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Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers' Favorite
Angie must come to terms with the death of her best friend in Feast: A Gitksan Story by Roy W. Russell. Walt has died while in college in Toronto, halfway across the country from the reserve on which the Gitksan people live in the Pacific Northwest, and the entire concept of the Feast is the traditional observation of the passing of a tribal member. Angie, who has been home due to a strike at her college, begins to immerse herself in the culture she has known for only six years since Walt prevented her from committing suicide one night. Since that day, they had been devoted friends and now Angie feels immense grief.
The ritual of the Feast is poignantly and lovingly portrayed by Roy W. Russell, showing the depth and devotion of the traditional beliefs held by this group of indigenous people. Beginning with the Smoke Feast after the body has been brought home, people are informed of the events that will occur that are designed to allow for everyone to mourn while preparing the deceased for the journey to join the ancestors. Through the vigil and guarding of the home from those with evil intent to the flow of visitors who pay their respects, Angie struggles with memories of Walt and the good times they had, trying to justify what has happened. After this period of viewing, there is a memorial that lasts for hours as tribal members from all over come together to share the pain of the family and honor Walt. Speakers and a slide show capture the special moments of Walt's life so that he will be well remembered. The funeral and burial finally take place and the Settlement Feast, a quite formal event, concludes the public mourning. Tribal elders and honored members of the different clans from along the Skeena River both pay their respects and are honored for their participation.
To help Walt on his journey, some of his favorite foods are burned as offerings, as are his most prized possessions, and throughout this entire process, the community surrounds the grieving family and food is always available. Nine months later, the headstone is finally ready and set in place, along with a fence to protect the grave site. This is the last ritual to be performed according to the age-old customs of the people. Angie learns the ways of her people, experiences dreams and native symbolism, and comes to appreciate the culture she grew up not understanding because she lived in Vancouver. Feast: A Gitksan Story by Roy W. Russell is an in-depth view of one of the traditions many indigenous peoples are trying so hard to hold on to. The story portrays the struggle of the modern tribal member trying to accommodate two totally different worlds, and the very real consequences of failing to do so. A well written and difficult to put down story, in which we are treated to a close inspection of a group's intense beliefs based on their respect for the deceased.