Basil Johnston


A Memoir

"This absolutely riveting, partly because of the wonderful oral nature of Johnston's writing here, and partly because it is told from a native point of view."
- The Globe and Mail

"As Dave McLeod and his family struggle in the constant battle of assimilation, of maintaining a unique culture, of finding work outside the reserve, with language and inter-marriage at the focal points, Johnston holds true to his notion that Dave can be read as a symbol of larger problems in society...Crazy Dave is an anecdote to all those blockbuster titles about the rich and famous."
- The Toronto Star

This is the story of Rosa McLeod and her son David. Life didn't hand them many miracles. Born in 1876, she was the daughter of a proud Native tradition, a Pottawatomi Indian whose grandmother had fled Wisconsin with others in the 1830s to seek sanctuary with the Ojibway further north in what became Canada.

David, her youngest son, suffered from Down's Syndrome, called variously mentally retarded or "Mongoloid."

Through the lives of these two impoverished and marginalized souls we see how they fit in the larger world of the Indian reservation and the country during the two World Wars. We also see bravery, laughter, love and outrageous injustice

In one heartbreaking episode, David, dressed in the remnants of a soldier's uniform, given to him by his older brothers, becomes lost in a neighboring Canadian town during WWII. Speaking no language intelligible to the drunken louts in the tavern, David is mistaken for an invading Japanese spy, and is shackled beaten and jailed. The absurdity makes you laugh and the injustice makes you weep.

Basil Johnston, the distinguished and much honored Native author and scholar offers a portrait of life on the Cape Croker Indian Reserve through the experiences of his grandmother Rosa, his unfortunate Uncle David, and their neighbors and tormentors that will amuse, enrage, illuminate and inspire.

Basil Johnston is the author of eight books, the recipient of the Order of Ontario, an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto. He lives at the Cape Croker Reserve.

Key Porter CAN/99
Minnesota Historical Society Press/US/2002



The Spiritual World
Of The Ojibway

"An extraordinary glimpse into a rich and meaningful mythology"
- Kirkus

A major work, this is the first discussion by a Native scholar of the mysteries represented by manitous, totems, weendigoes and other spirits in Ojibway belief.

The Ojibway or Chippewa refer to themselves as Anishinaube, or "the good beings." Sharing the same language and beliefs are groups known as Algonquin, Ottawa and Pottawatomie, which together form the largest or second largest aboriginal nation north of Mexico.

Drawing on rich Ojibway legends and tales, Johnston illustrates how these stories reflect Ojibway understanding of human nature.

Leading from a description of Kitchi-Manitou or The Great Mystery which presents the Ojibway notion of God, Johnston brings in the delightful, all-too-frail aspects of human nature personified in the four Manitous, the sons of the West Wind and Winonah.

Like the Bible, these express a code for moral behaviour which Johnston illuminates with liveliness and depth.

HarperCollins US/95
Key Porter CAN/95
Minnesota Historical Society Press/Reissue 2001

Basil Johnston is the foremost writer and scholar of Ojibway and native life. His seven books include Ojibway Ceremonies, Ojibway Heritage, Moose Meat and Wild Rice, and Indian School Days, all in print in Canada and the U.S.

His boyhood memoir, Indian School Days was hailed by Louise Erdrich who wrote: "Both a dark tale of assimilation at its most hypocritical and a hilarious account of an irrepressibly energetic boy thrust into a stern world where wit and humour become the means to survival...It is a work to further the understanding and enrich the heart."