Through Different Eyes by Karen Charleson (Signature $19.95)

In 1901, governor james Douglas's multi-talented daughter Martha Douglas Harris published History and Folklore of the Cowichan Indians. Her grandmother was Cree.

Ten years later Pauline Johnson came along and published Legends of Vancouver-stories that should have been co-credited to Mary Capilano (Lixwelut) and Chief Joe Capilano (Su-a-pu-luck).

The breakthrough novel about First Nations people in Canada was Hubert Evans' remarkable Mist on the River in 1954, set in the Kispiox area and Prince Rupert. Evans and his wife, both Quakers, had lived for years as the only 'whites' among the people he was writing about. All the main characters are sympathetically and realistically portrayed as Indigenous.

Conversely, Margaret Craven's knowledge was superficial for her 1967 novel, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, set in remote Kingcombe Inlet, but the story resonated as a breakthrough movie in 1973, attempting to depict First Nations culture. Based on a true story, a missionary chooses to die in Kingcombe Village. He increasingly realizes the sophistication of Kwakwaka'wakw society during its disintegration due mainly to liquor and residential schools.

More realistic depictions of life within First Nations communities have followed-including fiction by Lee Maracle and Jeannette Armstrong, plus George Ryga's landmark play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. There are now more than 256 Indigenous B.C. authors included on the ABCBookWorld reference site.

Now comes one of the best 21st century novels about B.C. indigenous life, Karen Charleson's hitherto unheralded Through Different Eyes, depicting village life atop Vancouver Island in the mid-1980s.

Set in the fictitious towns of remote Kitsum and Port Hope (population 1,000), this story mainly depicts the emotional lives of women in the Joe family, beset by two unplanned pregnancies.

"I was tired of trying to 'explain' to people what life was like on the West Coast in a small native community,"; says Charleson. "I thought I might be able to show people something of the wealth of family and community that lives here.";

The author has lived in Hesquiaht territories for over 40 years. A mother of six, as well as a grandmother, she operates Hooksum Outdoor School with her husband, Sean, near Tofino.

"No one locally seems to have any problem with Through Different Eyes, Charlson told BC BookWorld. "In fact, I can't help but feel humbled and honoured by the numbers of local people who are buying, reading and saying good things about the book. By local, I am talking about all the areas of Vancouver Island where Nuu-chah-nulth people live.";

Everyone knows everyone's business in Kitsum. It's hard for sixteen-year-old Brenda Joe to keep her pregnancy secret, but she can at least withhold the identity of the father. Before she can undertake the arduous trip to Campbell River to give birth, her favourite aunt, Monica, comes for Christmas.

University-educated and beautiful, Monica, 27, was the star pupil at Kitsum Elementary when it opened in 1967. Eight years later the forest company made a road connecting Kitsum to Port Hope, so she could attend high school an hour from her home.

Monica got out. She climbed the social ladder of Vancouver. She became exotic arm-candy for her white partner, Saul, who considered himself to be one of the few anthropologists who truly understood Native peoples. Saul wants them to move to Ottawa.

But Monica decides to ditch Saul, quit her office job at Indian Affairs, and return to her humble Kitsum roots, taking a low-paying job at the local school in order to help her sister, Ruby Joe, look after her daughter Brenda. Monica and Ruby have been especially close ever since they lost both parents in a car accident on the treacherous road to Port Hope.

Charleson's classic Thomas Hardyesque "return of the native"; scenario has very unexpected consequences. After Brenda confides to Monica that the father of her out-of-wedlock child-unbeknownst to him-is the handsome loner Michael Clydesdale from the raucously partying Clydesdale family, Monica takes it upon herself to confront him.

To divulge more is to say too much. Published by Signature, an imprint in Winnipeg, Charleson credits six months working with an editor, West Coast poet Garry Thomas Morse, for bringing her novel to fruition.

"The writing is flawless,"; critic David Stouck has responded, "and the storyline smoothly paced. Despite its somewhat dated aspects, Charleson does a beautiful job of constructing this narrative to render sympathetically a story she has observed closely.";

Charleson succeeds in making the reader care about every individual she portrays. This story of dignity and perseverance rings true on every page by continuously conveying how people feel. Cumulatively, it stands as a testament as to how it's the women in Kitsum who preserve and foster community.

Karen Charleson has published three science textbooks with McGraw-Hill Ryerson and has had numerous articles and essays appear in such diverse publications as Canadian Geographic, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and Canadian Literature. Karen holds an MA in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University.

"I am fully expecting to get some kind of flak at some point about writing about Indigenous people and communities without being Indigenous myself,"; says Charleson. "I'd like to say that I am ready for that attitude or argument, but I will deal with it when it comes. I am confident in what I know, and confident as a member of my own family, so I will be fine.";

In an interview with Charleson in November 2017, in Ha-Shilth-Sa (Canada's oldest First Nations Paper, published in Port Alberni by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council), reporter Shayne Morrow asked Charleson about the genesis of Through Different Eyes.

"I was thinking of two very concrete things as I wrote the novel,"; she said. "One, I wanted to tell a positive story about 'ordinary' daily life as it is lived by the people who have known this area as home for countless generations here on the West Coast.

"The other was to show the enduring strength and central importance of family. I do not specifically name Nuu-chah-nulth or any First Nation in the novel, but I think that anyone who reads it will easily be able to recognize Nuu-chah-nulth attitudes, perspectives, and ways of doing things in the community and family.";

There are now more than 2,000 books pertaining to Indigenous cultures of B.C. on the ABCBookWorld public reference site. Although it's a debut novel, Through Different Eyes easily ranks among the best. 978-1-77324-006-0