Today is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. I hope that my readers will take a moment or two to think about the many contributions Aboriginal people have made to Canadian culture. In 2009, I attended the Ogamas Brandon Aboriginal Literary Festival and was humbled by the talent and kindness of folks like Richard Van Camp and Niigaanwewidom James Sinclair.
Author Harold Johnson was the first person to comment on my website, and as such I thought it fitting that I post my interview with him today. I found Harold fascinating (and he was so prompt returning my interview questions–always a good way to impress a freelancer!). Since our interview, Harold’s novel The Cast Stone has also won the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction.
Glass Houses (this interview originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Prairie Books NOW.)
Before Canada sets off to invade other countries, Harold Johnson wants Canadians to imagine what it would feel like to be invaded., and to take it a step further. “If we begin to imagine the invasion of Canada, we must begin by imagining who might invade us,” says the author of The Cast Stone.
Johnson does not believe such an assault would come from Afghanistan, Russia or China, but more likely from our greatest ally. Given the still persistent belief that the 9-11 terrorists entered the US via Canada, it is hard to argue with his assumption.
In his novel, the world’s longest undefended border no longer exists; a dirty bomb set off in San Francisco saw to that. Canada’s perceived weakness was used as the impetus for annexation by the United States. Enduring the oppression of Homeland Security in what is now known as the North Division of America, it would seem there is little for most Canadians to do but hope for things to become better.
“Hope shares characteristics with regret,” says Johnson, who feels that both are useless. Hope “is a thief of the moment. Instead of hoping for a better world,” he believes “we need merely to make this moment better, and the world will be better.”
Ben Robe, a retired Political Science professor living in his childhood home of Moccasin Lake Reserve, is Johnson’s instrument of this better moment. A seeker of peace and balance, Robe is the voice of reason in this novel of uprising and resistance. He urges friends and family away from violence and scare tactics, believing rightly: “An angry dog is never as dangerous as a dog that is afraid. Cornered animals fight the hardest.”
Johnson likens Canda’s annexation in his novel to the centuries of occupation faced by the Aboriginal Peoples. While Canadians fight for their sovereignty, Ben says with no malice:
“Waweyatsin, now you know what it feels like.”
Harold Johnson, like Ben, lives “off the grid and on the trapline.” He has been writing all of his life, whether by lamp light as a boy or currently in the log home he built with his wife. There his surroundings and “the spirit of this place and time” inform his writing.
“‘Dystopian’ is a word applied to The Cast Stone by the publisher,” the author admits, “but to write honestly about war required that people were hurt, tortured, killed and that mothers would cry and fathers would be angry.”
To Johnson, the book is about balance and the search for it. Despite writing a story that displays a terrifying escalation of today’s theatre of security, Johnson does not feel that security has trumped liberty.
“Liberty is truth and truth will always assert itself. We will only surrender our liberty to the point we agree to surrender it,” he says.
“Truth can be captured and hidden, but it always escapes, it leaks, then like the hole in the dike, it floods.”
Born and raised in Northern Saskatchewan, Harold Johnson has a Master of Law degree from Harvard University. He has served in the Canadian Navy, and worked in mining and logging. Johnson is the author of two novels, Billy Tinker and Back Track, both set in northern Saskatchewan against a background of traditional Cree mythology and both shortlisted for Saskatchewan Book Awards. His most recent publication Charlie Muskrat was been shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award.
Johnson practices law in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and balances this with operating his family’s traditional trap line using a dog team.