Reading list

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Welcome to the #IndigenousReads reading list!

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For other great #IndigenousReads, check out some of CBC's recommendations.

Nokum is My Teacher

David Bouchard
Illustrated by Allen Sapp

Nokum Is My Teacher is the poetic story of a young aboriginal boy, posing questions to his grandmother, his "Nokum", about the wider world beyond the familiarity of their home and community. Through a series of questions, Nokum guides her grandson towards an understanding of his need to fit into and learn more about this large world beyond the reserve. Nokum offers her grandson a vision of a world he can enter through imagination and reading, while retaining respect for the ways of his people. By the conclusion of the book, the young grandson has learned many new ideas from his grandmother and discovered his own wisdom in dealing with the changes in his life.

(Source: Red Deer Press)

The Reason You Walk

Wab Kinew

When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans that 2012 year, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father's traumatic childhood at residential school.

(Source: Viking Canada)
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Witness, I Am

Gregory Scofield

Witness, I Am is divided into three gripping sections of new poetry from one of Canada's most recognized poets. The first part of the book, "Dangerous Sound," contains contemporary themed poems about identity and belonging, undone and rendered into modern sound poetry. "Muskrat Woman," the middle part of the book, is a breathtaking epic poem that considers the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women through the reimagining and retelling of a sacred Cree creation story. The final section of the book, "Ghost Dance," raids the autobiographical so often found in Scofield's poetry, weaving the personal and universal into a tapestry of sharp poetic luminosity.

(Source: Nightwood Editions)

Sanaaq

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk
(translated by Bernard Saladin D’Anglure)

Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in.

These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family.

(Source: University of Manitoba Press)
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Stolen Words

Melanie Florence

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families. The story recognizes the pain of those whose culture and language were taken from them, how that pain is passed down, and how healing can also be shared.

(Source: Second Story Press)

Blackflies!

Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Jay Odjick

One day Helen wakes up and it's SPRING! The snow has melted and the sun is shining. But Helen knows that the blackflies will be coming out soon. So she does what any smart kid would do: she sends her little sister outdoors to check! When the blackflies and mosquitoes carry her away, Helen tells her dad, who rushes outside and is carried away himself. Now Helen needs to rescue BOTH of them, along with a wolf and a very clever bear…

(Source: Scholastic Canada)
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A Haida Manga

Micheal Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Referencing a classic Haida oral narrative, this spectacular full-color graphic novel blends traditional Haida imagery with Japanese manga to tell the powerful story of Red, an orphaned leader so blinded by revenge that he leads his community to the brink of war and destruction. When raiders attack his village, young Red escapes dramatically. But his sister Jaada is whisked away. The loss of Jaada breeds a seething anger, and Red sets out to find his sister and exact revenge on her captors. Tragic and timeless, Red's story is reminiscent of such classic tales as Oedipus Rex, Macbeth, and King Lear.

(Source: Douglas & McIntyre)
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I am not a Number

Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from despite the efforts of the nuns to force her to do otherwise. When she goes home for summer holidays, her parents decide never to send her away again, but where will she hide and what will happen when her parents disobey the law?

(Source: Second Story Press)
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The Break

Katherena Vermette

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.

(Source: House of Anansi Press)
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A Really Good Brown Girl

Marilyn Dumont

Published in 1996, A Really Good Brown Girl is a fierce, honest and courageous account of what it takes to grow into one's self and one's Métis heritage in the face of myriad institutional and cultural obstacles. It is an indispensable contribution to Canadian literature.

(Source: Brick Books)
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Ava and the Little Folk

Neil Christopher and Alan Neal

In the Arctic, tales of tiny people who live on the land abound. This children's story follows the adventures of an orphan named Ava who is left to fend for himself by the adults in his village. One day, cold and alone, Ava stumbles upon a group of magical dwarves who finally show him how it feels to have a home of his own.

(Source: Strong Nations online bookstore)

The Beothuk Saga

Bernard Assiniwi

(translated by Wayne Grady)

This astounding novel fully deserves to be called a saga. It begins a thousand years ago in the time of the Vikings in Newfoundland. It is crammed with incidents of war and peace, with fights to the death and long nights of lovemaking, and with accounts of the rise of local clan chiefs and the silent fall of great distant empires. Out of the mists of the past it sweeps forward eight hundred years, to the lonely death of the last of the Beothuk.

(Source: McClelland & Stewart)
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Imagine Mercy: Canadian Aboriginal Voices

David Groulx

Imagine Mercy is a vibrant poetry collection portraying the daily realities of living as an Aboriginal in Canada. David Groulx seamlessly weaves the spiritual with the ordinary and the present with the past. He speaks for the strength and courage of Aboriginal people, compelling readers to confront reality with his honest and inspiring vision. Remarkable in its candour and gracefully constructed, this collection of poems binds us to the present and, at the same time, connects us to the voices of the past.

