Facing the Stigma of a White Author Writing About Indigenous People

By John C.A. Manley

There is a bit of a stigma in the writing community about authors who are not Indigenous writing about Indigenous people. Especially, a white author of European descent. Therefore, I found it slightly intimidating writing a novel with three prominent native characters. While one of my great-great grandmothers is said to have been Native Canadian, any cultural legacy she could have offered was assimilated by my French Catholic heritage. I even had an Ancestry test done to see if I could offer some trace of native DNA. Alas, the test results could only find evidence of my European roots.

Nonetheless, Vincent McKnight, the protagonist first person voice of my novel Much Ado About Corona: A Dystopian Love, is a quarter Ojibwe. Furthermore, his alcoholic father is half Ojibwe, while his more traditional (and sober) grandfather is one-hundred-percent Ojibwe.

…seeing Grandad was never a chore. He was the one connection I had to the stories, beliefs and ways of my Ojibwe ancestors—a vague and distant heritage I only glimpsed through his presence. —Vincent McKnight in Much Ado About Corona: A Dystopian Love Story

I cast native characters in the novel to compare the atrocities committed by the Canadian government against the First Nations people to the government’s modern-day atrocities known as the COVID mandates. When people question whether the government would do something as sinister as fake a pandemic, destroy small businesses with lockdowns and coerce people to take a deadly injection, one only need point to what they did to native children, as I depict in the novel.

For example, Vince’s grandad was abducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a small boy. Removed from his Northern Ontario tribe, he was placed in a residential school where he was abused and forced to renounce his native language and culture.

In order to depict the native characters as best I could, I contacted numerous Indigenous organizations and people, seeking out beta readers. This was during the first year of the scamdemic. Despite offering to pay for their counsel, not one would return my phone calls or respond to my email. Beyond the stigma of a white guy writing about natives, I assume the book’s opposition to the COVID mandates didn’t help matters.

Much Ado About Corona: A Dystopian Love Story

by John C.A. Manley

Finally, a friend found an Ojibwe elder in British Columbia who opposed the COVID mandates and was willing to assist me. But before he was able to begin, he fell ill with pneumonia, was hospitalized, given the toxic anti-viral drug Remdesivir, and died of kidney failure.

Fortunately, I’ve spent much of my life reading biographies, novels, histories and essays by and/or about Canadian Indigenous people. Farley Mowat’s The Snow Walker has long been a favourite read of mine. I also enjoyed the works of Thomas King (author of The Inconvenient Indian), Richard Wagamese (of Indian Horse fame) and John Ralston Saul (A Fair Country Telling Truths About Canada). While writing Much Ado About Corona, I also read all 400+ pages of John Milloy’s A National Crime: The Canadian Government and Residential School System (a grim read, I assure you).

Books are great, but I still wanted the assurance of an Indigenous beta reader.

As a compromise, I was able to procure three beta readers who all lived and worked on remote reservations, either as police officers or teachers. They all felt I represented modern Indigenous people accurately and had little or no suggested edits. So that was both reassuring and unsettling at the same time.

Then, one day, I asked a neighbour, who used to live in Northern Ontario, if she knew any natives who might help. She did indeed have a close friend who was a Métis elder named Francine “Crane Woman” Noiseux who wasn’t falling for the corona hoax. Below, you can see her pictured with my son Jonah and me, when we met up in the summer of 2021…

Author John Manley with Francine “Crane Woman” Noiseux

Crane Woman read the beta version of the novel and helped me refine the dialogue of Grandad’s character. For example, she told me that she thought he had disclosed too much to Stefanie (the town’s beautiful young baker and certified conspiracy theorist) about his Indigenous background. So I ended up making many edits under her direction. Otherwise, Francine felt I had represented her people well and said many scenes in the book brought her to tears.

More than a year after its publication, I have not received any negative feedback from Indigenous readers of Much Ado About Corona. Instead, I’ve only received emails of appreciation from the community thanking me for weaving their history and their people into a story about people of different cultures coming together to oppose oppression.

Speculative fiction writer John C. A. Manley attending a local ceremony led by Todd Torresan for National Indigenous Peoples Day 2023 in my home town of Stratford, Ontario.

And, to my surprise, Grandad is most often cited by readers as one of their favourite characters in the novel (along with Stefanie). While Grandad suffered many wrongdoings at the hands of the Canadian government, I tried to portray him not as a victim. Despite the injustice of the residential school, he came away with many positives — including his lifelong love of Shakespeare’s plays. Many readers have told me they found this Ojibwe elder quoting a 400-year-old British bard charming. Grandad remains witty and wise despite being abused in the nursing home under the harsh COVID restrictions. Even when faced with death and suffering dementia he does not lose his joy.

A flashback scene in the novel, to when Vince was young, sums up Grandad’s views on living life and embracing death:

[Grandad] grinned, as he brought the oar up and laid it across the stern. He wore a bright orange life jacket and a white wide-brimmed hat. He reached into the water and retrieved a wet maple leaf.

“The red leaves are the happy leaves,” he said.

“Happy to die?” asked Mathéo.

He nodded to Mathéo, who was sitting on an extra life jacket, in the centre of the canoe, leaning against the yoke. Even at six, he looked stocky.

“Why are they happy to die?” Mathéo asked again.

Grandad smiled but didn’t answer. I squirmed in my life jacket. During such pauses, I wondered if he was recalling ancient Indigenous wisdom or simply making something up.

“It depends how the leaf lived its life,” said Grandad, finally. “If it lived a good life, it dies full of joy.”

As I note before the prologue of Much Ado About Corona, my depictions of the native characters “are by no means offered as perfect representations, but rather, artistic renderings.”  I did my utmost to depict the spirit, morality and uniqueness of the Indigenous characters, and feel they made an invaluable contribution to this story about human sovereignty opposing government tyranny.

John C. A. Manley is the author of the full-length novel, Much Ado About Corona: Dystopian Love Story. He is currently working on the sequel, Brave New Normal.

John lives in Stratford, Ontario, with his son Jonah, and the ever-present spirit of his late wife, Nicole. You can subscribe to his email newsletter, read his full bio or find out more about his novel novel.

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