Minerva: Ancestral Blood and Drum

“Minerva hummed and drummed out an old song on her flannel thighs throughout it all. But when the wires were fastened to her own neural connectors, and the probes reached into her heartbeat and instinct, that's when she opened her mouth. That's when she called on her bloody memory, her teachings, her ancestors. That's when she brought the whole thing down.

She sang. She sang with volume and pitch and a heartbreaking wail that echoed through her relatives’ bones, rattling them in the ground under the school itself. Wave after wave, changing her heartbeat to drum, morphing her singular voice to many, pulling every dream from her own marrow and into her songs. And there were words: words in the language that the conductor couldn’t process, words that Cardinals couldn’t bear, words the wires couldn’t transfer.

As it turns out, every dream Minerva had every dreamed was in the language. It was her gift, her secret, her plan. She'd collected the dreams like bright beads on a string of nights that wound around her each day, every day until this one.

The wires sparked, the probes malfunctioned. Bodies rushed around the room in a flurry of black robes like frantic wings beating against mechanics. The system failed, failed all the way through the complication of mechanics and computers, burning each on down like the pop and sizzle of a string of Christmas lights, shuddered to ruin one by one.”

— Cherie Dimaline, “The Miracle of Minerva”, The Marrow Thieves

Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves explores a dystopian future of North America destroyed by climate change due to the damaging reliance on natural resources. The story centralizes its focus on Indigenous people being hunted, by dominant North American society, for the marrow within their bones because it contains the essence of their dreams — something non-Indigenous society has lost the capability to do. I will look closely at an excerpt of text from the chapter, “The Miracle of Minerva” to analyze how Minerva’s capture by the recruiters results in the use of Indigenous knowledge and culture as a form of resistance and defence against colonial forces (166). 

To better understand the weight of Minerva’s role within the group as an Elder, it’s essential to reflect on the origin of her name. Minerva originates from the Roman goddess of Wisdom and Warfare — undoubtedly, this is a purposeful choice by Dimaline and there is a beautiful paradox of a quiet and gentle-willed character bearing the name of a powerful goddess entity (Cartwright). However, it is also worth considering the cultural complexity of naming an integral and respected Indigenous character after a goddess from the Romans, a society of people who thrived off colonization, because colonial oppression is a staple theme and cause of duress against Indigenous people within The Marrow Thieves. There is also research that believes that the Roman goddess name is based on the Etruscan goddess named Menvra, which is relevant because the Etruscans are studied and considered to be an Indigenous people by many scholars (Cartwright). This weaves an additional layer of culture and language meaning into this name origin and it is worth further reflection when examining the close reading. 

“The Miracle of Minerva” is told from the perspective of protagonist, Frenchie, who bears witness to this scene in hiding and watches how the recruiters fasten Minerva into neural connectors with the intention of extracting her marrow and dreams. Minerva “hummed and drummed” a beat against her body, this rhyme sets an intentional rhythm as the events unfold, to accompany the song Minerva begins to sing. Repetition is also used throughout the text such as, “wave after wave” and the repetition of “words” in the following excerpt:

“And there were words: words in the language that the conductor couldn’t process, words that Cardinals couldn’t bear, words the wires couldn’t transfer.”

A literary reverberation is constructed within this moment of the text, it reflects the power of Minerva’s song in her Indigenous language and it infers the pumping of her heart in tandem with this song as resistance against the persecution of extraction and death. When Minerva opens her mouth to sing, “she called on blood memory”, a visceral choice of words referring to ancestral lineage and the traditional knowledge that has been passed to her by family members. It is also meant to relate how culture and language is integrated into her body on a cellular and genetic level because this blood pumps through her heart is the genetic coding of ancestors and is what keeps her alive. Furthermore, it’s also worth noting that the tone of the song is described as “heartbreaking”, which centers the strength and resilience found in trauma, survivance and memory to destroy a colonial system designed to oppress. 

Minerva does not act as one, she relies on her dreams to gather the strength of her ancestors, “Morphing her singular voice to many” with a “wail that echoed through her relatives’ bones, rattling them in the ground under the school itself.” This wail calls outward to ancestors and the echo refers to the comfort and trust in sounds reverberating back to her with an intensity that ultimately cases the machine to spark and malfunction. The subsequent destruction of technology causes a reaction of recruiters and Cardinals that describes them as “…a flurry of black robes like frantic wings beating against mechanics” — an allusion perhaps to worried and frantic moths being drawn to a flame. This reference is compelling to consider this due to the subversion of power taken from the recruiters and given by Minerva, as spark, light and flame.

Minerva’s dreams of Indigenous language and culture is macrocosmic — it is intergenerational, its usage flattens time to connect past and present, and most importantly, it invokes the necessary spark to ignite a future way forward. In some ways, the character of Minerva is the living, breathing embodiment of what marrow comes to mean in this story; Marrow in the colloquial sense that describes an individual’s essential aspect of being, of strength and vitality. Who is Minerva? She is goddess, yet still human, and she is expansive beyond her role as Elder based on her connections to ancestors. She is time-traveller of memories; she is rooted connector between land and people; she is song that reverberates an innermost being of Indigenous ancestry to invoke change, transformation and the power drawn from the knowledge and collective memories one keeps.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Minerva Definition.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited. January 7, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/Minerva/ [Accessed October 2018]

Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. 2017, first edition [eBook], Cormorant Books Inc. Retrieved from iBook platform: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/the-marrow-thieves [Accessed October 2018].