Blog | Essential Indigenous Reading

September 05, 2023

Essential Indigenous Reading

September 30 is National Day For Truth and Reconciliation. Grow your knowledge this month by reading one of these books by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit authors.

ALL THE QUIET PLACES – Brian Thomas Isaac
2021, Brindle & Glass
A novel about an Indigenous boy grappling with the effects of intergenerational trauma and colonialism. All the Quiet Places is the story of what could happen when every adult in a person’s life has been affected by colonialism; it tells of the acute separation from culture that can occur even at home in a loved, familiar landscape. All the Quiet Places was a finalist for the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction and was on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist.

ONE NATIVE LIFE – Richard Wagamese
2008, Douglas & McIntyre
One Native Life is a look back down the road Richard Wagamese has travelled…from childhood abuse to adult alcoholism…in reclaiming his identity. It’s a book about what he learned in a specific order: “……. I was created to be first a human being, then a male, then an Ojibway Indian.” Whether he’s writing about playing baseball, running away with the circus, making Bannock or attending a sacred bundle ceremony, these are stories told in a healing spirit. Through them, Wagamese shows you how to appreciate life for the journey that it is.

A NATIONAL CRIME – John S. Milloy
1999, University of Manitoba Press
A National Crime by John S. Milloy is one of the first comprehensive studies of the residential school system. Using previously unreleased government documents, Milloy provides a full picture of the history and reality of the residential school system. A National Crime documents in detail how this system affected the health, education, and well-being of entire generations of Indigenous children. In 1999, it was awarded a Margaret McWilliams Award from the Manitoba Historical Society.

ABORIGINAL (TM) – Jennifer Adese
2022, University of Manitoba Press
In Aboriginal (TM): The Cultural and Economic Politics of Recognition, Adese explores the origins, meanings, and usage of the term “Aboriginal” and its displacement by the word “Indigenous”. Reflecting on the term’s abrupt exit from public discourse and the recent turn towards Indigenous, Aboriginal (TM) offers insight into Indigenous-Canada relations, reconciliation efforts, and current discussions of Indigenous identity, authenticity, and agency.

OUR LONG STRUGGLE FOR HOME – Aazhoodenaang Enjibaajig
2022, University of British Columbia Press
Our Long Struggle For Home: The Ipperwash Story is an important read for anybody who seeks a better understanding of the continuing influence of Canada’s colonial history and the injustices that Indigenous people have faced, and is a story that will inspire the Indigenous youth of today. Offering insight into Nishnaabeg lifeways and historical treaties, the book conveys how government decisions have affected lives, livelihoods, and identity.

CONFESSIONS OF A COYOTE – Nancy LaFleur
2022, FriesensPress
In Confessions of a Coyote, you’ll enter Stella’s world as she shares her story of love, loss, adventure and chaos; after the death of her parents, Stella is separated from her community and her siblings and placed in a system that is set up to break her. Realizing she can only rely on herself, Stella uses her natural instincts to navigate in the wilderness of society. Author Nancy LaFleur grew up in the woodlands of Northern Saskatchewan, in Molanosa and Weyakwin. As well as calling the north her home, she is also a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and a proud Cree woman.

INDIGENOUS WRITES – Chelsea Vowel
2016, Portage & Main Press
Are you familiar with terms like “Bill C-31”, “appropriation”, “Two-Spirit”, or “Delgamuukw”? In Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Issues in Canada, Chelsea Vowel opens an important dialogue about these (and more) concepts and the wider social beliefs associated with the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. In 31 essays, Vowel explores the Indigenous experience from the time of contact to the present, answering the questions many people have in order to spark further conversations at home, in the classroom, and in the larger community. Vowel is Métis from manitow-sâkahikan (Lac Ste. Anne), Alberta.  Mother to six girls, she has a BEd, LLB, and MA, and is a Cree language instructor at the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

FROM WHERE I STAND – Jody Wilson-Raybould
2019, University of British Columbia Press
From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada is essential reading for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the reconciliation process to know what they can do to make a difference. In this book, Wilson-Raybould urges all Canadians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to build upon the momentum already gained. Drawn from her speeches and other writings, Wilson-Raybould gives straight talk on how to deconstruct Canada’s colonial legacy and embrace a new era of recognition and reconciliation.

BRAIDED LEARNING: ILLUMINATING INDIGENOUS PRESENCE THROUGH ART & STORY – Susan Dixon
2022, University of British Columbia Press
In Braided Learning, Lenape-Potawatomi scholar and educator Susan Dixon shares her approach to learning and teaching about Indigenous histories and perspectives. The book draws on Indigenous knowledge and world views to explain perspectives that are often missing from the national narrative. This is an invaluable resource for Canadians trying to make sense of a difficult past and unjust conditions in the present, while working towards a more fair and honest future.

THE ARCTIC SKY – John MacDonald
1998, Royal Ontario Museum Press
Combining interviews with thirty Inuit elders (from the last generation that travelled by dog team and built the nightly igloo), and drawing from historical records of Arctic explorers, The Arctic Sky is an insightful journey through the arctic universe. Constellations, legends and mythology, aurora borealis, and more are explored from a variety of perspectives. MacDonald lives in Igloolik, NWT, where he manages the Igloolik Research Centre for the Nunavit Research Centre.

