The Reason You Walk: A Memoir
By Wab Kinew
Viking Canada, 2015
Reviewed by Danielle Rowaan
“It is hard to hate someone after you take them as a brother or sister,” writes Wab Kinew in one of the most moving scenes in The Reason You Walk. Kinew’s father, a residential school survivor, is adopting a Catholic archbishop as a brother.
Several themes of the book come to a climax in these few pages. We see the reconciliatory power of the nabagoondewin, the Anishinaabe adoption ceremony, as well as the strong example of reconciliation the elder Kinew sets for his son. But Kinew also shows us the person-to-person relationships that can exemplify reconciliation between the Church, Indigenous peoples, and the rest of Canadian society.
The book is billed as Wab Kinew’s memoir, but his father Tobasonakwut is the true main character. Kinew paints a complex picture of a man who was deeply marked by his experience in the residential schools. Yet he practiced his Anishinaabe ceremonies, taught his language at the university level, and developed a deep friendship with an archbishop. He is far more than a victim.
I have to admit that this picture of a residential school survivor was one I needed to read. Again and again, I must repent of my white saviour complex—the subtle superiority that develops when we see another as a victim to be rescued. This book and its rich depictions of Anishinaabe culture helped me again to remember that when one of us is oppressed, we are all impoverished. When the fabric of Creator’s shalom is broken, it is broken for all of us.