability to come back. To come back to their homes and families and loved ones. The ghosts of our pasts can help influence our future, a future where we will hopefully not have as many ghosts of Indigenous women around us.