June is Indigenous History Month, a great opportunity to celebrate some of our favourite books over the years, along with links to great interviews, excerpts, image galleries, and more.
Injun, by Jordan Abel
About the book: Award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s third collection, Injun, is a long poem about racism and the representation of indigenous peoples. Composed of text found in western novels published between 1840 and 1950 – the heyday of pulp publishing and a period of unfettered colonialism in North America—Injun then uses erasure, pastiche, and a focused poetics to create a visually striking response to the western genre.
After compiling the online text of 91 of these now public-domain novels into one gargantuan document, Abel used his word processor’s “Find” function to search for the word “injun.” The 509 results were used as a study in context: How was this word deployed? What surrounded it? What was left over once that word was removed? Abel then cut up the sentences into clusters of three to five words and rearranged them into the long poem that is Injun. The book contains the poem as well as peripheral material that will help the reader to replicate, intuitively, some of the conceptual processes that went into composing the poem.
Though it has been phased out of use in our “post-racial” society, the word “injun” is peppered throughout pulp western novels. Injun retraces, defaces, and effaces the use of this word as a colonial and racial marker. While the subject matter of the source text is clearly problematic, the textual explorations in Injun help to destabilize the colonial image of the “Indian” in the source novels, the western genre as a whole, and the Western canon.
Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine, by Kim Anderson
About the book: A rare and inspiring guide to the health and well-being of Aboriginal women and their communities.The process of “digging up medicines” —of rediscovering the stories of the past—serves as a powerful healing force in the decolonization and recovery of Aboriginal communities. In Life Stages and Native Women, Kim Anderson shares the teachings of fourteen elders from the Canadian prairies and Ontario to illustrate how different life stages were experienced by Metis, Cree, and Anishinaabe girls and women during the mid-twentieth century. These elders relate stories about their own lives, the experiences of girls and women of their childhood communities, and customs related to pregnancy, birth, post-natal care, infant and child care, puberty rites, gender and age-specific work roles, the distinct roles of post-menopausal women, and women’s roles in managing death. Through these teachings, we learn how evolving responsibilities from infancy to adulthood shaped women’s identities and place within Indigenous society, and were integral to the health and well-being of their communities. By understanding how healthy communities were created in the past, Anderson explains how this traditional knowledge can be applied toward rebuilding healthy Indigenous communities today.
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale
About the book: Native Women demand to be heard in this stunning anthology.
Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. In the same style as the best-selling Dreaming in Indian, #Not Your Princess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, humiliation, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women making themselves heard and demanding change. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.
A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Edited and Abridged, foreword by Phil Fontaine, by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, afterword by Aimée Craft
About the book: “It can start with a knock on the door one morning. It is the local Indian agent, or the parish priest, or, perhaps, a Mounted Police officer.” So began the school experience of many Indigenous children in Canada for more than a hundred years, and so begins the history of residential schools prepared by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Between 2008 and 2015, the TRC provided opportunities for individuals, families, and communities to share their experiences of residential schools and released several reports based on 7000 survivor statements and five million documents from government, churches, and schools, as well as a solid grounding in secondary sources.
A Knock on the Door, published in collaboration with the National Research Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, gathers material from the several reports the TRC has produced to present the essential history and legacy of residential schools in a concise and accessible package that includes new materials to help inform and contextualize the journey to reconciliation that Canadians are now embarked upon.
Survivor and former National Chief of the Assembly First Nations, Phil Fontaine, provides a Foreword, and an Afterword introduces the holdings and opportunities of the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation, home to the archive of recordings, and documents collected by the TRC.
As Aimée Craft writes in the Afterword, knowing the historical backdrop of residential schooling and its legacy is essential to the work of reconciliation. In the past, agents of the Canadian state knocked on the doors of Indigenous families to take the children to school. Now, the Survivors have shared their truths and knocked back. It is time for Canadians to open the door to mutual understanding, respect, and reconciliation.
SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut, by Heather Igloliorte
About the book: Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region of Canada that achieved self-government in 2005, produces art that is distinct within the world of Canadian and circumpolar Inuit art. The world's most southerly population of Inuit, the coastal people of Nunatsiavut have always lived both above and below the tree line, and Inuit artists and craftspeople from Nunatsiavut have had access to a diverse range of Arctic and Subarctic flora and fauna, from which they have produced a stunningly diverse range of work.
Artists from the territory have traditionally used stone and woods for carving; fur, hide, and sealskin for wearable art; and saltwater seagrass for basketry, as well as wool, metal, cloth, beads, and paper. In recent decades, they have produced work in a variety of contemporary art media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, and ceramics, while also working with traditional materials in new and unexpected ways.
SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut is the first major publication on the art of the Labrador Inuit. Designed to accompany a major touring exhibition organized by The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery of St. John's, the book features more than 80 reproductions of work by 45 different artists, profiles of the featured artists, and a major essay on the art of Nunatsiavut by Heather Igloliorte.
