In late December of 2015, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, proposed an Aboriginal book club month, creating an opportunity to promote reading indigenous authors. Three such authors (Tracey Lindberg, Lee Maracle, and Drew Hayden Taylor) met the following week to debate the merits of that idea on CBC's The Current, and to discuss the state of indigenous literature in Canada—their conversation was fascinating and you can listen to it here.
In this post, we would like to further the spirit of their discussion with Indigenous writers, artists and scholars recommending some of their essential reads.
Bearskin Diary, by Carol Daniels
Recommended by Richard Van Camp
I believe Carol Daniels is one of the most important voices in Canadian and World Indigenous Literature today. Her novel Bearskin Diary follows Sandy as she reclaims her culture and her spirit after surviving the Sixties Scoop. I wasn't expecting this novel to be so fearless, but it is. I could not put this book down.
I love Kenneth T. Williams' quote: "Bearskin Diary flows from sexy to thrilling, spiritual to humourous ..." I completely agree. Enjoy this book! It deserves to be read by so many. I'm grateful to Carol Daniels for her courage and passion. A true literary warrior.
Richard Van Camp is an internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author based in Edmonton. His previous work includes Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Lesser Blessed, The Moon of Letting Go, and Godless but Loyal to Heaven. He has three new books out: Three Feathers, a graphic novel on restorative justice with artist Krystal Mateus; Whistle, a mini-novel exploring mental health, his new short story collection, Night Moves, as well as a new graphic novel, A Blanket of Butterflies, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson.
Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Metis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality, by Chantal Fiola
Recommended by Blair Stonechild
Reading Fiola’s Rekindling the Sacred Fire and seeing how she dealt with the subject matter of Métis people and Indigenous spirituality was a pleasant surprise. Apart from the author’s personal expose on her experience as a Métis person, Chantal reconfirms the real impact that the historical experience of living among the Anishinaabe had upon not only the material culture of her people, but also on how many of them came to view the world. As someone who has worked extensively with elders at the First Nations University of Canada and is about to release a book on Indigenous spirituality based mainly upon the Anishinaabe perspective, I recognize the authenticity of spirituality of Fiola’s research based upon teachings such as the Midewiwin and Seven Fires Prophecy. The book and its approach is refreshing in that it takes Indigenous spirituality seriously and includes an account of how following its practices and ceremonies make a real difference in one’s relationship to others.
Blair Stonechild is Professor of Indigenous Studies at the First Nations University of Canada. His most recent publication is Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way. His forthcoming book The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality will be released by the University of Regina Press in May 2016.
The Crooked Good, by Louise Halfe
Recommended by Neal McLeod, Author of 100 Days of Cree
nitahkakêyihtên ê-ayamihcikêyân louise halfe omasinahikana “the crooked good.” kâ-isiyihkâtêk. halfe sîpi-âtayôhkêt cîhcipiscikwân, ê-mâmiskôtât tânisi ê-isi-pimâtisicik iyinitow-iskwêwak. mistahi ê-nêhiyawêwêpinikêt, ê-âniskwâpicikêt cîhcihpiscikwân âtayôhkêwin êkwa opimâtisiwiniwâwa iskwêwak. ê-ôsitât môsihâwin cîhcihpisicikwân ohci. êkwa mîna kwayask ê-mamâhtâwasinahikêt.
i enjoy reading louise halfe’s book the crooked good, as it is called. halfe adds layers to the sacred story of “rolling head” and describes how indigenous women live. she does with a thoroughly cree cadence, and connects the sacred story of “the rolling head” to the lives of women. in the process of this, she creates an empathy for “rolling head” and truly draws upon the great mystery of life in her writing.
From the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and editor of Indigenous Poetics in Canada, Neal McLeod is a poet, painter, and Associate Professor at Trent University. He is also editor of Cîhcêwêsin: Indigenous Poetry from Indigenous Saskatchewan, Mitêwâcimowina: Indigenous Science Fiction and Speculative Storytelling, and The Book of Ayâs.
100 Days of Cree, by Neil McLeod
Recommended by Harold Johnson
To understand us you need to understand our language. To understand our humor, our history, our prayers and ceremonies, you need to understand our language. For us to understand ourselves and our place in the universe we must understand our language. In 100 Days of Cree, Neal McLeod provides a structure and a formula for people who want to learn or maintain Cree.
Born and raised in Northern Saskatchewan, Harold Johnson has a Master of Law degree from Harvard University. Johnson practices law in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and balances this with operating his family's traditional trap line using a dog team. Johnson’s next book will be available in Fall 2016 through the University of Regina Press.
Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko
Recommended by Rick Monture
Over the years, my “go to” book by an Indigenous author has been Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. Published in 1977, it has stood up quite well to repeated readings and is deserving of its canonical status. Set in New Mexico following the Second World War, it is the story of Tayo, a returning Native American vet suffering from PTSD. Written in the wake of Vietnam, the novel is both an anti-war novel and a narrative of Tayo’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual recovery. It is a wonderfully written story that combines poetry, humour, prophecy, and redemption. You won’t be disappointed.
Rick Monture is a member of the Mohawk nation, Turtle clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. He is also the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University. He is author of We Share Our Matters: Two Centuries of Writing and Resistance at Six Nations of the Grand River.
Recommendations by Monique Gray Smith
It is exciting times in our county, both in regards to Indigenous Literature and reconciliation.
Books I’ve read that have inspired me or caused me to think and reflect in a deep meaningful way are:
Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg
Islands of Decolonial Love, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Traplines, by Eden Robinson
Bobbi Lee Indian Rebel, by Lee Maracle (this was the first book where I saw my lived experience reflected on the pages, incredibly powerful!)
Wild Berries/Pakwa che Menisu, by Julie Flett
Grandpa’s Girls, by Nicola Campbell and Kim Lafave
The Pemmican Eaters, by Marilyn Dumont
Whistle, by Richard Van Camp
Legacy by Waubgeshig Rice
Monique Gray Smith's forthcoming picture book is My Heart Fills With Happiness. She is a mixed-heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish ancestry. She is an accomplished consultant, writer, and international speaker. Her first novel, Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience, won the 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literature. For more information, visit www.littledrum.com.
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
Recommended by Christa Couture
On a day that I was about halfway through Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse I was sitting in a waiting room, engrossed and moved to tears. When my physiotherapist greeted me and I explained how the narrator Saul’s brutal journey, told with courage and humour and without apology, was eye opening and heartbreaking she said, “It’s fiction, right?” I replied, “Yes, but it’s true.” It’s a beautiful, stark novel that not only planted some understanding into experiences like Saul’s into my heart, but reminded me of the importance of knowing and sharing our most painful stories; of listening and telling.
Christa Couture is a singer-songwriter, non-fiction writer, halfbreed, and cyborg; the project manager of rpm.fm “Indigenous Music Culture,” a knitter, a whiskey drinker, and then some.
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