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Last Modified: April 12, 2023
Illustration of a crow sitting on a book, with the following text to the left, "Crow Reads Podcast"

Crow Reads is a podcast series by Rayanne Haines, in which she interviews intersectional women, LGBTQ+, and non-binary authors, publishers, editors, agents, and booksellers from Alberta. 

In her memoir, Tracking the Caribou Queen: Memoir of a Settler Girlhood (NeWest Press, 2023), Margaret Macpherson begins the work of looking at the layers of privilege and community racism she experienced growing up in Yellowknife. The memoir is executed using a model of interconnected vignettes and is told from her perspective during the ages of three to seventeen, along with reflections as an adult now. The memoir oscillates between being damming, overly naïve, introspective, and heartbreaking. When I spoke with Margaret, she admitted to still wondering whether or not she should have written it and whether or not she was taking up space from Indigenous voices.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, in her collection, White Fragility, Why It’s so Hard for White People to Speak about Racism, considers the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially and how white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviours that include argumentation and silence. It was considering all these things that I read Tracking the Caribou Queen and listened as Margaret shared her thoughts about growing up, while slowly awakening to the racism around her and stepping outside of her fragility to speak as a white woman who is clear about her culpability. In her reflections, Macpherson does not attempt to frame the memoir in white saviourism but rather acknowledges, without judgement, the racism deeply embedded in Yellowknife in the 60s and 70s. In our conversation she also acknowledges past appropriation in her writing and the work she needed to do. For this memoir, her publisher, NeWest Press, brought in an Indigenous editor and multiple sensitivity readers to ensure “scrutiny of the text, and that the sensitivity of the manuscript was beyond reproach.”

I asked her about how the book came to be and she noted that the manuscript originally started out as a novel but that a conversation with an Indigenous woman about stereotyping of Indigeneity forced her to recognize that she was veering into appropriation and “a white person’s trope that perpetuates a false notion of Indigeneity.” After dismantling the original text, Macpherson says she recognized that despite her fear, the manuscript carried more weight as a memoir. She noted as well that though she grew up among Indigenous people, she had no right to assume their voices in a book of fiction. She notes the manuscript “was based on my own childhood, as the bones of a memoir, allowing me to tell my story from this very restricted lens, through which I could view my particular world . . . populated with friends and acquaintances, some of them were Indigenous, a lot were not. But the memoir is through the eyes of my younger self . . . and it’s the only way that Caribou Queen can be told, because, of course, the book is about white privilege. It’s about entitlement. And it’s about the dawning of the child’s understanding of those things as she grows.”

There have been suggestions that the book doesn’t go far enough in its self-reflection or offering of action. Macpherson herself says she accepts this critique, though I commend her for doing the work. We must not always ask Indigenous writers to take on the heavy lifting of actively asking white people to recognize our own privilege and to examine the history of racism many of us grew up in within Alberta and Northern communities. There is much work to be done within race relations in Canada, and here in Alberta. Macpherson, for her part, acknowledges with this manuscript that, “I can’t be part of any solution until I recognize that I am part of a problem, and that’s why I wrote Tracking the Caribou Queen.

Have a listen to the full conversation:

Headshot: Margaret Macpherson Margaret Macpherson has worked as a full-time professional writer, teacher, and editorial/educational mentor for the last three decades. With a Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing) from UBC, she published widely in newspapers and magazines both nationally and internationally before moving to Alberta in 1994. After a career in journalism and teaching took her to the East Coast and Bermuda, Margaret began working in long narrative prose. She has subsequently published eight books, both fiction and non-fiction, including the biography, Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless which won the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) Exporting Alberta Award. Her collection of short stories, Perilous Departures (2004), and her first novel, Released (2007), were both shortlisted for Manitoba Book Awards and the Re-Lit Award. Her last novel, Body Trade, won the DeBeers Northword Prize in 2012. Tracking the Caribou Queen is Margaret’s first creative non-fiction memoir. She is currently shopping a short story collection and working on a poetry manuscript.

Tracking the Caribou Queen: Memoir of a Settler Girlhood

Margaret Macpherson (CA)

Published: Oct 15, 2022 by NeWest Press
ISBN: 9781774390610

Rayanne Haines (she/her) is a Pushcart nominated author, educator, and cultural producer. She was the 2022 Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries and is the author of three poetry collections. She hosts the literary podcast Crow Reads, is the VP for the League of Canadian Poets, and teaches at MacEwan University. Her collection, Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not A Gun won the 2022 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for a ReLit Award and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Award. Recent work has been published in The Globe and Mail, Minola Review, Qwerty, and Prairie Fire.

Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun

Rayanne Haines (CA)

Published: Apr 15, 2021 by Frontenac House Ltd.
ISBN: 9781989466216