From Page to Screen: A review of THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE
~ Dr. Dawn Karima 


MMIW. For many people these are

simply letters of the alphabet. Yet,

throughout Native America, these

letters are an acronym that press

painfully against the hearts of tribal

families. MMIW signifies "Missing

and Murdered Indian Women."

Tribes and nations mourn as hundreds of Indigenous women have disappeared without a trace or been found murdered. Law enforcement seems unable to bring perpetrators to justice or locate many of the missing women. News outlets frequently reduce their reporting on these cases to statistics, yet these women represent mothers, sisters,daughters, wives, aunts and friends to family members across Indian Country.

A new film, THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE, chronicles the turmoil of a tormented family as they search for their missing loved one.  Yet, this film began with a book of the same name, written by Canadian author Joseph Boyden. Boyden has written an achingly evocative book, which depicts the personal toll of MMIW on families, communities and Native Nations.

Boyden's novel unfolds like a mystery. A bush pilot named Will has crashed his plane. Annie, his tenacious niece, arrives to console and comfort him in the hospital. Both are deeply damaged by interpersonal strife and broken dreams within their Cree family.  Annie has focused her life on the search for and the loss of her stunning sister, Suzanne, a MMIW victim. 

Boyden elicits poignancy without pity. His characters provide human faces for the tragic headlines. Residential schools, addiction, assault, and issues confronting Canadian Natives fill the characters' memories and the pages. The author expertly spins a story that includes healing and attempts redemption.

Reading THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE prepares an potential audience for the upcoming film. Yet, as they turn each page, readers realize the widespread range of MMIW. Boyden creates a credible community of characters who struggle with the loss of a loved one long enough to find that they truly are struggling with the loss of themselves.

A dynamic storyline moves through current events in a relevant, timely way. Further, Boyden raises awareness of MMIW beyond the impersonal headlines, short news cycles, disinterested public and victim-blaming. This book also introduces readers to the tragic consequences of genocide and the historical grief and trauma that accompany these sorrows. 

Boyden is a talented author. The book's primary strength is its empathetic storytelling. THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE features stunningly eloquent writing, coupled with insightful, descriptive prose. This book, published in 2009 by Penguin Books, won a Giller Prize. If the novel's excellence is any indication, THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE will be a timely and memorable movie.