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Chris Melnick: Reads & Watches

June 1, 2022

[Editor's note: Chris Melnick is the Executive Director of Share the Magic Book Program, which is a federally registered charity that distributes books, from books for babies to adults, fiction and non-fiction to underserved communities in Manitoba.  To date, Share the Magic has given away over 630,000 books at an estimated value of over $4.2 million. You can follow Share the Magic on Facebook by searching "Share the Magic Book Program"]



To celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21, also the day of the summer solstice, I am recommending two books with Aboriginal content.


The first is entitled “Life in the city of dirty water: A Memoir of healing” by Clayton Thomas-Muller.  One of five books chosen for this year’s Canada Reads contest on CBC Radio.  The city of dirty water by the way is Winnipeg. This book could also be entitled “Racism from the other side”, meaning the receiving end of such treatment. 

Born in Pukatawagan, also known as Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Thomas-Muller is a member of Treaty #6.  In a clear, no nonsense writing style, Thomas-Muller tells his story.  The first section of the book follows his move, as a young child, away from Pukatawagan to Winnipeg.  A move away from the traditional teachings of his grandparents, on the family trap line, as his mother sought to and did achieve a higher education, eventually becoming a psychiatric nurse.  Throughout his childhood and early adulthood, Clayton comes face to face with several instances of abuse within his own family and out right racism from non-Indigenous people, including blatant racist treatment within the education system, causing this good student and natural athlete to drop out during his mid-teens.  From there his life took a downward turn, getting into trouble and having to work within the drug culture in order to survive.  Invited to get involved in the Indigenous Environmental Network, and wanting to change his life, Thomas-Muller decided to throw all of his many talents into this very important fight at several levels.  He has served us all, whether we understand that or not, by fighting for issues important to indigenous people throughout the world.  Issues such as the damage done by the Alberta Tar Sands, possible by the Keystone XL pipeline and other environmental dangers.


Clayton Thomas-Muller lives in Winnipeg and has a commitment to making our city of dirty water a better place.  How lucky we are to have him with us.

The book makes me once again think about how wasteful the whole list of uglies are:  racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, you can fill in the blanks for other forms hateful attitudes.  Who knows what could be achieved in a world without these negative beliefs.  Could we have achieved world peace, found the cure to cancer, alleviated starvation, kept the world pollution free?  These are some of the real issues in the world, not hating one another.

Life in the City of Dirty Water is available at the Winnipeg Public Library, in the following formats:


Book:  333.72092 THOMAS-MULLER 2021






The second recommendation for this column is “1491:  New revelations of the Americas before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann.  This may be the most influential book that I have ever read.  By detailing several aspects of indigenous life, from the frozen north to what is today known as South America, the book paints a picture of a very organized and sustainable life style of many different indigenous groups and nations.       For example, an entire section is dedicated to how North, Central and South America were all mapped out, with the land organized and maintained as meadows, forested areas and water ways to ensure enough food for all.  The example that most struck me was the description of the Amazon.  To this day, if one walks through the Amazon jungle and knows what they are looking for, they will find all sorts of plants to eat.  That is because the Amazon jungle is actually a planted orchard.  When planted, the land was divided between the people of the day, who nurtured plants to ensure healthy eating. 

The book also portrays the political systems of many indigenous peoples, which were truly democratic and included all people in the decision making process.  It states that those who came to the New World and fought for a free and open system of government might be surprised to find that today’s democratic systems are more closely aligned with those of the indigenous peoples of the Americas than on the systems of the European countries which they left.


        1491 is available at the Winnipeg Public Library in the following formats:






Book:  970.011 MANN 2011


        And now for this month’s Yiddish Proverb:


Es iz besser tsu leben in naches aider tsu shtarben in tsar.


It is better to live in joy than die in sorrow.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.