A northern B.C. author’s portrait of a Nisga’a woman coming of age in an environment rife with abuse, neglect and alcohol is an uncomfortable read but necessary.
“I’m so proud of my friend Jo. She beat so many odds to become the woman she is today,” said Métis Canadian author Janet Romain.
“Not My Fate: The Story of a Nisga’a Survivor” is Romain’s first non-fiction, and second book. The memoir details the life of her friend Jo, who has epilepsy, symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, and who was put through the foster care system when she was a child.
The story dips in and out of the past to Jo’s present day where she lives in an old decrepit trailer with a leaky roof. She remains resilient and with the help of friends, she builds herself an edible garden to have access to fresh produce.
The interactions between Jo and the author seem mundane, with Romain coming to help her with the garden and discussing politics. Those scenes offer the space to digest the other occurrences described in the story.
Jo’s parents were drunks. They lived in Prince Rupert and frequented the bars. Her mother married by the time she was 16-years-old and had several children who she’d often leave alone at home for which she spends time in jail for child abandonment. When Jo was eight-years-old her father’s friend raped her, and she kept it a secret from him.
Child services took Jo away from her father and uncle until she was 14-years-old. A year later, Jo decides to get married and must have her mother’s signature from jail to finalize the arrangement.
The awful twists in Jo’s life continue. She befriends a woman in Prince Rupert, and then finds out her father was the one who sexually abused her as a child. Yet, she keeps the friendship, another sign of her willingness to overcome adversity.
To understand the broader background of First Nations, the author flashes back to memories of residential school, and criticisms of Canadian politics.
“I wanted to tell this story because I think growing up we were not told the true story of the settlement of North America,” said Romain.
Two of the scenes trace the lineage of residential schools through Jo’s grandmother and mother. Without enough specific information on both women, the author decided to create composite characters by using what facts she did have and filling the gaps by researching reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The memoir of Jo covers her chapters in Prince Rupert, Endako near Fort Fraser, Fort Nelson and other areas of northern B.C.
The experiences this woman faces seem too familiar, and although difficult to read, it’s compelling to witness how Jo handles her life and remains in the present moment despite her hardships.
“I wanted to leave the reader with a sense of hope,” Romain said. “I wanted to make people feel that they have a chance to change things. Trying and trying and eventually you end up with success.”
“Not My Fate” is available to order online now, and it will soon be offered at Eddie’s News Stand & Novelties.