The Game of Silence

By now, I have realized that I took Indigenous Peoples’ month seriously. So far, 30% of my reading this month has been indigenous American voices. Since I don’t pursue own voices reads, but just let them happen to me, that’s a large percentage of my November reading.

The Game of Silence was actually a re-read for me, as I shared this book that my oldergame of silence children had loved with my two younger children.  

This book is the second book in The Birchbark House series. In this book, Omakayas and her family are still living on their island, and the book details their daily life and the cycle of the Ojibwa year.

The Game of Silence, however, is set two years after the events of The Birchbark House, and at the beginning of the book Omakayas’s island is visited by a group of mysterious people that the tribe names “the raggedy ones.” They soon learn that the raggedy ones had been forcibly ejected from their land by the chimookomanag or white people who were settling in their tribal lands.

This touches of a year-long question of whether or not the chimookomanag who are settling in their area will want (or make) Omakayas’s people leave their island and move west. In that spirit, Erdrich depicts relationships between the settlers and the natives that are largely absent from the first book, and shows that the game of silence allows the adults to discuss tribal business while the children are quiet and not interfering.

I Noticed . . .

The thing I noticed most about this book is that the magical years of Omakayas’s childhood are over. She was an innocent seven year old in the first novel, but at the age of nine, Omakayas is aware of the differences between her and chimookomanag, and she is aware of her parents’ concerns. She’s expanding in her capacity to care about her tribe and in her capacity to love and understand others. Unfortunately, we still see Omakayas’s jealousy overriding her capacity to care in certain circumstances. I felt really strongly that my growing kids could relate to Omakayas’s struggle to be better and her occasional failures to do so.

I Wondered . . . 

I wondered more about Omakayas’s Deydey than anyone else in the family. We’re told in the first book that he has one Ojibwa parent and one while parent, but we never see his family at all. I hear about Nokomis and the other relatives of Omakayas’s mother, Yellow Kettle. I would like to learn more about his family and how his family shaped his views on white people.

It Reminded Me Of . . .

These books are very reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books, in that they are set in a similar time period and detail everyday life and family relationships. In fact, my children have recently read Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, and it is easy to see how similar they are. Only, The Game of Silence and other Birchbark House novels are set from the indigenous peoples’ perspective rather than the settlers.

I was also reminded of my recent reads of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and Killers of the Flower MoonThe Game of Silence really expands on what the white people are doing to the natives, and both of the other reads really share some of what the white people have put the Native Americans through.  These are all really powerful when put together as an informal flight.

One Excellent Quote . . .

There was one quote near the end of the book that sums up the loving Ojibwa approach to life that I would like to have in my own approach to life. Of course, this meek approach to live is partially what made it so easy for the white people to commit genocide against them.

You will not take leave of your beloved and beautiful home in bitterness or in anger. You will not take leave in hatred. You are stronger that that. When the Anishinabeg must give way to a stronger force, they do so with the dignity of love. You will leave your home in gratitude for what the Gizhe Manidoo, the great and kind spirit, has given to you.

When one is defeated, these are words to live by. My children and I will be continuing to the third book in the series, and this series as a whole has my full endorsement.

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