Sundogs isn’t your typical coming-of-age story from Hollywood – white boy with nice car gets into trouble, gets drunk, gets girl, makes peace with dad, becomes a man.

Marianne, the heroine of Sundogs, Lee Maracle’s first novel, doesn’t have time to worry about fast cars. She’s preoccupied with other problems. Marianne’s brother, Rudy, beats up his wife. Her mother yells at the TV and harbours a hatred of white society that embarasses Marianne. Her sister, Rita, is getting a divorce. An arrogant white boy keeps showing up uninvited at her house, scaring off the man who does interest her.

Worst of all, Marianne, the youngest daughter in a middle-class First Nations family living in East Vancouver, doesn’t know how to love. She is constantly holding back from fully trusting or giving herself to those who are close to her. At the root of her confusion is a feeling of being disconnected from her past, from the language of her people, from her family and, ultimately, from herself.

Sundogs is the story of Marianne and other First Nations young people who came of age during the summer of 1990. The Mohawk barricades went up half a continent away from Marianne’s Vancouver, but they knock down a psychological blockade in Marianne’s 20-year-old mind.

That summer sets Marianne on a path to discover herself as a First Nations woman. She learns about love. She learns about her past and decides she wants to speak the language of her mother. She also learns that she deserves respect and starts to understand her other sister, Lacey, who is an ardent feminist. “It isn’t her feminism that scares me; it’s the absence of my own,” Marianne says. “She expects love; she expects to be treated the way women deserve to be treated. ” Marianne starts to expect the same thing.

But it’s not easy going, she finds. “Erase yourself or consent to shame. That’s the sociology of being Native and a woman in Canada. It is the result of besiegement, encroachment, small neglect, impoverishment and mass death. I had my mind and spirit crippled by the choices they left open to me as though there were no others.”

In Sundogs, Lee Maracle shows how the world of politics and how the politics of an entire people impacts on personal lives in the most profound way. The book shows how the genocide against the First Nations destroyed Marianne’s ability to trust and love. To put herself and her family back together, she has to embark on an intensely personal journey. But her inspiration is the brave stands of Elijah Harper and the Mohawks thousands of miles away, people she has never met but whose destinies are inseparable from her own. “If Elijah upset Canada, he upset me a great deal more,” Marianne says. “His message to us was profoundly simple; we are worth fighting for, we are worth caring for, we are worthy.”

Sundogs is a moving and inspirational story – a testament to why Seneca writer Lee Maracle is one of Canada’s most respected First Nations writers. Sundogs was published by Theytus Books, a First Nations publisher (P.O. Box 20040, Penticton, B.C., V2A 8K3). You can order a copy by writing to them.