Kiss of the Fur Queen

Overview

In the 1950s, Abraham Okimasis becomes the first Indian ever to win the Trapper's Festival Dog Sled Race and, as tradition dictates, he is kissed by the festival's beautiful Fur Queen. Nine months afterward, Abraham's wife Mariesis gives birth to their son, Champion, in a tent on a trapline in snowy northern Manitoba. Later, three-year-old Champion watches his brother Ooneemeetoo come into the world in the same tent.

The boys grow up in a magical Cree Garden of Eden: stars, fish...

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Overview

In the 1950s, Abraham Okimasis becomes the first Indian ever to win the Trapper's Festival Dog Sled Race and, as tradition dictates, he is kissed by the festival's beautiful Fur Queen. Nine months afterward, Abraham's wife Mariesis gives birth to their son, Champion, in a tent on a trapline in snowy northern Manitoba. Later, three-year-old Champion watches his brother Ooneemeetoo come into the world in the same tent.

The boys grow up in a magical Cree Garden of Eden: stars, fish and caribou are their playmates; canoes and dogsleds transport their nomadic family. Joy and raucous laughter roll across the tundra with them. No English is spoken, no white people cross their path. And everywhere they go, the boys are accompanied by a photo of their father being kissed by the Fur Queen, their guardian angel.

At the age of six, Champion is hauled into a plane and whisked to a boarding school three hundred miles south, where he enters a Hell on Earth. His name becomes Jeremiah, and his language is forbidden. His brother later joins him at the school, where the two boys are abused by priests. As young men, they suffer the humiliation of racism on the streets of Winnipeg.

Wherever the brothers go, the Fur Queen — a wily, shape-shifting trickster — looks after them protectively. For Jeremiah and Gabriel (as Ooneemeetoo is now called) are destined to be artists. Through music and dance, the Okimasis brothers flourish in the world. Until tragedy sneaks up on them.

Kiss of the Fur Queen fuses Native story-telling techniques with European narrative form to create an engaging, funny, passionate, and triumphant novel of a uniquely Canadianexperience: that of being a stranger in your own land.


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Tomson Highway's prose is beautiful, lyrical... Emotionally complex, witty, symphonic and sad, Kiss of the Fur Queen is a remarkable novel, filled with blood and guts, life and love." —The Vancouver Sun

"Kiss of the Fur Queen is a novel of affirmation ... a novel that dances with life." —The Globe and Mail

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806139333
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2008
  • Series: American Indian Literature Series
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Tomson Highway is a Cree from Brochet, in northern Manitoba. He is the celebrated author of the plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, both of which won Dora Mavor Moore Awards and Floyd S. Chalmers Awards. He holds three honorary degrees and is a member of the Order of Canada.

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Introduction

Kiss of the Fur Queen for me is a celebration of the Cree lifestyle, culture and language. The Cree culture and way of life is a unique and important part of Canadian culture, which needs to be celebrated and preserved. I wanted to share this with a broader audience, and encourage other Native writers to find their voice.At the same time as celebrating this culture, Kiss of the Fur Queen is also a cry for its preservation. As Jeremiah and Gabriel experience, an idyllic lifestyle can often be interrupted at a young age by very destructive social forces. These forces have serious repercussions on artistic communities, and I felt that this story needed to be told to bring this to light and to try to put an end to that loss. Writing this book was a personal catharsis for me of that loss and, I hope, for the Native people and all artistic communities. — Tomson Highway

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Foreword

1. The mythological figure of the Fur Queen is very prominent in the story and continues to appear in various guises throughout. What does this figure represent for the two boys?

2. Gabriel and Jeremiah react very differently to the sexual abuse they endure. Discuss these reactions and what they suggest about the boys' characters.

3. Cree is often described as a humorous, musical language, the language of a culture that tries to find the joy in everything. Highway mixes Cree with English throughout the text. Discuss the ways in which the varying sounds, structures and vocabularies of these two languages symbolize the gulf between cultures in the novel.

4. Jeremiah and Gabriel find it difficult to adjust to city life when they move to Winnipeg as teenagers. They are ostracized, made to feel like outsiders in the only country they have ever known. Discuss the similarities and differences between the experiences of the Okimasis brothers and those of immigrants you have known coming to Canada for the first time.

5. The Okimasis brothers are firmly connected to their roots in Cree culture, and yet they leave their home on the reserve to join 'city life,' rarely to return. Discuss the difficulty of being true to one's background, while living one's own modern life.

6. Jeremiah is keenly aware of the stereotypes assigned to Natives and knows that some of those prejudices reflect aspects of Native life. Jeremiah resists becoming the type of man a hostile society expects him to be. Can stereotypes be self-fulfilling prophecies?

7. There are many different mythologies—Christian, Cree, Greek—that weave through this story. Discuss the rolethese mythologies play in the lives of the Okimasis brothers. Discuss the impact different mythologies have on modern day literature and culture generally.

8. A fundamental difference between Cree and English and the worlds these two languages represent is that in Cree there is no gender, no rigid male-female categories. Does Kiss of the Fur Queen suggest what the imposition of a strict gender hierarchy would mean for Native culture? Is it possible to read Gabriel's fate as symbolic of this cultural destruction? What other novelists have used disease as a metaphor for social disintegration?

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Reading Group Guide

1. The mythological figure of the Fur Queen is very prominent in the story and continues to appear in various guises throughout. What does this figure represent for the two boys?

2. Gabriel and Jeremiah react very differently to the sexual abuse they endure. Discuss these reactions and what they suggest about the boys' characters.

3. Cree is often described as a humorous, musical language, the language of a culture that tries to find the joy in everything. Highway mixes Cree with English throughout the text. Discuss the ways in which the varying sounds, structures and vocabularies of these two languages symbolize the gulf between cultures in the novel.

4. Jeremiah and Gabriel find it difficult to adjust to city life when they move to Winnipeg as teenagers. They are ostracized, made to feel like outsiders in the only country they have ever known. Discuss the similarities and differences between the experiences of the Okimasis brothers and those of immigrants you have known coming to Canada for the first time.

5. The Okimasis brothers are firmly connected to their roots in Cree culture, and yet they leave their home on the reserve to join 'city life,' rarely to return. Discuss the difficulty of being true to one's background, while living one's own modern life.

6. Jeremiah is keenly aware of the stereotypes assigned to Natives and knows that some of those prejudices reflect aspects of Native life. Jeremiah resists becoming the type of man a hostile society expects him to be. Can stereotypes be self-fulfilling prophecies?

7. There are many different mythologies—Christian, Cree, Greek—that weave through this story. Discuss the role these mythologies play in the lives of the Okimasis brothers. Discuss the impact different mythologies have on modern day literature and culture generally.

8. A fundamental difference between Cree and English and the worlds these two languages represent is that in Cree there is no gender, no rigid male-female categories. Does Kiss of the Fur Queen suggest what the imposition of a strict gender hierarchy would mean for Native culture? Is it possible to read Gabriel's fate as symbolic of this cultural destruction? What other novelists have used disease as a metaphor for social disintegration?

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