Books

Roots of oppression

Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America By Victoria Freeman

Susan Oh November 20 2000
Books

Roots of oppression

Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America By Victoria Freeman

Susan Oh November 20 2000

Roots of oppression

Books

Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America By Victoria Freeman

McClelland & Stewart, 535pages, $39.99

Victoria Freeman grew up with the sense of being born on the wrong side of history. The Ottawa writer wondered about the role her ancestors had played in the oppression of indigenous peoples, and how she had come to inherit a sense of guilt. Those questions led Freeman, now 44, to spend seven years researching her family’s four centuries in North America. The result is a hefty book with a human, emotional approach to the past.

Distant Relations traces Freeman’s family tree from the marriage of an English couple in 1588 to 1920s Ontario, ending with a look at contemporary issues such as land claims. Among the author’s colourful ancestors was Thomas Stanton, a Puritan fur trader who took part in the first genocide of First Nations—the burning alive of 400 Pequot Indians in 1637 New England. But later, he befriended many aboriginals and became an interpreter. The author also attempts to come to terms with her grandfather E. G. D. Freeman, who oversaw the administration of a residential school near Kenora, Ont.

Freeman provides context for the actions of her forebears, and she resists the temptation to merely exonerate or condemn. Though she ends on a positive note—that Aboriginal Peoples are healing, and asserting, themselves— she challenges Canadians to recognize the bitter legacy of colonialism, much as she has done in confronting her own colonizer roots.

Susan Oh