Sometimes you read a story so beautiful it stays in your head for days, and you keep going back to it, trying to understand how it got such a hold on your imagination. Kiss of the Fur Queen is that kind of story. Tomson Highway’s heartbreaking semi-autobiographical novel is about two Cree Indian brothers, Champion and Ooneemeetoo, who spend the early years of their childhood on a reservation in Northern Manitoba. Baptized Jeremiah and Gabriel, they are sent to a residential school run by the Catholic Church. They are sexually abused by one of the priests, but are unable to speak out or find help. The story shows their subsequent reactions to the abuse and their attempts to come to terms with it in a world that refuses to recognize their culture or identity.
Jeremiah reacts by cutting himself off from his background and attempting to conform to white cultural norms. His younger brother Gabriel has a long series of homosexual relationships while pursuing a successful career as a dancer. But as the boys are driven away from each other and their family, the Fur Queen remains to remind them of who they are. She visits the boys intermittently throughout the story, and seems to watch over them. She is a manifestation of the trickster, part of the brothers’ Cree heritage, and she is present during the most tragic and the most triumphant events of their lives. She first makes an appearance when the boys’ father Abraham wins the world dog-sledding championships, before they are born.
The next thing Abraham knew, or so he would relate to his two youngest sons years later, the goddess floated up to a sky fast fading from pink-and-purple dusk to the great blackness of night, then became one with the northern sky, became a shifting, nebulous pulsation, the seven stars of the Great Bear ornamenting her crown. And when she extended one hand down towards the hunter on Earth, a silver wand appeared in it, simple as magic. Now a fairy-tale godmother glimmering in the vastness of the universe, the Fur Queen waved the wand. Her white fur cape spread in a huge shimmering arc, becoming the aurora borealis. As its galaxies of stars and suns and moons and planets hummed their way across the sky and back, the Fur Queen smiled enigmatically, and from the seven stars on her tiara burst a human fetus, fully formed, opalescent, ghostly.
– Catherine Vigier, Zeteo contributing Writer
Tomson Highway, Kiss of the Fur Queen, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2008.