THE COLONIAL PROBLEM: AN INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVE ON CRIME AND INJUSTICE IN CANADA – Lisa Monchalin
2016, University of Toronto Press
In The Colonial Problem, Monchalin challenges the myth of the “Indian problem” and encourages the reader to view the crimes and injustices affecting Indigenous peoples from a more culturally-aware position. She looks at the consequences of assimilation policies, dishonoured treaty agreements, and systemic racism, arguing that the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the Canadian criminal justice system is not an “Indian problem” but a colonial one. Montchalin is Algonquin, Métis, Huron and Scottish and teaches in the Department of Criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia.  She is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to hold a PhD in Criminology.

A MÉTIS MAN’S DREAM – Neil Gower
2023, FriesensPress
Neil Gower presents a biography of successful Métis business owner Gordon Gill in A Métis Man’s Dream: From Traplines to Tugboats in Canada’s North. Gill experienced the passing of not just one but several eras in the development of Canada’s north and the evolution of the Indigenous struggle.  He flourished in business, despite challenging personal injuries, poverty, reading difficulties, and residential schooling.  Gower brings together his story through Gill’s remembrances of the changes he saw in a lifetime.  A strong supporter of northern business and Indigenous learning, Gower was the lawyer and long-time friend of Gordon Gill.    

I AM WOMAN – Lee Maracle
1988, Press Gang Publishers
One of the foremost Indigenous writers in North America, Maracle links her Indigenous heritage with feminism in I Am Woman.  In the book, Maracle confronts the legacy of colonialism and seeks to empower Indigenous women and girls.  It represents her personal struggle with womanhood, culture, traditional spiritual beliefs and political sovereignty, written during a time when that struggle wasn’t over, and is her attempt to present an Indigenous woman’s sociological perspective on the impacts of colonialism.  Maracle was a writer and academic of the Stó꞉lō nation with Salish and Cree ancestry.  She was one of the founders of the En’owkin International School of Writing in British Columbia, and in 2018 was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

TRUE NORTH RISING – Whit Fraser
2018, Penguin Random House
In this memoir, Fraser weaves experiences from more than fifty years of reporting for the CBC and living in the North with stories of the Dene and Inuit activists who successfully overturned the colonial order and politically reshaped Canada, including his wife, Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.  True North Rising chronicles how Fraser and the CBC established timely and effective news reporting broadcast throughout the Arctic and to the South by selecting the issues, events and personalities of importance to the peoples living in the Arctic and ensuring the stories were told in the many languages of the Arctic and of course English.  He pays tribute to the progress made by the peoples of the Arctic but does not gloss over the problems and issues that plagued Inuit and First Nations communities in the Arctic, then and today.

Indigenous Books for Kids

THE WOMAN & HER BEAR CUB – Jaypeetee Arnakac
2023, Inhabit Media
In this traditional Inuit story, a mother and a daughter stumble upon a lost polar bear cub and bring it home to live with their family.  The book focuses on the everyday moments of this family’s life and the relationship that grows between the little girl and the cub, until one day the bear returns home from a hunt with another bear by its side.  The mother learns that they need to let the cub go in order for him to live the happy life they want for him.  The book’s premise is grounded in the authenticity of compassion for those in need; a lesson in selflessness and a true reflection of Inuit values.  Arnakac is a linguist, translator, and educator who spent many years as a policy analyst specializing in Inuit culture, language and education issues.

SALMON BOY – edited by Johnny Marks, Hans Chester, David Katzeek, and Nora & Richard Dauenhauer
2017, Sealaska Heritage Institute
Shanyaak’utlaax: Salmon Boy is a children’s story that teaches about respect for nature, animals and culture.  It tells the story of a young Haida boy who had no respect for the salmon, although it meant life for his people.  He is captured by a Chum salmon and brought to a dry land beneath the water where the salmon people walked about the same as people do above the sea.  The boy lived with them for a year, and his captivity becomes a source of learning that will ensure the survival of his own people.  The story is accompanied by illustrations of the boy and his adventures.  Although written for children, it has a simple message of responsibility and respect that will appeal to all ages.

DANCE IN A BUFFALO SKULL – Zitkala-Sa, illustrated by S.D. Nelson
2008, South Dakota State Historical Society
Translated from the original Native American legend into English in 1901, Dance in a Buffalo Skull is a picturebook tale of mice conducting a dance in a dried-up buffalo skull, while a wildcat sneaks up on them.  The story is a tale of danger and survival on the Great Plains, and is a wonderful book for children and lovers of folklore.  In 2008, Dance in a Buffalo Skull won the Aesop Accolade from the American Folklore Society.

NUTSHIMIT: IN THE WOODS – Melissa Mollin Dupuis
2023, Scholastic Canada
The Innu word Nutshimit signifies the physical and social space to practice traditional activities and language.  In this immersive first-person account, Innu author Melissa Mollen Dupuis takes readers on a journey through Innu culture, from creation legends to life today, to understand some of the rich culture of the Innu people.  Children will learn about the importance of the natural world and learn a few Innu words along the way.  Illustrated by Elise Gravel. Melissa Mollen Dupuis is a writer, director and radio show host and a member of the Innu community of Ekuanitshit on Quebec’s Côte-Nord.

TÂPWÊ AND THE MAGIC HAT – Buffy Sainte-Marie
2022, Greystone Books
From Buffy Sainte-Marie, world-renowned Cree singer-songwriter, activist and educator, comes a chapter book inspired by oral histories and traditions.  On a prairie reserve, Tâpwê receives a mysterious gift from Kokhom (grandma) and finds himself on an unforgettable adventure.  Illustrated by Michelle Alynn Clement, an award-winning book designer and illustrator from British Columbia.