Hawke, Jay Jordan. “Pukawiss the Outcast”, Dreamspinner Press, 2014.
A New and Magical World
Because of problems in his family, Joshua is taken from his mother, a fundamentalist Christian to his grandfather, Gentle Eager, an Ojibwe Indian in Wisconsin. Hus grandfather’s world is one of magic. He has a village that is a recreation of one from the 16th century and it is a place that tourists stop to visit. Joshua’s mother had kept this from him so when he finally got to live on the reservation he felt a new freedom. As he learns of the Ojibwe traditions, he feels more comfortable in his new home.
There is one tradition that he feels to be captivating and it deals with the legend of Pukawiss, a powerful Manitou who introduced the Ojibwe to dance. He also lived a lifestyle that was different to the others and learning this, Joshua is able to accept his own sexuality and the fact that he has become an outcast. The most important thing for Joshua was being able to reject the strict way he had been raised and to be able to accept himself for who he is.
This is not a new idea for a story but it is so beautifully told that you might mistake it for that. It is sensitive and emotional and the writer gives us a cast of wonderful characters. It is 14-year-old Joshua who steals her hearts as he grapples with his identity. He is what Cher would call a “half-breed”—half white and half Native American. His father is nowhere to be found and his mother lives for Jesus and she does not understand gay people and is openly homophobic. When his father left for good, his mother gives him to his grandfather as she goes off to find herself. She comes across as a shrew and yet we get no idea of how she became that way. Even though she has the smallest actual role in the story her influence and feelings seem to hover above it. She had no idea that Joshua is gay but we had already seen her feelings for gay people and it is not easy to forget how she feels. It is because of her that Joshua has to find the love that he did not get at home. If it had been for her need to find herself, he would have never ended up on the reservation, the place where he finally began to live.
When he first gets to the reservation, Joshua does not think he can fit it. However, his grandfather has an assistant, 16 year old Mokwa who “adopts” Joshua and shows him around. Joshua decides to become a Fancy Dancer and this is a kind of magical and mysterious dance that is a feast for the eyes. Joshua also develops feelings for Mokwa but he did not know if he was a gay or as the Ojibwe say, a two-spirit person.
While this is a story about a gay youth, it is also a look at how Joshua accepted a heritage that belonged to him but that he did know much about.
The book is beautifully written and, for me, at least, Joshua emerges as a major literary character.