Terese Marie Mailhot is a First Nation Canadian from Seabird Island. In Heart Berries, she writes about her experience growing up on Seabird Island First Nation reservation (Own Voices) and how writing helped her through hospitalization as an adult due to post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder. It is a beautiful, painful book.
“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure that their dichotomies apply to me.”
Like many children raised on reservations, both in the United States and Canada, Mailhot experienced horrific poverty and deprivation as a child. Mailhot’s mother, Wahzinak, was a healer and activist. When Mailhot was a child, her mother formed a relationship with a felon named Salvador Agron, a murderer with whom she communicated frequently. She eventually released the letters to Paul Simon for a play (in which Wahzinak was played by Grey’s Anatomy actress Sara Ramirez). Mailhot’s father was a famous artist, but he also sexually abused her, and was frequently violent towards the entire family. Mailhot grew up in this chaotic, dangerous household and although she eventually grew up and had a family of her own, she never really escaped it. This childhood trauma lead to her eventual hospitalization for PTSD as well as bipolar disorder, and her writing gave her a path out.
And her writing is beautiful. A lot of the chapters are written as letters to her husband Casey. All of it is raw and emotional and strong. The foreword was written by Sherman Alexie, another amazing author who survived a brutal childhood on a reservation. His recommendation of Mailhot as a writer and a voice carries a lot of weight and she has definitely earned it with this debut work.