Friday, May 14, 2021

Reader's Diary #2201 - Joe Sacco: Paying the Land

When Joe Sacco's Paying the Land first came out, I recall some locals being concerned that this would be yet another southerner coming to the north for a very short time, declaring themselves an expert and writing an error-filled, misguided book. 

Indeed, I wasn't far into it, before I noticed the first mistake: Inuits. (Inuit is already plural, the S is wrong, and this is a super common mistake for non-Inuktitut speakers.) I was immediately on guard. A fan of other works of Sacco's (Palestine and War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96) I then began to wonder how the locals from those areas felt about his writing. Did they feel it was accurate?

Eventually though my reservations fell to the wayside as I wasn't picking up on other mistakes until near the end when he draws a map with Nunavut listed as Nanavut! While that one really hit me like nails on a chalkboard, I still suspect he gets more right than wrong in the book. Largely, I'm basing this on a couple of things:
1. Most of the text consists of quotes from locals, not Sacco himself
2. There hasn't been a lot of published criticism from those people featured in the book that they'd been misrepresented. In fact, there has even been a push by some folks to have it used as a textbook for the grade 10 Northern Studies course. If the mistakes were edited out, I actually think it's a good idea. He really condenses a lot of history, highlights current issues, and has a real knack of explaining some really complex issues while not portraying the Dene as a monolithic culture. 

One of the more interesting subtexts in the book, I thought, was the generational divide. While generational divides are common worldwide (I don't have half the skills my grandparents would have had and vice versa, and I'm sure my values have been influenced way more by TV and the internet), the impact that colonialism and residential schools in particular have had in magnifying that divide is downright appalling. I feel Sacco has illustrated this with utmost sensitivity and clarity. 

No comments: