A Matter of Conscience by James Bartleman is a fictional novel, but the fiction part is based on solid hard facts, and any one of these characters could have existed/exists in real life. Bartleman doesn’t beat around the bush with his words, and I’m so very glad he doesn’t. His tale is one of such sadness and cruelty, a tale that isn’t unknown to many Native Americans, whether they reside in Canada or the US. A Matter of Conscience isn’t a tale of powwows and dances and warrior legends passed through generations. A Matter of Conscience is the tale of the Sixties Scoop and the forced removal of indigenous children from their parents and homes to be raised in residential schools where they would be submitted to abject cruelty. This is the tale of violence and erasure. This is the tale of the utter hypocrisy of a country who stands strong in the protection of those less fortunate around the world, but treats the natives of their lands as subhuman. This is one of the tales that should be taught in our schools. Not the whitewashed, sugarcoated “facts” that are currently taught.
A Matter of Conscience is a short novel that is narrated in a pretty dry, matter of fact pattern. There are areas that I found a bit lacking in information, or a little too simple in plot, but it all ties in nicely at the end. You may find certain areas hard to believe, but push that thought right out of your mind. At the end of the narrative you will find factual documents that back up any of the events in the novel itself. While A Matter of Conscience isn’t really written in a style that I would normally choose to read it’s a brilliant way to bring attention to horrific laws and doings that were created and/or tolerated by the Canadian government right up into the 1990’s, and even still today. Residential schools and the Sixties Scoop may be over, but the Highway of Tears murders and disappearances still haven’t been solved.
I loved how half of the book is a story strongly based on facts and evidence, while the other half is factual documents. It provides a lot of context and also food for a lot of thought. This is what happened, and the fact that part of it is fiction makes it all the more easier to absorb and think about. I hope others will read A Matter of Conscience and talk about it with their friends and families.
A Matter of Conscience will be published by Dundurn on June 5, 2018. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!