(Source: Palliser Reginal Library)

A Short History Of Indians In Canada

Thomas King

The titular story of Thomas King’s acclaimed anthology, A Short History of Indians in Canada is a reimagining of Native history, set in the big city. A Short History of Indians in Canada, the bestselling collection of twenty tales, is a comic tour de force, showing King at his hilarious and provocative best.

(Source: Harper Collins)

Badger

Daniel Heath Justice

Fierce, menacing or mysterious, badgers have been both admired and reviled throughout human history. Their global reputation for ferocious self-defence has led to brutalization by hunters and sport-seekers; their association with the mythic underworld has made them symbols of earth-based wisdom and steadfast tradition; their burrowing and predation habits have resulted in widespread persecution as pests or public nuisances. Whether as living animals, abstract symbols or commercial resources, badgers have fascinated humans for thousands of years – though often to the animals’ detriment.

(Source: The University of Chicago Press Books)

Creating Space: My Life and Work in Indigenous Education

Verna J. Kirkness

Like a long conversation between friends, Creating Space reveals the challenges and misgivings, the burning questions, the successes and failures that have shaped the life of this extraordinary woman and the history of Aboriginal education in Canada.

(Source: University of Manitoba Press)

The Beet Queen

Louise Erdrich

On a spring morning in 1932, young Karl and Mary Adare arrive by boxcar in Argus, North Dakota. After being orphaned in a most peculiar way, Mary seeks refuge in the butcher shop of their aunt and her husband, while Karl gets back on the train. So begins an exhilarating forty-year saga brimming with colorful, unforgettable characters: ordinary Mary, who will cause a miracle; seductive Karl, who lacks his sister’s gift for survival; Sita, their lovely but disturbed cousin; and the half-Native American Celestine James, who will become Mary’s best friend. Theirs is a story grounded in the tenacity of relationships, the extraordinary magic of natural events, and the unending mystery of the human condition.

Bestselling, National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich dazzles in this vibrant and heartfelt tale of abandonment and sexual obsession, jealousy and unstinting love that explores with empathy, humor, and power the eternal mystery of the human condition.

(Source: Harper Collins Publishers)

The Ghost and Lone Warrior

C.J. Taylor

Crippled in an accident and left behind by his hunting party, Lone Warrior must overcome hunger, cold, pain, and despair to survive. But most terrifying of all his trials is the appearance of a skeleton-ghost arisen from the grave. That Lone Warrior can still remember to express his gratitude to the animal he must kill to survive, and that he does not allow fear to diminish his dignity, makes him an ideal hero.

(Source: Strong Nations)

Medicine Walk

Richard Wagamese

Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon. He's sixteen years old and has had the most fleeting of relationships with the man. The rare moments they've shared haunt and trouble Frank, but he answers the call, a son's duty to a father. What ensues is a journey through the rugged and beautiful backcountry, and a journey into the past, as the two men push forward to Eldon's end. From a poverty-stricken childhood, to the Korean War, and later the derelict houses of mill towns, Eldon relates both the desolate moments of his life and a time of redemption and love, and in doing so offers Frank a history he has never known, the father he has never had, and a connection to himself he never expected.

A novel about love, friendship, courage, and the idea that the land has within it powers of healing, Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving and redemptive conclusion.

(Source: Penguin Random House Canada)

Monkey Beach

Eden Robinson

Eden Robinson's first English-language novel is about a family facing a harrowing loss. It's told from the point of view of Lisa, the hot-tempered eldest sibling of a Haisla family in Kitamaat on the coast of British Columbia. As the family awaits word about Lisa's brother, who's missing at sea, Lisa looks back on their shared childhood. The spirit world and the natural world are equally real to her - and they are both vividly rendered in this riveting story of grief and survival.

Monkey Beach was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award.

(Source: CBC Books)

Bâtons à message Tshissinuatshitakana

Joséphine Bacon

This bilingual work (French and Innu Aimun) is an invitation to dialogue. Bâtons à message (message sticks) refer to a set of landmarks that allow nomads to move inland and find their way or voice.

(Book not available in English)

Motorcycles and Sweetgrass

Drew Hayden Taylor

A story of magic, family, a mysterious stranger . . . and a band of marauding raccoons.

Otter Lake is a sleepy Anishnawbe community where little happens. Until the day a handsome stranger pulls up astride a 1953 Indian Chief motorcycle – and turns Otter Lake completely upside down. Maggie, the Reserve’s chief, is swept off her feet, but Virgil, her teenage son, is less than enchanted. Suspicious of the stranger’s intentions, he teams up with his uncle Wayne – a master of aboriginal martial arts – to drive the stranger from the Reserve. And it turns out that the raccoons are willing to lend a hand.

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