Aboriginal History Month at 49th Shelf
June is National Aboriginal History Month in Canada, and we've got some excellent features coming up to mark it, including a booklist by our resident Children's Librarian, and also an interview with acclaimed Métis short story writer Lisa Bird-Wilson (whose Just Pretending is shortlisted for the 2014 Danuta Gleed Award). But in the meantime, this seems like a great opportunity to bring together the great content we've featured already on books written by or about Canada's First Peoples.
UPDATE FOR 2015:
- Books by Canadian First Nations and Inuit Women
- Angela Sterritt: The Legacy of Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada
- Julie Flett on Illustration and First Nations Children's Literature
- Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox (In Conversation With Danielle Daniel)
- Notes From a Children's Librarian: Aboriginal Stories
- Lisa Bird-Wilson: Short Story Sensation
- Lisa Bird-Wilson was also part of our feature, The State of the Canadian Short Story in 2015
"Twice this past week I approached a Cree-speaking person in my subconscious desire to bridge the deep chasm dividing Canada’s mainstream culture and Aboriginal people. That’s what I tried to do in writing the poems that form the collection kiyâm. I remember purposefully hefting this strangely abstract weight as if I could write all the wrongs of our collective Aboriginal history, as if I could convince all non-Aboriginal Canadians that they might take an interest in our First Nations and Métis history, as if I could convince all Aboriginal people that not all white Canadians are to blame.
As if. How naïve I was to think that I could wield the political and social influence to facilitate a peaceful dialogue between two immensely polarized peoples..."
In our interview with Blair Stonechild, author of the authorized biography, Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way, he talks about the process of creating his biography, about Sainte-Marie's remarkable life and achievements, and leaves us with a Buffy Sainte-Marie playlist:
"Buffy is competent in a wide range of music genres so some might prefer her love songs or her protest songs or her country or pop songs depending on their taste.
However I would include her most successful song "Until It’s Time for You to Go", the Academy Award winning "Up Where We Belong", antiwar anthem "Universal Soldier", experimental music such as "God is Alive", and one of my favorite Native American songs "Star Walker", in which Buffy’s powerful and expressive voice comes out in its fullest."
Waubgeshig Rice, author of Midnight Sweatlodge, shares with us, "Eight Books That Embody Indigenous Culture". He also explains the important connections between access to books and reading and the experiences and world views of First Nations' youth:
"Prior to colonization and the introduction of the written word, First Nations youth traditionally heard stories and learned about culture in circles around elders and established storytellers. They looked up as they listened and absorbed important lessons and timeless stories. But they were eventually shamed out of this practice as the ruling order tried to erase indigenous identity, and that's when their focus turned their eyes downward to the written word. This was how subsequent generations learned about stories, but as the ones that followed them began to reclaim culture, they utilized words in books to share their experiences on a larger scale. In that sense, a kid in a community in B.C. can read a book like Midnight Sweatlodge and learn about experiences people in my community had. Through reading, there are greater opportunities for learning and sharing like never before."
Timothy C. Winegard, author of the books, For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War and Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War, created a list of books that explore the connections between Aboriginal Canadians and the military.
He introduces his list by explaining, "Since the 1990s, greater attention has been afforded by authors and academics to the military role, and importance, played by Canada’s Indigenous peoples during the colonial wars of North America, to the War of 1812, to the world wars of the 20th century. As such, this literary genre has undergone a much needed reinterpretation. The following reading list, comprised of seven diverse selections, is not itemized in order of merit or preference; rather, it is loosely chronological in context and scope. I have tried, as much as possible, to select works from across the historical timeframe, to provide for a variety of situational periods and important historical occurrences."
During the winter of 2011, Kim Armstrong, author of A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood and Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings and Story Medicine, shared some stories from Native Elders that have kept her mind and spirit warm:
"As an urban Cree/Métis mom & writer, running as fast as everyone else in this speedy 21st century world, I don’t have the benefit of sitting with teachers by the fireplace every night. But I do have Elders that I work with, as well as books of traditional knowledge that warm and sustain me. I have recently been working with Elders for an oral history project on Indigenous masculinities, and three of the men I have interviewed are also authors. Tom Porter, Dominique Rankin and Rene Meshake share stories from their respective traditions (Mohawk, Algonquin, and Ojibway) through books in English and French, although they integrate their Indigenous languages throughout as a way of furthering our understanding of Indigenous world views."
The list includes the book, The Red Indians by Peter Kulchyski, of which Martin writes, "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."
Earlier this year, we were really pleased to feature an excerpt from Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel, written by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk and recently translated into English.
From the book's description: "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, in the mid-19th century. 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."