Reading list

Welcome to the #IndigenousReads reading list!

Join the #IndigenousReads conversation on our Facebook and/or Twitter page using the hashtags #IndigenousReads and #Reconciliation.

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.

Book club month list

Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails

Michael Kusugak
Illustrations by Vladyana Krykorka

"Northern Lights" is a beautiful tale that explores the mystical aspects of the northern lights in Inuit culture.

Scientists have their own explanations for the phenomenon that occurs when the night sky shimmers with milky white patterns, or displays all the colors of the rainbow. But the Inuit prefer their own explanation: They believe the souls of the dead are engaging in a lively game of soccer, just as they did when they were living. They run all over the sky chasing a walrus head that they use for a soccer ball.

This is the story of Kataujaq and the intimate relationship she has with her mother. They do almost everything together; they hug, rub noses and say "Mamaq" which means "You smell so nice." But a great sickness comes and Kataujaq's mother is taken south to the white people's hospital and never comes back. Kataujaq grieves, but is also able to rejoice when she and her grandmother watch the northern lights.

This book celebrates family life, intimacy and the glory of nature.

(Source: Powell Books)

You Hold Me Up

Monique Gray Smith
Illustrations by Danielle Daniel

This vibrant picture book, beautifully illustrated by celebrated artist Danielle Daniel, encourages children to show love and support for each other and to consider each other's well-being in their everyday actions.

Consultant, international speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families. This is a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, starting with our littlest citizens.

(Source: Stoddard Kids Publishing)

Firedancers

Jan Bourdeau Waboose

As night sets in and the fire crackles, a young native girl is amazed when her grandmother invokes the spirits of their ancestors. She learns the mystical firedance and creates a bond with her people and their heritage that will last a lifetime.

(Source: Stoddard Kids Publishing)

Dakota Talks about Treaties

Kelly Crawford
Illustrated by Donald Chrétien

'Dakota Talks about Treaties’ is about Dakota’s experience at the 250th anniversary of the Treaty of Niagara. She learns about wampum, treaties and the importance of them.

A Stranger at Home

Christy Jordan-Fenton and
Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Ten-year-old Margaret can hardly contain her excitement. After two years in a residential boarding school she is finally headed for home. But when she stands before her family at last, her mother doesn't recognize her, shouting, "Not my girl!" This was hardly the homecoming Margaret expected. She has forgotten her people's language and can't stomach her mother's food. She isn’t even allowed to play with her friend Agnes, because she is now seen as one of the despised outsiders. She has become a stranger to her own people.

In this extraordinary sequel to Fatty Legs (Les bas du pensionnat) Margaret must begin a painful journey of learning how to fit again, and reconcile her old self with the new.

(Source: Annick Press)

The Peacemaker: Thanadelthur

David Alexander Roberston

The Peacemaker is the story of Thanadelthur, a young Dene woman enslaved by the Cree, who becomes a guide for the Hudson Bay Company. In 1715 she negotiated a peace between longstanding enemies, the Cree and Dene.

The Peacemaker is one book in the Tales from Big Spirit series. Tales from Big Spirit is a unique six-book graphic novel series that delves into the stories of some of the great Indigenous heroes from Canadian history—some already well known and others who deserve to be. Designed to correspond to grades 4–6 social studies curriculums across Canada, these full colour graphic novels could be used in literature circles, novel studies, and book clubs to facilitate discussion of social studies topics. These books will help students make historical connections while promoting important literacy skills.

(Source: Highwater Press)

What is Truth, Betsy?: A Story of Truth

Katherena Vermette
Illustrated by Irene Kuiw

Miskwaadesi is puzzled about the teaching Truth. But she knows more than she thinks she does.

"What is Truth, Betsy?" is one book in The Seven Teachings Stories series. The Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe—love, wisdom, humility, courage, respect, honesty, and truth—are revealed in seven stories for children. Set in urban landscapes, Indigenous children tell familiar stories about home, school, and community.

(Source: Portage and Main Press)

How Two-Feather was saved from loneliness

C.J. Taylor

Two-Feather had been wandering all winter, lonely and hungry. One spring night he goes to sleep to forget the despair, only to be awakened by a voice calling his name. It is a woman, so beautiful that Two-Feather immediately falls in love with her, and begs for her to stay with him forever. The woman leads him over mountains and through forests. Two-Feather obeys her every command, even the last, most difficult, only to find she has left him, but not without ensuring that he will never be lonely or hungry again.

