Scott Mainprize’s new novel, The First Few Feet in a World of Wolves, tells a poignant, but humorous, story of a young, queer, two-spirit man with Algonquin heritage who is learning about and confronting the tragic histories of colonialism across Turtle Island.
Largely set in the fictional Inuit community of Nunarjuaq Akuluk in the arctic region of Québec, where the protagonist Nomad is teaching for a year, the story presents Nomad’s journey toward reconciliation and reconnecting not only to his own Indigenous heritage, but also with broader Indigenous experiences.
Guided on this journey by Inuit Elders and the wider community, as well as the tundra and creatures around him, Nomad’s journey reflects Indigenous ways of relating with the world.
The novel is “about figuring out how we’re all becoming guests in other people’s space and preserving the integrity of our own spaces while building relations with communities and individuals,” says Mainprize.
This journey is more than simply learning about the fraught relationships between Indigenous Peoples and settler-colonial governments, but about how “we see ourselves through the relationships to everything that makes up our world.”
Connecting to the land is part of that. “Everything builds up from the land,” says Mainprize. “So without her many gifts, it doesn’t matter what the rest of us are doing, we would not survive, and that’s as true in the tundra on Great Turtle’s neck, as it is on her mossy back where [we] are speaking from today.”
Currently based in Ottawa, Ontario, where he is helping establish a legal support system for Ottawa’s Inuit community, Mainprize has also lived and worked in Inuit communities and in northern Cree communities such as The Pas, Manitoba, where he taught a course on restorative justice at University College of the North. Mainprize admits that Nomad’s journey in many ways parallels his own.
The decision to fictionalize the narrative was important. Mainprize explains, “I’ve learned in real places and learned from courageous, beautiful, brilliant people, but those aren’t my stories to tell. Those are those individuals’ and those communities’ stories to tell.
“By situating the story in a fictional location with fictional people, I am able to share what’s important to me on my journey while also respecting the sacred nature of those who have shared with me in my real world.”
Besides, he adds, “I find that fictionalizing makes things more accessible to a broader audience.”
Part of that appeal to wider audiences is Mainprize’s use of humour. Whether telling about the challenges of living as a vegetarian in the North, adventures raising a maybe-or-maybe-not-rabid wolf pup, or dealing with an occasionally intoxicated and talkative cat, humour offers a way through many of the novel’s darker conversations about Indigenous history.
“Many of the people that have guided me on my journey have expressed humour as medicine, and I think, certainly, in a story like this where the topics are so dark at times, it’s important that we don’t get stuck in the darkness, or in the trauma,” he says.
“I think combining the humour with the information helps to move things forward in a good way, or in a way that allows for reconciling with the deepness and importance of these issues without becoming overwhelmed.”