My favorite novel of all time is Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms. Published in 1997, it is the story of Angel, a girl who was taken from her Native relatives as a tiny child and raised in foster care, after being abused by her mentally ill mother. At 17, she comes back to find her grandmothers and learn about who she is. During this time, people in her small village discover that hydroelectric dams are planned for their ancestral homeland in the north, so four women travel by canoe to help in the struggle against it. I first read this book when I was working (with Massachusetts “Save James Bay”) against the hydroelectric dams that were being built in Quebec, and I learned later that Hogan had drawn from that situation in creating her fictional account.
But this brief description of the plot can’t do justice to the many layers of poetry and meaning that are woven into her narrative. I learned about what it might mean to be deeply connected to a place–to be indigenous to a place. I learned that loving the earth isn’t just about loving the planet, but rather about loving a particular island or river or peninsula or forest. I learned that we can love the earth even if we are not indigenous, even if the earth keeps some secrets from us. It helped me along my journey to find my own connection to the earth. The elder Tulik tells Angel, “Here a person is only strong when they feel the land. Until then a person is not a human being.” [p.235]
Linda Hogan tackles issues that face Native people–including the taking of children and the taking of land–and brings alive for all of us the heartbreak and courage that are born in this brokenness, and the beauty that may be created as people move toward healing. As we face more and more destruction on our planet, we all so much need to learn to “feel the land.”