(Source: Barnes & Noble)

Shin-chi’s canoe

Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrations by Kim LaFave

This moving sequel to the award-winning Shi-shi-etko tells the story of two children's experience at residential school. Shi-shi-etko is about to return for her second year, but this time her six-year-old brother, Shin-chi, is going, too.

As they begin their journey in the back of a cattle truck, Shi-shi-etko tells her brother all the things he must remember: the trees, the mountains, the rivers and the salmon. Shin-chi knows he won't see his family again until the sockeye salmon return in the summertime.

(Source: House of Anansi Press)

The Honour Drum

Cheryl Bear and Tim Huff

The Honour Drum is a uniquely envisioned and crafted project shared between two Canadian friends—an Indigenous woman from the west coast and a non-Indigenous man from Ontario—to reach children, families and classrooms across Canada and around the world with a message of great beauty and truth that should not be ignored. This vibrant book is an important starting place for learning and insight that are vital and, for many people of all ages, overdue. The Honour Drum is a love letter to the Indigenous people of Canada and a humble bow to Indigenous cultures around the world.

(Source: Castle Quay Books)

The Arrow Sash

Sylvain Rivard

Inspired by Why Books, this beautifully illustrated book opens with a question from a child wanting to know more about the arrow sash. The grandmother answers his questions about the arrow sash and each story is more colourful and interesting than the last. The stories of the arrow sash explain the origin, the meaning, and the use of this object by Haudenosaunee People. This is the first book in a series on First Nations clothing.

The Arrow Sash/ La ceinture fléchée/ Aienkwire atiatahna is triligual, and available in French, English, and also in Mohawk.

As Long as the Rivers Flow

Larry Loyie With the participation of Constance Brissenden
Illustrated by Heather D. Holmlund

In the 1800s, the education of First Nations children was taken on by various churches in government-sponsored residential schools. Children were forcibly taken from their families in order to erase their traditional languages and cultures.

As Long as the Rivers Flow is the story of Larry Loyie's last summer before entering residential school. It is a time of learning and adventure. He cares for an abandoned baby owl, watches his grandmother make winter moccasins, and helps the family prepare for a hunting and gathering trip.

(Source: GoodReads)

The Water Walker

Joanne Robertson

The story of a determined Ojibwe Grandmother (Nokomis) Josephine Mandamin and her great love for Nibi (water). Nokomis walks to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi for future generations and for all life on the planet. She, along with other women, men, and youth have walked around all the Great Lakes from the four salt waters or oceans to Lake Superior. The walks are full of challenges and by her example Josephine challenges us all to take up our responsibility to protect our water: the giver of life, and to protect our planet for all generations.

(Source: Second Story Press)

My Name is Seepeetza

Shirley Sterling

At six years old, Seepeetza is taken from her happy family life on Joyaska Ranch to live as a boarder at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Life at the school is not easy, but Seepeetza still manages to find some bright spots. Always, thoughts of home make her school life bearable. An honest, inside look at life in an Indian residential school in the 1950s, and how one indomitable young spirit survived it.

(Source: House of Anansi Press)

7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga

David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Scott Henderson

The 7 Generations series is available in one book, and the illustrations are in vivid colour. 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga includes the four graphic novels: Stone, Scars, Ends/Begins, and The Pact.

Edwin is facing an uncertain future. Only by learning about his family's past—as warriors, survivors of a smallpox epidemic, casualties of a residential school—will he be able to face the present and embrace the future.

(Source: Strong Nations)

SHI-SHI-ETKO

Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by Kim Lafave

In just four days young Shi-shi-etko will have to leave her family and all that she knows to attend residential school.

She spends her last days at home treasuring the beauty of her world -- the dancing sunlight, the tall grass, each shiny rock, the tadpoles in the creek, her grandfather's paddle song. Her mother, father and grandmother, each in turn, share valuable teachings that they want her to remember. And so Shi-shi-etko carefully gathers her memories for safekeeping.

Richly hued illustrations complement this gently moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace all around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss -- a loss that native people have endured for generations because of the residential schools system.

(Source: House of Anansi Press)

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