A passionate call to action, Firewater examines alcohol—its history, the myths surrounding it, and its devastating impact on Indigenous people.
Drawing on his years of experience as a Crown Prosecutor in Treaty 6 territory, Harold Johnson challenges readers to change the story we tell ourselves about the drink that goes by many names—booze, hooch, spirits, sauce, and the evocative “firewater.” Confronting the harmful stereotype of the “lazy, drunken Indian,” and rejecting medical, social, and psychological explanations of the roots of alcoholism, Johnson cries out for solutions, not diagnoses, and shows how alcoholism continues to kill so many. Provocative, irreverent, and keenly aware of the power of stories, Firewater calls for people to make decisions about their communities and their lives on their own terms.
Map of Treaty 6
Preface: The Author’s First Words to His Readers
PART I: KAYÂS: A LONG TIME AGO
Wîsahkicâhk’s Lost Stories
Part II: How Alcohol is Killing My People
1 So the Story Goes
2 Who Am I to Speak?
3 The Drunken Indian Story
4 A Little Bit More History to Help Put It in Perspective
5 A Time before Alcohol Killed Our People
6 Going to the Graveyard
7 The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Supreme Court
8 Four Models
9 The Trickster in the Story
10 Being Frank: Exposing the Problem
11 Costs of the Alcohol Story
13 The Story We Tell Ourselves
14 The Story kiciwamanawak Tell Themselves
16 The Land
17 It’s All Only a Story
18 Banning Alcohol
21 The Storyteller
24 The Sober House and the Sober Community
PART III: LETTERS FROM OUR SCOUTS, THE ARTISTS
A Letter from Tracey Lindberg
A Letter from Richard Van Camp
PART IV: NIYÂK: FOR THE FUTURE
Wîsahkicâhk Returns to Find out He Is Story
Appendix. Treaty 6 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Plain and Wood Cree Indians and Other Tribes of Indians
Glossary of Cree Words
Sources and Further Reading
Harold Johnson worked as a miner and logger across northern and western Canada, before quitting the mines to pursue a bachelor's degree in law from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master of Law degree from Harvard University. He now works as a Crown Prosecutor in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. He lives with his wife Joan at the northern end of Montreal Lake, where they continue the traditions of trapping and commercial fishing common to Johnson's Cree background. He is the author of Corvus, a novel.
"Johnson lays out an alternative narrative from that of the 'lazy drunken Indian' in order to clear the way to a different conclusion and find and fashion a home-grown fix to a problem that threatens to destroy Indigenous communities. Johnson's suggestions for necessary ways of healing are welcome and tragically overdue. And his suggestion for an alternative narrative is not one of hopelessness. The book should be a bible in the fight for survival and recovery, for a better life for coming generations, and it should somehow be made available to band councils and urban community and friendship centres."
Morgan O'Neil, First Nations Drum
Early on in his new book, Harold Johnson strikes an apologetic tone. He knows the theme of his book--alcohol use among aboriginals--will court controversy.
But he cannot stay silent any longer.
"I'm about to drag this filthy, stinking subject out into the light," he writes. "It is my hope that the light kills it."
Douglas Quan, National Post
Johnson says he isn't bringing all the solutions to the table--he thinks Indigenous communities have the answers, if only the conversation gets rolling.
"I firmly believe the solution is talking about it."
CBC The Current, Interview
"This is an extraordinary memoir by a Cree writer who understands the damage alcohol does when used to kill the pain caused by white Canadians stealing and torturing Indigenous children throughout this nation's history. I know many white alcoholics but it's always 'the drunk Indian.' Why? Firewater is a great book; it burns in the hand."
Heather Mallick , Toronto Star
"[T]his Crown prosecutor, author, and former miner and logger, who has prematurely buried too many friends and relatives due to alcohol-related deaths, refuses to back away from the difficult challenge of addressing the root causes of alcoholism in First Nations communities. He convincingly argues that reality and all of its constituent elements--borders, corporations, governments, race--are ultimately defined by stories, and that an intentional effort to change the tales First Nations people tell about themselves would clear a path forward where addiction treatment and law enforcement models have failed... Written in the style of a kitchen-table conversation, Johnson's personal anecdotes and perceptive analysis are a call to return to a traditional culture of sobriety."
Publishers Weekly, Review