Book Review: One Native Life by Richard Wagamese (Indigenous Author)

Book Review: One Native Life by Richard Wagamese

One Native Life sat on my shelf for years, and it's one I wish I would have picked up sooner. It’s really hard to even review this one because it was such a personal read for me. Richard Wagamese passed away in 2017, he was an Ojibway man and a master storyteller. I previously read Indian Horse and loved it as well but this book REALLY SPOKE to me. It made me reflect on my life in so many ways and made me understand that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with what it meant to be Native. Many Indigenous people struggle with identity and what it means to be Native when you're so disconnected from your culture.

One Native Life is Wagamese’s story about his own life. He was taken away from his biological family at a young age, and went through the foster system and eventually was adopted.  As a young Ojibway child, he never felt like he fit in. He learned to expect that nothing is permanent. Just as he learned to be comfortable with one family, he was moved to another.  At one point, his foster family went on vacation, and they decided not to take him. Why? because they could. He was a child who was an inconvenience for them. None of these families that he passed through were Native and that had a significant impact on him. He had no one to answer his questions, and guide him in the ways of his people.

As Wagamese grew older, he became enamoured with books.  He lost himself in the knowledge and the different worlds. He started collecting Native artifacts and wearing them, thinking they made him “more Native.” When asked about his Native culture, he would lie because he had no idea what those answers were.  At the age of 16, he turned to alcohol and living on the streets. Ultimately, he was looking for acceptance, and he wanted to feel like he belonged somewhere.

I don’t want to give too much of the memoir away, each section should be savoured. At the root of the story is a lonely boy, but also understanding, and optimism.  As Wagamese walks his readers through his story, he offers hope and healing. Knowledge is important. Every Native person is entitled to their own culture, their own understanding and their own opinion. You don’t have to agree with every Native political issue just because you're Native. It's not an all or nothing.

I think this would be an enjoyable read, regardless of your background. Wagamese was a strong writer and an inspiration to me. I’ll continue to read all of his books. Humans are fragile, and our life experiences shape who we are as people.  I know this book will be one I read and reread again throughout my life.


  1. This sounds like such a lovely book. I'll have to see if I can find it here.

  2. I can see why this spoke to you - it sounds very emotional.