Bitter Embrace: White Society’s Assault on the Woodland Cree

McClelland & Stewart, 2005. Winner of the City of Regina Book Award, A Globe 100 Selection.

Available in bookstores throughout Canada

Winner of the City of Regina Book Award, 2005
A Globe 100 Selection
2005 Dafoe Prize Nominee

For over 200 years, Pelican Narrows Indian Reserve in northern Saskatchewan has endured a torturous relationship with the encroaching European culture, from the Hudson’s Bay Company factors and Oblate missionaries of earlier times to the bureaucrats and police of today. Through the use of archival material, oral storytelling and documenting the personal stories of contemporary Pelican Narrows Cree, Maggie Siggins gives us the human faces behind the newspaper headlines screaming about native issues.

What the critics say:

bitter102Globe and Mail, April 16, 2005

“This is a people-centred history, one that shows in brutal detail how the currents of colonization have left their mark upon individuals whom we come to know and empathize with over the course of the narrative. While Siggins showed herself to be a masterful archival researcher in her biography of Louis Riel, here she makes the laudable decision to step outside the archives and listen to Cree people. Their stories form the core of this book, and give it an emotional impact that is seldom seen in archive-based histories.

VueWeekly, July 2005

“This compelling, well-researched books opens historical vistas on matters half-known to the general reader –like the residential school experience or Aboriginal politics – and shows how the story of a particular community resonates with the shameful oppression, both historical and ongoing, of Canada’s aboriginal people….Siggins shows how the story-driven craft of non-fiction can pull meaning and understanding out of fraught histories and contemporary realities, and point the way to necessary social change.”

bitter202Calgary Herald, April 23, 2005

“What makes this historical account so compelling is the fact Siggins focuses the narrative on members of the contemporary community. She uses their words and their histories to tell an age-old story rather than relying exclusively on archival record.”

Edmonton Journal, May 1, 2005

“Siggins is a skilled journalist and writer and her telling flows smoothly and crisply.”

Star Phoenix, April 30, 2005

bitter302“Perhaps the bitter truths in Bitter Embrace will help more of us to open our hearts, and our minds, to the Cree people living just down the road.”

Regina Leader-Post

“Siggins uses personal experiences as a hook on which to hand her research material. The idea is to brush the dust off the documents, and not only tell history from a modern-day perspective, but lend it some humanity as well.”


It’s a nice day, so people amble about outside, waiting for the judge to arrive. A big fellow wears a black shirt which taunts: “I DID NOT ESCAPE. THEY GAVE ME A DAY PASS.” On one side of the building is located bitter402the community hall, which serves both as a bingo parlour and courtroom – when a trial runs too long, the bingo players bang on the door to be let in — an on the other side is the village office. All the windows have bars or are covered with wire mesh, which is why it seems such a dismal place. The railing on the stairs has mostly fallen away, and the floor of the entranceway has a gaping hole in it. How someone hasn’t broken their leg is a wonder. On the outside wall of the village office, in bright blue paint, is scribbled “FUCK” in huge letters; on the community-hall side, there as smaller “Fuck” painted in the same painful blue. Piles of garbage and rubble are scattered around. Why the band doesn’t cough up the money to clean the place remains a mystery.