SakKijâjuk—"to be visible" in the Nunatsiavut dialect of Inuktitut—provides an opportunity for readers, collectors, art historians, and art aficionados from the South and the North to come into intimate contact with the distinctive, innovative, and always breathtaking work of the contemporary Inuit artists and craftspeople of Nunatsiavut.
In My Own Moccasins, by Helen Knott
About the book: A nationally bestselling book on the struggle of addiction and the power of Indigenous resilience.
Helen Knott, a highly accomplished Indigenous woman, seems to have it all. But in her memoir, she offers a different perspective. In My Own Moccasins is an unflinching account of addiction, intergenerational trauma, and the wounds brought on by sexual violence. It is also the story of sisterhood, the power of ceremony, the love of family, and the possibility of redemption.
With gripping moments of withdrawal, times of spiritual awareness, and historical insights going back to the signing of Treaty 8 by her great-great grandfather, Chief Bigfoot, her journey exposes the legacy of colonialism, while reclaiming her spirit.
About the book: In the late 1980s, pediatric endocrinologists at the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg began to notice a new cohort appearing in their clinics for young people with diabetes.
Indigenous youngsters from two First Nations in northern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario were showing up not with type 1 (or insulin-dependent diabetes), but with what looked like type 2 diabetes, until then a condition that was restricted to people much older. Investigation led the doctors to learn that something similar had become a medical issue among young people of the Pima Indian Nation in Arizona though, to their knowledge, nobody else.
But these youth were just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few decades more children would confront what was turning into not only a medical but also a social and community challenge.
Diagnosing the Legacy is the story of communities, researchers, and doctors who faced—and continue to face—something never seen before: type 2 diabetes in younger and younger people. Through dozens of interviews, Krotz shows the impact of the disease on the lives of individuals and families as well as the challenges caregivers faced diagnosing and then responding to the complex and perplexing disease, especially in communities far removed from the medical personnel a facilities available in the city.
When Raven Became Spider, edited by Jennifer Matotek & Leena Minifie
About the book: Taking its title from a body of work by Sonny Assu, depicting Spiderman in a traditional Kwakwa_ka_'wakw style, When Raven Became Spider was a contemporary art exhibition curated by Vancouver-based Gitxaala/British, curator, artist and writer Leena Minifie.
This publication serves as documentation of the exhibition, and continues Minifie's research on supernatural characters in Indigenous art and modern comic superheroes, expanding the conversation to include a commissioned art work by Jolene Yazzie, and essays by Indigenous scholars from across North America.
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir, by Joseph A. Merasty & David Carpenter
About the book: "This story of a child is heartbreaking and important. It brings into dramatic focus why we need reconciliation." - James Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains
This memoir offers a courageous and intimate chronicle of life in a residential school.
Now a retired fisherman and trapper, the author was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children who were taken from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of "aggressive assimilation."
As Augie Merasty recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mold children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their native heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse.
But, even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty's sense of humour and warm voice shine through.
kiyâm: poems, by Naomi McIlwraith
About the book: Through poems that move between the two languages, McIlwraith explores the beauty of the intersection between nêhiyawêwin, the Plains Cree language, and English, âkayâsîmowin. Written to honour her father's facility in nêhiyawêwin and her mother's beauty and generosity as an inheritor of Cree, Ojibwe, Scottish, and English, kiyâm articulates a powerful yearning for family, history, peace, and love.
Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, by Darrel J. McLeod
About the book: Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that would return to watch over and guide him at key junctures of his life.
However, in a spiral of events, Darrel’s mother turned wild and unstable, and their home life became chaotic. Sweet and innocent by nature, Darrel struggled to maintain his grades and pursue an interest in music while changing homes many times, witnessing violence, caring for his younger siblings and suffering abuse at the hands of his surrogate father. Meanwhile, his sibling’s gender transition provoked Darrel to deeply question his own sexual identity.
The fractured narrative of Mamaskatch mirrors Bertha’s attempts to reckon with the trauma and abuse she faced in her own life, and captures an intensely moving portrait of a family of strong personalities, deep ties and the shared history that both binds and haunts them.
Beautifully written, honest and thought-provoking, Mamaskatch—named for the Cree word used as a response to dreams shared—is ultimately an uplifting account of overcoming personal and societal obstacles. In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him to build the foundation of what would come to be a very fulfilling and adventurous life.
Rooster Town: The History of an Urban Métis Community, 1901–1961, by Evelyn Peters; Matthew Stock & Adrian Werner
About the book: Melonville. Smokey Hollow. Bannock Town. Fort Tuyau. Little Chicago. Mud Flats. Pumpville. Tintown. La Coule. These were some of the names given to Métis communities at the edges of urban areas in Manitoba. Rooster Town, which was on the outskirts of southwest Winnipeg endured from 1901 to 1961.
