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This review is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Cover of Whereas
Evan JonesA Longer Connection to the Land
Whereas, Layli Long Soldier (Picador) £10.99

The Picador edition of Layli Long Soldier’s 2017 collection is physically pared down from the American release, using the same typeface in a smaller font size with tighter margins. It’s a dense book and to approach it in this form is a disservice. At least, here, the cover image is fuller, a still from Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater’s 16mm film, Modest Livelihood (2012). The title refers to a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that First Nations’ hunting and fishing rights are valid only for the earning of a ‘modest livelihood’ and not for the accumulation of wealth. The still features Linklater, an Omaskêko Cree artist from Moose Cree First Nation in Northern Ontario, sitting in a field
of long grass.

Most readings of Whereas are attuned to the link between person and language – but the connection to landscape completes what is a trinity: ‘I don’t trust nobody / but the land I said’, Long Soldier writes in ‘Steady Summer’, and continues, ‘I don’t mean / present company / of course / you understand the grasses’. Language, its difficulties and failures, the colonialization of one language by another, the split between mother tongue and the words of the oppressor: Long Soldier critiques the etymologies and archaeologies of the words she uses – always coming back to landscape.

There is a tradition here, linking land, people and language. It is a part of the process of nation-building and Whereas begins as a critique of what America is. Long Soldier tells us at the ...

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