Reclaiming Cree Dignity, A Memoir

  • Short-listed Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Nonfiction (2021)
  • Short-listed George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature (2022)
  • Short-listed Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes (2022)
  • Short-listed Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (2022)

Mamaskatch, Darrel J. McLeod’s 2018 memoir of growing up Cree in Northern Alberta, was a publishing sensation—winning the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, shortlisted for many other major prizes and translated into French and German editions. In Peyakow, McLeod continues the poignant story of his impoverished youth, beset by constant fears of being dragged down by the self-destruction and deaths of those closest to him as he battles the bullying of white classmates, copes with the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, and endures painful separation from his family and culture. With steely determination, he triumphs: now elementary teacher; now school principal; now head of an Indigenous delegation to the UN in Geneva; now executive in the Government of Canada—and now a celebrated author.

Brutally frank but buoyed throughout by McLeod’s unquenchable spirit, Peyakow—a title borrowed from the Cree word for “one who walks alone”—is an inspiring account of triumph against unimaginable odds. McLeod’s perspective as someone whose career path has crossed both sides of the Indigenous/white chasm resonates with particular force in today’s Canada.

Reviews of Peyakow

“Bravo! A job well done. You, my friend, are a very good writer.”

—Tomson Highway

“This is the story of the remarkable professional life of a remarkable man. Whatever he worked on, including such important government files as the Nisga’a and Dene land settlements, he started out and remained a fierce champion of Indigenous rights. Wherever he travelled, he carried with him his past, the joys and tragedies of his own family, and the dignity and courage of his Cree ancestors. The book is a story of triumph, made particularly moving because McLeod doesn’t hide the demons he wrestles with as a two-spirited and Indigenous man.”

—Lorna Crozier, author of Through the Garden

“McLeod boldly reconnects and reflects upon decades of lived experiences from familial, Cree traditional life of living off the land, to a professional (ultimately international) life dedicated to Indigenous rights and wellbeing. By reconnecting stories torn apart by poverty, tragic deaths, racism, homophobia and bureaucratic white privilege, McLeod performs a sacred act.”

—Betsy Warland, author of Oscar of Between

“We witness in these new stories McLeod’s dignity and intelligence as he faced the tsunami-like impact and destruction caused by the draconian Indian Act, which brought about cultural genocide to First Nations people all across Canada.

It has taken courage to stand up to a country that took control of land and resources from Indigenous people. It didn’t stop there. The Indian Act sought to eradicate Indigenous languages and culture. Leaders like McLeod have stood up and said enough is enough….[McLeod’s] meteoric rise in the ranks of the civil service brings him into roles and situations that draw out the best in his warrior spirit and intellect….McLeod’s honest account of his life and work is brutal at times. Truth-telling is like that. But we need someone to reveal what happens behind the scenes….. It’s inspiring to learn how he was able to overcome his own challenging obstacles to become a school principal, a treaty negotiator, a jazz musician and raconteur.

Peyakow is a page turner. Take the time to read and understand the history of Indigenous people in Canada through books such as this.”

—Latash-Maurice Nahanee, BC BookWorld

“The book presents the Native experience in raw vignettes from the life of the author…With a sprinkling of magical realism reminiscent of Garcia Marques, Peyakow—Cree for ‘he or she travels alone’—is a love song of gratitude to Mother Earth and an Ode to the Indigenous peoples of Canada…. The book isn’t a feel-good read, but it will definitely provide insight into the very subtle and complex life an Indigenous person leads in contemporary times. In a blend of drama, tragedy, and comedy, Peyakow is an epic tale of one man’s journey to find his culture and to help his people. For anyone interested in how a Native person navigates through current day Canada, this book is rich with personal experience and wisdom. McLeod carries the emotion found only at the end of life through each scene and sentence to create a cacophony of first-hand, Indigenous experience.”

—Jake Cardinal, Alberta Native News &

“McLeod’s vibrant prose renders the world with tenderness and skill. His profound book is full of love and trouble that you won’t soon forget.”

—Hilary Weston, Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Award Jury

“…While [Peyakow’s] personal and powerful, it resonates beyond McLeod and becomes a story about Canada’s Indigenous peoples.”

—Deborah Dundas, The Toronto Star

“Far from being a simple rags-to-recovery tale, Peyakow shows how light and darkness are entangled.”

—Andrew MacLeod, Quill & Quire