Neechie Hustle is the latest publication from Kegedonce Press. Written by award-winning Cree author, Neal McLeod, the novel is a satirical look at history and the Indian Act. It is set on the fictitious Broken Elbow Reserve, and follows a number of colourful characters through their sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and even absurd adventures.
Neal took some time to answer a few questions about the novel and its quirky characters.
Kegedonce Press: Many of the characters in Neechie Hustle are drawn from your popular Crow Hop Café (2000 to 2004). Could you tell us a little bit about Crow Hop Café and the characters that traversed from there to Neechie Hustle?
Neal McLeod: The Crow Hop Café emerged in the spring of 2000—it is hard to believe that it was 20 years ago. The Crow Hop Café represented a special time for me. It was time of massive cultural and linguistic revival in Regina. We had a certain swagger, and we were making Cree cool again. One of the characters that I myself acted was the Senator. I think by acting him, by being him, by getting into his thoughts and mind, it helped me depict in the novel in a way that allowed me to fluently describe his words and world.
KP: For those of us who are unfamiliar with the terms, could you explain "neechie" and "neechie swagger"? How do they fit in to the telling of the story of the Broken Elbow reserve?
NM: The term "neechie" is derived from nîcî (which is used to describe someone like ourselves). For instance, we can say nîcî-nêhiyaw—my “fellow” Cree person (although gender is not implied in Cree). Neechie became a slang in western Canada, and was sometimes used in a negative way—it was used as a slur by white people to name Indigenous people. About 20 years ago, the term started to be reclaimed by Indigenous people, and now it has been completely transformed. For instance, there is the clothing company, Neechie Gear, based in Saskatchewan which uses the term. I helped come up with that name. You could think of "neechie swagger" as way of saying you walk with pride in your ancestors—you walk with pride in being Cree.
KP: Neechie Hustle includes some dialogue in the Cree language. Tell us a bit about how it serves the story, and some of your process as you wrote in the language.
NM: I think that this is one of the many benefits of publishing with Kegedonce Press: the use of Indigenous languages, including Cree. I think that the using Indigenous languages is important in the revitalization of Indigenous consciousness and memory. For me, the use of Cree helps to shape the characters, and helps to give them depth. I hope that in the future more authors will use Cree (and other Indigenous languages) extensively in their work. Ideally, someday, I would like to write a whole novel in both English and Cree. I would also like to thank nîcîwâkan (my good friend) Randy Morin for helping with the editing of the Cree.
KP: Bannock is ever-present in the telling of the story, and it takes on pretty epic proportions by the end of the novel. What is the significance of bannock for you, and for telling the story of Neechie Hustle?
NM: Bannock is a baked or fried bread, popular in many Indigenous communities. Bannock is one of the central threads of Neechie Hustle. Bannock was in the name of one my comedy groups—the Bionic Bannock Boys. It has been a theme that has moved through much of my comedy writing. I think that bannock has played such a central role in Cree peoples’ lives that I wanted to play with it and work with it in the narrative of the book. Because of its origins overseas, it is also a way of placing the narrative of Neechie Hustle in a wider context.
KP: Will we be seeing more of the characters of Broken Elbow Reserve in the future?
NM: Yes, in the coming years, I will write another novel with the same characters. It will involve time travel and the attempt to set things in history right.
Thanks, Neal, for telling us a little about your new novel! Readers can order Neechie Hustle through the Kegedonce Press website at http://kegedonce.com/bookstore/item/88-neechie-hustle.html
Kegedonce is saddened to learn of the passing of Leo Yerxa. Leo was an award winning illustrator and writer, and illustrated two Kegedonce books, Spirit Horses, and Halfling Spring. Joanne Arnott, Leo's friend and the author of Halfling Spring has written this touching tribute.
Leo and I had a great deal of play in our friendship—and that is what I will most miss. He called me “Lady of the sea” and I called him “Leo of the Lakes,” and variations of these. We visited any time that one of us travelled to the other’s locale, and between times we kept in touch by way of dog girl verse (doggerel verse) by email:
Lady from sea, yond
who write word, of which
many are fond
we here are frozen to the bone
and will perish
if thaw does not come soon
been writing away
an' doin' the same old
whishing to send away
the god'am cold
Hows the book?
We first met in Ottawa, when we sat together on a peer jury for the Canada Council, hosted by Paul Seesequasis. We went for tea together, and browsing a bookstore—he showed me the book he illustrated for Armand Ruffo (Opening in the Sky, Theytus), and suggested we might do the same—and with Maeengan Linklater, we went for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, down past the Parliament buildings, laughing all the way.
Eventually we did get our book Halfling spring created and completed, and did a reading together: many thanks to Kegedonce for supporting us, and uOttawa for hosting the reading.
I love Leo’s books, those that he wrote and illustrated, that I shared with my children, the one he was working on when we last visited (a novel), and those that he illustrated over the years, illuminating poetry and prose on behalf of other authors.
As a visual artist and as an author Leo received many awards; he was and remained a humble person, an active artist, and an encouraging spirit for later generations of artists who benefited so profoundly from having crossed paths with him.
Coming Soon! NEECHIE HUSTLE, a new novel by award-winning writer Neal McLeod, which features a satirical look at history. Neechie Hustle takes place largely on the fictitious Broken Elbow First Nation in Saskatchewan. The novel provides a satirical look at the Indian Act and also looks at the emergence of neechie swagger of the late 1960s and 1970s.