Saturday, October 4, 2014

Windigo Island by William Kent Krueger

Windigo Island (Cork O'Connor, #14) When I first read William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series, Iron Lake, I was struck by the coldness between whites and Indian populations in Minnesota and admit to finding it off-putting. Krueger’s latest novel is fourteenth in the Cork O’Connor series, and the coldness between the races is still there, but I have a completely different perception of it. Now I feel so grateful to Krueger for pointing out such a failing in our management of race relations that the treatment of Indians on reservations and off is still a hideous blemish we have to confront every day in parts of our country. Indian attitudes should be cold. It would be a miracle if they weren’t.

Krueger gives us a window into a world many of us will never experience firsthand, shares words, customs, traditions, and details of Indian life that can be mined for the underpinning of Indian heritage and culture. But he also shares his clear-eyed view of what our country looks like—both physically and psychically—from the waterfront in Duluth and waves breaking on the shores of Lake Superior’s rock-strewn islands to the inside of a home for runaways and a dinner table laid for guests in an Indian home.

In this installment, Krueger brings us to North Dakota where some Indians are working to preserve a landscape that is threatened by oil companies dedicated to oil retrieval in the Bakken Formation through the process of fracking. As it turns out, the worthless land the government gave to the Indians way back when happens to be right on top of the Bakken formation which has emerged as one of the most important oil formations in the United States. This must be God’s little joke on the white folk, though I’ll bet the reservation Indians see precious little that will benefit them and a whole lot more that won’t.

Besides this important piece of information, Krueger also shares the history of child prostitution on the Great Lakes near and around Duluth, or what is sometimes called the human trafficking of young girls, many from differing Indian tribes and reservations that were all shoved together at some point, and which now experience gang or tribe-on-tribe violence similar to an inner city history of interracial gang warfare.

Krueger peoples this modern history with realistic characters including the loving and generous children of lawman-turned-private investigator Cork O’Connor. Though O’Connor himself has a tendency towards hard justice, his children exhibit the gentling influence of their tribal blood and the Indian tradition exemplified by the close family friend “Uncle” Henry Meloux.
"In every human being, there are two wolves constantly fighting. One is fear, and the other is love. The one which will win is the one you feed."

Uncle Henry is closing on 100 years old, though no one knows for sure. He is of the Anishinaabeg Tribe, or what is sometimes called the Iron Lake Ojibwe. He lives alone in a cabin in the woods by a lake and is considered by his tribe members and many others to be an elder of enormous moral understanding and weight. His thinking is elliptical and his pronouncements often indirect, carrying a hard-won wisdom that puts one in mind of great Buddhist leaders, signaling an inclusiveness in the circle of life that is not typical of "the white man."

Krueger introduces a rich cast of characters that seem to have their basis in real life. Sometimes Cork’s twenty-something daughter Jenny seemed not to grasp the menace of the situation in which her crew found themselves while journeying to find men responsible for holding captive some young girls, but she was wily and careful and was forced into action by the end. I tend toward Cork’s end of the spectrum of justice dispensation, but we always need someone questioning those choices.

Krueger’s series gives us a very interesting look at the modern Midwest, in all its glorious dishabille.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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