Keavy Martin on Inuit & Indigenous Cultures, and the history of Western Canada

Book Cover Stories in a New Skin

Keavy Martin is author of the new book Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature. Here, she recommends some of her favourite reads on Inuit culture, Indigenous culture, and the history of Western Canada.

If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?: Finding Common Ground by J. Edward Chamberlin: This is one of the first books that really got me thinking about Indigenous rights—and about the stories through which we all lay claim to land. But the thing that still inspires me to this day is the way that Ted Chamberlin navigates these tricky issues. Weaving in and out of tales from his own, extensive experience in Indigenous territories around the world, Ted models for me what a good and responsible scholar should do: honour the expertise that exists outside of the Ivory Tower—and the readers out there too.

The Curse of the Shaman: A Marble Island Story by Michael Kusugak: So much great Inuit literature is out of print, but this one is a happy exception! This YA novel follows the story of Qavvik (or Wolverine), a young man living in the days before southerners arrived in the Arctic homeland. With the help of an old story—the tale of Kiviuq—he overcomes a great trial in a climactic sequence that ties up the plot so neatly that I want to applaud every time. This book has so much to teach us about the ways that the stories of the older generations matter—even in times that present new and unfamiliar challenges.

Porcupines and China Dolls by Robert Arthur Alexie: We were all so excited when Theytus released a new edition of this tremendous novel, and I’ve taught it regularly ever since. At times, it can be a very hard read, as it requires us to face some of the harshest impacts of the residential school system. But Alexie is a beautiful writer, and I love the way that he always surprises us. Just wait until you read about the way that the community finally faces its demons. This book will break your heart, but you’ll be much wiser for the experience.

Godless But Loyal to Heaven by Richard Van Camp: It’s possible that I may be a little biased, but I think that this new collection pushes the boundaries of Aboriginal literature in ways that no other book has. I wouldn’t recommend reading the first story over lunch, but read it you must: I had never realized that something so gruesome could be so gorgeous at the same time. There are beautiful and devastating love stories, there are familiar characters with new quests, and there are a couple of tales so wonderfully silly that I giggle just thinking about them. There really is something for everyone in this book.

Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield: It’s hard for me to pick just one of Greg Scofield’s books; in my opinion, he is the all-time master of the love poem, and it is my hope for the world that everyone will one day find someone to read Gregory Scofield with. This latest book shows us many different sides of Louis Riel in a way that no history textbook ever could. Scofield has borrowed lines of Riel’s own verse—and pieces of other 19th century documents—and breathed into them a new life. The results are stunning. Now, if you’d only ever read Greg’s work, you might think that he was a really serious guy, but he’s actually very funny. If you’re in Winnipeg, go and meet him! He’s the writer in residence at the University of Winnipeg until the end of March.

The Red Indians by Peter Kulchyski: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody can turn a phrase like Peter Kulchyski. I always recommend this book to my classes; it’s short, to-the-point, and very readable, but it draws upon the tremendous knowledge of one of the foremost Indigenous Studies scholars. Some people think that Canadian history is dry, but I challenge you to maintain that viewpoint after reading this book. These stories are essential to understanding the fraught and complicated country that we live in today.

Book Cover We Are All treaty People

We Are All Treaty People by Roger Epp: I read this collection of essays shortly after I relocated to Edmonton, and it was part of what made this place come alive for me. I love the way that Epp draws upon his own experience and family history, and I think he gestures toward some very important and unexpected alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. I think that this book would inspire anybody to look more deeply into their own family history and to think carefully about their connection and claim to the land that they call home. I am so blessed to be living in Treaty 6 territory, and I am learning more about the responsibilities that come with that every day.

Edmonton In Our Own Words by Linda Goyette and Carolina Jakeway Roemmich: Continuing my love affair with Western Canadian history is this large collection of both the written and oral histories of my new home city. When I first moved to Edmonton, I was kind of amazed by the impression that many people seemed to have that this was some kind of frontier town, far off in the wintery northlands. But the stories in this book remind us that we live in a very ancient, complex, and beautiful place. Every day, when I walk to work along the river valley, I walk through thousands of years of history. I’d encourage every Edmontonian to read it—and every other Canadian to seek out similar histories of your own hometown. It’s amazing how it changes your perspective.

Keavy Martin

Keavy Martin is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She also works seasonally as an instructor with the Pangnirtung Summer School, a University of Manitoba Native Studies program run in Pangnirtung, Nunavut. Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature (University of Manitoba Press) is her first book. It launches tonight (January 31) in Winnipeg!

January 31, 2013
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