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