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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Invisible North

The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve

by (author) Alexandra Shimo

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2016
Personal Memoirs, Native American Studies, Native American
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    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
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    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
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A vivid first-person account of life on a troubled reserve that illuminates a difficult and oft-ignored history.

Globe and Mail 100: Best Books of 2016 • The Hill Times: Best Books of 2016 • 2017 RBC Taylor Prize — Longlisted • 2017 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction — Shortlisted • 2016 Speaker's Book Award — Shortlisted

When freelance journalist Alexandra Shimo arrives in Kashechewan, a fly-in, northern Ontario reserve, to investigate rumours of a fabricated water crisis and document its deplorable living conditions, she finds herself drawn into the troubles of the reserve. Unable to cope with the desperate conditions, she begins to fall apart.

A moving tribute to the power of hope and resilience, Invisible North is an intimate portrait of a place that pushes everyone to their limits. Part memoir, part history of the Canadian reserves, Shimo offers an expansive exploration and unorthodox take on many of the First Nation issues that dominate the news today, including the suicide crises, murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, Treaty rights, Native sovereignty, and deep poverty.

About the author

Alexandra Shimo is a former radio producer for the CBC and former editor at Maclean's. An award-winning journalist, she is the co-author of Up Ghost River: A Chief's Journey through the Turbulent Waters of Native History and author of The Environment Equation, which was published in twelve countries. She volunteers with DreamCatcher Mentoring which works with native youth. She lives in Toronto.

Alexandra Shimo's profile page


  • Long-listed, RBC Taylor Prize
  • Short-listed, BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
  • Commended, Dewey Diva Picks
  • Short-listed, Speaker's Book Award

Editorial Reviews

In late 2005, the First Nation reserve of Kashechewan, Ontario, showed signs of E. coli. The provincial and federal response forms one strand of Alexandra Shimo’s Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve. A second follows the reason that reporters, in town to investigate, were duped with “tap water” that was actually dirty river water. Shimo arrives to follow both threads: how was public health allowed to degrade, and who switched the samples? What she finds is chaos: in a reserve gutted by colonialism and church condoned sexual predation; in a country where Native sovereignty conveniently absolves responsibility; and in Shimo herself. That last element, her unravelling mental and physical ability to withstand Kash’s horrors, lifts the book from whodunit into something achingly poignant for all Canadians.

2017 RBC Taylor Prize, Jury Citation

An indictment of Canada’s abysmal relations with its First Nations people, a triage of our systematic racism, and a detailed dismantling of every lazily upheld cliché about daily life on a reserve.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, author of All the Broken Things

? [A] gripping first-person account of … the brutal conditions that are daily life for many First Nations communities in Canada... A necessary contribution to addressing age-old wrongs.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A must-read for every Canadian.

Winnipeg Free Press

Accessible and smart … her authentic voice is both informative and challenging.

Globe and Mail

In its heartbreaking and vivid imagery, this book provides an intimate portrait of the harms done to our people and our resilience and strength. I hope it provides a wake-up call for Canadians and a vehicle for social change.

Edmund Metatawabin, Cree activist and author of Up Ghost River

With remarkable economy and insight, Shimo details the past and present injustices that underlie our nation’s greatest failing. The result is a clear-eyed and compassionate call to action.

Alissa York, author of The Naturalist

Recommend[ed] to anyone who is interested in the plight of Canada's Indigenous peoples.

National Post

Alexandra Shimo’s investigative reporting shines much-needed light on the Third-World poverty and despair in First Nations communities that few Canadians are aware of and even fewer have experienced.

Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief

Investigative journalism at its best… Anyone who wants to know this country needs to see Kashechewan as depicted in Alexandra Shimo’s vivid and gripping account.

Gabor Maté M.D., author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

It’s very rare that a book will make you shake your head and drop your jaw.… There are horror stories documented in these pages, and some of resilience and courage. The author went down the rabbit hole and showed us the many problems this thing called civilization can cause.

Drew Hayden Taylor, playwright, novelist, and film maker

Other titles by Alexandra Shimo