Those years in Winnipeg were characterized by the twin pressures of depression, and inflation, chronic housing shortages, and a spotty social support network. At the city’s edge, Rooster Town grew without city services as rural Métis arrived to participate in the urban economy and build their own houses while keeping Métis culture and community as a central part of their lives.
In other growing settler cities, the Indigenous experience was largely characterized by removal and confinement. But the continuing presence of Métis living and working in the city, and the establishment of Rooster Town itself, made the Winnipeg experience unique. Rooster Town documents the story of a community rooted in kinship, culture, and historical circumstance, whose residents existed unofficially in the cracks of municipal bureaucracy, while navigating the legacy of settler colonialism and the demands of modernity and urbanization.
Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau, by Carmen L. Robertson
About the book: Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau examines the complex identities assigned to Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau. Was he an uneducated artist plagued by alcoholism and homelessness? Was Morrisseau a shaman artist who tapped a deep spiritual force? Or was he simply one of Canada’s most significant artists?
Carmen L. Robertson charts both the colonial attitudes and the stereotypes directed at Morrisseau and other Indigenous artists in Canada’s national press. Robertson also examines Morrisseau’s own shaping of his image. An internationally known and award-winning artist from a remote area of northwestern Ontario, Morrisseau founded an art movement known as Woodland Art developed largely from Indigenous and personal creative elements. Still, until his retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2006, many Canadians knew almost nothing about Morrisseau’s work.
Using discourse analysis methods, Robertson looks at news stories, magazine articles, and film footage, ranging from Morrisseau’s first solo exhibition at Toronto’s Pollock Gallery in 1962 until his death in 2007 to examine the cultural assumptions that have framed Morrisseau.
Islands of Decolonial Love, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
About the book: In her debut collection of short stories, Islands of Decolonial Love, renowned writer and activist Leanne Simpson vividly explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous Peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation. Found on reserves, in cities and small towns, in bars and curling rinks, canoes and community centres, doctors offices and pickup trucks, Simpson's characters confront the often heartbreaking challenge of pairing the desire to live loving and observant lives with a constant struggle to simply survive the historical and ongoing injustices of racism and colonialism. Told with voices that are rarely recorded but need to be heard, and incorporating the language and history of her people, Leanne Simpson's Islands of Decolonial Love is a profound, important, and beautiful book of fiction.
Seven Fallen Feathers, by Tanya Talaga
About the book: The shocking true story covered by the Guardian and the New York Times of the seven young Indigenous students who were found dead in a northern Ontario city.
In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.
More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.
Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, by Andrea Warner
About the book: A powerful, intimate look at the life of a beloved folk icon and activist.
Folk hero. Songwriter icon. Living legend. Buffy Sainte-Marie is all of these things and more. In this, Sainte-Marie’s first and only authorized biography, music critic Andrea Warner draws from more than sixty hours of exclusive interviews to offer a powerful, intimate look at the life of the beloved artist and everything that she has accomplished in her seventy-seven years (and counting).
Since her groundbreaking debut, 1964’s It’s My Way!, the Cree singer-songwriter has been a trailblazer and a tireless advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms, an innovative artist, and a disruptor of the status quo. Establishing herself among the ranks of folk greats such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, she has released more than twenty albums, survived being blacklisted by two U.S. presidents, and received countless accolades, including the only Academy Award ever to be won by a First Nations artist. But this biography does more than celebrate Sainte-Marie’s unparalleled talent as a songwriter and entertainer; packed with insight and knowledge, it offers an unflinchingly honest, heartbreakingly real portrait of the woman herself, including the challenges she experienced on the periphery of showbiz, her healing from the trauma of childhood and intimate partner violence, her commitment to activism, and her leadership in the protest movement.
For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War, by Timothy C. Winegard
About the book: The first comprehensive history of the Aboriginal First World War experience on the battlefield and the home front.
When the call to arms was heard at the outbreak of the First World War, Canada’s First Nations pledged their men and money to the Crown to honour their long-standing tradition of forming military alliances with Europeans during times of war, and as a means of resisting cultural assimilation and attaining equality through shared service and sacrifice. Initially, the Canadian government rejected these offers based on the belief that status Indians were unsuited to modern, civilized warfare. But in 1915, Britain intervened and demanded Canada actively recruit Indian soldiers to meet the incessant need for manpower. Thus began the complicated relationships between the Imperial Colonial and War Offices, the Department of Indian Affairs, and the Ministry of Militia that would affect every aspect of the war experience for Canada’s Aboriginal soldiers.
In his groundbreaking new book, For King and Kanata, Timothy C. Winegard reveals how national and international forces directly influenced the more than 4,000 status Indians who voluntarily served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force between 1914 and 1919—a per capita percentage equal to that of Euro-Canadians—and how subsequent administrative policies profoundly affected their experiences at home, on the battlefield, and as returning veterans.
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