The Reason You Walk: A Memoir

by Wab Kinew

Paperback, 2017


Penguin Canada (2017), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages


A moving father-son reconciliation told by a charismatic First Nations broadcaster, musician and activist.           When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who'd raised him. The Reason You Walk spans the year 2012, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father's traumatic childhood at residential school. An intriguing doubleness marks The Reason You Walk, a reference to an Anishinaabe ceremonial song. Born to an Anishinaabe father and a non-native mother, he has a foot in both cultures. He is a Sundancer, an academic, a former rapper, a hereditary chief, and an urban activist. His father, Tobasonakwut, was both a beloved traditional chief and a respected elected leader who engaged directly with Ottawa. Internally divided, his father embraced both traditional native religion and Catholicism, the religion that was inculcated into him at the residential school where he was physically and sexually abused. In a grand gesture of reconciliation, Kinew's father invited the Roman Catholic bishop of Winnipeg to a Sundance ceremony in which he adopted him as his brother. Kinew writes affectingly of his own struggles in his twenties to find the right path, eventually giving up a self-destructive lifestyle to passionately pursue music and martial arts. From his unique vantage point, he offers an inside view of what it means to be an educated aboriginal living in a country that is just beginning to wake up to its aboriginal history and living presence.      Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond. By turns lighthearted and solemn, Kinew gives us an inspiring vision for family and cross-cultural reconciliation, and a wider conversation about the future of aboriginal peoples.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jessibud2
This was a very powerful read. Kinew is a writer, broadcaster, musician, and most currently, a politician. He hosted CBC's Canada Reads competition for a couple of years, as well. This book is a memoir and a tribute to his father who was, himself, a very accomplished First Nations leader. It
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focuses on the last year of his father's life, as they reconnected, but also goes into detail of his father's early life, when he was taken from his own family as a young child and brought to a Residential school, and how that affected the rest of his life. Kinew spares no details of that despicable chapter of Canada's history but, at the same time, he also chronicles the efforts by his father and the Indigenous communities to work toward reconciliation. Kinew also reveals his own troubled childhood and how, with the love and support of his family and broader communities, he turned himself around. In the final year of his dad's life, together they created an app that serves to keep the language of the Anishnaabe alive, accessible and available into the future. It boggles my mind that he, Wab Kinew, is only 38 year old, himself, and has yet accomplished so much with his life.

I learned so much about Native culture, rituals, and spiritual influences. I marked several passages in this book and will include a few here:

- (referring to the formal adoption of a Catholic archbishop into his Indigenous family) "Through a lengthy, topsy-turvy journey, they had found and embraced each other as brothers. Reconciliation in action. Reconciliation is not something realized on a grand level, something that happens when a prime minister and a national chief shake hands. It takes places at a much more individual level. Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected. Reconciliation happens when the archbishop and the sundancer become brothers."

"This is part of what my father and all the residential school survivors achieved. The full force of colonialization had set out to change them, yet these brave young boys and girls held on to who they were and instead changed the colonial state and the colonial religions. This is a remarkable journey.
The path began when he was taken from the home of his parents in a poor but beautiful village on the Lake of the Woods, and it culminated at the very heights of global power, both literally and figuratively. No wonder Ndede was smiling.
He had grappled with his pain, with his anger, and with his grief. Now, we had seen him conquer those things with love, a love he extended to his fellow human beings, including some who had hurt him.
The worst things one human being can do to another had been confronted by the very best that the human spirit has to offer. On this day at least, the best part of us had won out."

- (referring to the moment Kinew brought his 2 young sons to his father's bedside, to say their goodbyes):

"Our ancestors said that in life we need both the young and the old - the old because they pull us onward in life, the young because they push us forward. For a moment, I stood in the middle as the older and the younger generations acted on me from both directions."

"They left him walking forward, not looking back. This is how our ancestors tell us to leave. Their last words to him were not about closure or finality, but simply about love, in the deep familial sense, and then showing their love for him with a simple act."

In the epilogue of the book, at the end, Kinew says: "After working with Al-Jazzeera's Washington DC office, I would joke that I had become a Native kid from Northwestern Ontario working for a Qatari-owned television network in the United States of America. More than a joke, it also revealed the truth that we are all part of a pluralistic, multicultural, global society....Everywhere along the way, I have been struck by the differences and unique expressions that humanity navigates and negotiates around the world...Beyond these differences, we are united by those qualities bubbling up from beneath the surface. I have heard the universal language of laughter both in a Sonoran slum and a petro-state shopping mall. I have witnessed the devastation wrought by the loss of a loved one in some of the most dangerous cities on earth and in the affluent suburbs of the so-called First World. I have recognized the love of food, the need for sleep, and the desire for companionship everywhere."
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LibraryThing member m.belljackson
The Reason You Walk is challenging reading as Wab Kinew's documents the horrific abuse endured by the Indigenous people of Canada in the name of education.

Transitions could go smoother as the author covers a full range of ancient and modern Anishnaabe traditions and beliefs.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Wab Kinew is well known in Winnipeg as a CBC broadcaster, rap musician and now leader of the NDP and Official Opposition in the Manitoba Legislature. But in this book we come to know the personal Wab and his relationship with his residential school survivor father. It's a powerful book of love and
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healing and growing and reconciliation. It was also very personal for me because I lost a father to cancer when I was a young adult.

Wab's father, Tobasonakwut, was taken away from his family in the Lake of the Woods area to live in a residential school run by the Catholic church.There he was physically and sexually abused. He was forbidden to speak Ojibway or to practise any aboriginal rites. When his father died Tobasonakwut refused to kneel as the priest instructed him and remained standing as his beliefs demanded. For that disobedience he was severely punished. The experience at the residential schools continued to affect Tobasonakwut throughout his life. He overcame alcoholism and went on to become a revered teacher of aboriginal ways. However he was a hard disciplinarian and Wab felt distant from him. Wab had some trouble in his own life in his 20s but grew as a person once he became a father. He grew to appreciate his father's wisdom and knowledge; the two of them started teaching an Ojibway language course and then completed an Ojibway language app. When his father was diagnosed with cancer Wab decided to take a leave of absence from his CBC job and spend time with his father. He hoped that his father would survive but wanted to get to know this man better in case these were his final months. And Tobasonakwut was also putting his house in order. In a grand gesture of reconciliation he adopted the Archibishop of Winnipeg as his brother even though the church the archbishop represented was responsible for so much misery in his life. Wab and his father and the rest of the family also went to one final sun dance in South Dakota, a place his father had first gone to after his oldest son committed suicide. The Kinews were adopted as family members of a Lakota family which is rich in symbology as the Lakotas and Ojibway were historical enemies. Wab and his parents and his sister were also present in Rome when Kateri Tekakwitha was recognized as a saint, the first indigenous person so honoured by the Catholic church. All of these occasions as well as small family celebrations showed Wab how his father could come to peace with his traumatic childhood.

This book will appeal to anyone who has lost a loved parent. I wish I had had the foresight to spend more time with my Dad in the last year of his life.
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Dayton Literary Peace Prize (Shortlist — Nonfiction — 2016)
RBC Taylor Prize (Finalist — 2016)
Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize (Winner — Non-Fiction — 2016)




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