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In Search of April Raintree: 40 Years Later

On September 12th, 1983, a Metis Manitoban named Beatrice Mosionier published In Search of April Raintree through Pemmican Publications. The story tells of two sisters from Manitoba, April and Cheryl Raintree, who are taken from their families and raised in separate foster homes. 

2023 marked the 40th anniversary of publication and has been celebrated with a special edition print, published September 12th. When asked how it feels to hit this milestone, Mosionier was humble, saying she is surprised the story has held on so long. The thought of her story being published didn’t even seem possible at the time. 

In Search of April Raintree poetically articulates the real struggles Indigenous families underwent from the perspective of someone who lived it. From life in foster care with only a small period of time spent living with her sister to deeply traumatic experiences later in life, Mosionier wrote about things she experienced through the voice of April Raintree. At times difficult to read, this book has made a tremendous impact on readers since it was first published. 

“April is ashamed of being Indian,” Mosionier said, a feeling she was taught to bear as a child. According to Beatrice, Indigenous women were perceived as loose and wild. These racist ideas were common across the country and persist today. 

“To me, it’s why we have so many missing and murdered Indigenous women. This mentality of who we are, what we’re like.” 

Since her book was published in 1983, particularly in the last ten years, the general public has become much more informed about systemic problems Indigenous people face and the tragic impact of colonialism. Nevertheless, it is clear to Mosionier how pertinent many of the issues discussed in April Raintree are today, despite the progress which has been made. 

“It’s too bad the story is still relevant.,” she said. “We have become aware of how governments and big businesses operate. When the book came out, we didn’t have the internet like we do today. We weren’t able to access the information we have today.” 

The first draft of the book was written on a typewriter in Oakbank, Manitoba, where she lived after a fire on her farm had burned the buildings to an unlivable state. She and her partner bought a mobile home to live in, which they moved back to the farm where she finished writing. 

The spark to write April Raintree came after losing two sisters to suicide. A family of four children, she lost her sister Vivian in the winter of 1964 and later her sister Katherine in October 1980. 

She said the book was written, “To make people aware of what our lives are like.” 

“People would ask why the suicides, why the racism, why the drugs, why the alcohol. This book was written as an answer.” 

Through the process of writing, Mosionier was able to confront her past and, by telling this story, has made peace with some of the most impactful events of her life. 

“It would hit me more when I wrote an important scene.” 

In 1983, when her book was first published, Beatrice says she had such low expectations of the book that she never expected it to be published. 

“I didn’t think anyone was interested in reading about two Metis sisters.” 

At the time, books published about the lives of Indigenous people were written by non-Indigenous historians. These historians often wrote with a racist, misinformed bias towards Indigenous people. 

“These historians wrote all about what they thought about Indigenous people, and people believed them because they had this legitimacy as historians. Reading the things they wrote about us left me feeling like we were bad people. I believed the history books.” 

Canadian history books Beatrice read in her youth left her feeling like “Indigenous people are bad because of [the historian’s] perspective of us.” 

While the national perspective of Indigenous people has begun to shift, Beatrice believes prejudicial thoughts towards Indigenous people today reflect guilt and a deep normalization of the tragedies imposed by colonialism. 

“Colonist settlers see it as normal because they did it all over the world. It’s what they’re used to.” 

Beatrice is optimistic about what she sees in modern literature as it shifts away from old thinking. Much of this has to do with greater support for Indigenous writers. 

“Large publishers are publishing more Indigenous books. There is a lot more acceptance of what Indigenous people have to say than there used to be.” 

“Like the April Raintree school edition, lots of books in classrooms are written by Indigenous people and not white historians. People who read these new books ask how they can be more involved in improving our lives politically and socially. There’s a lot of support for what we do.” 

This modern approach to Indigenous writers has led more Canadians to a better understanding of the horrors committed against Indigenous people as Canada developed, particularly the residential school system. 

“People today know about residential schools,” she said. 

She also mentioned how people today have a better understanding of how, since the 1960s, child welfare systems have separated Indigenous children from their homes, sending them to live away from their culture in white households just like residential schools did. People today, Mosionier said, are also more aware of the faults in the Indian Act and how it robbed Indigenous people of land rights and a right to practice their culture. 

“Over the years, studies had been done on these things, but studies could be put on a shelf and ignored. But they could not ignore the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” 

The impact of her book has lasted decades. Many schools across the province and throughout the country have In Search of April Raintree in their libraries and classrooms.  

“When it was published, I didn’t expect schools to pick it up. It’s very grown-up.” 

Thousands of people since 1983 remember having read this book as it is an unforgettable story for anyone who has read it. School editions are edited to have specific passages and moments retracted due to the graphic nature of events. 

When asked what it feels like to have written a generationally impactful book, Mosionier mentioned how surprising the success has been. 

“It’s what I wanted to do but not what I thought would happen. More people read it than I thought would be interested. I’m thankful that it reached so many people.” 

The Lighter Side 

The name April Raintree has a simple origin. April is named for spring when life flourishes. It’s a refreshing time of year when things are new. As for the name Raintree, Mosionier simply said, “I like rain and trees.” 

Forty years ago, Mosionier wrote this powerful book to share the stories of the pain she experienced. Today, things are much easier. 

“These days, things are very good for me. I’m doing what I want to do when I want to do it. I try to keep my responsibilities low so I can read,” she said before adding she typically reads Indigenous books. 

When she feels like writing, Beatrice puts down the work of others to avoid repeating the ideas of other authors. 

“I want to make my own mistakes,” she said with a laugh. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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