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Much Like Family: The Indigenous Literary Community

A recommended reading list by the author of the new essay collection Carrying It Forward: Essays from Kistahpinanihk.

Book Cover Carrying It Forward

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Being a historian as well as a poet, I must admit that most of the books I read tend to be nonfiction works, which, as educational as they are and as passionate as I am for them, I wouldn’t go so far as to say inspire me.

That being said, I always make an effort to read and enjoy the literary efforts of fellow Indigenous and Métis writers and poets, many of whom I am honoured to consider colleagues, friends and contemporaries, and some who are no longer here to share their Acimowinisak (stories).

The Indigenous literary community is a strong and vibrant one, much like family, and I try to support and encourage them as much as I can.

Here is a list of works by Indigenous writers which I have read and that I recommend.


Book Cover Stations of the Crossed

Stations of the Crossed, by Carol Rose GoldenEagle

I had the privilege and honour of being asked to review this collection of poetry before its publication. Carol is a recent addition to my circle and has quickly become one of my favourite writers and a friend. This collection of poetry speaks to the uncomfortable relationship between First Nations people and the Church, and the struggle to break one of the strongest bindings of colonialism which still exists in NDN Country. It makes one ask questions; hard questions, healing questions, direct questions, and it makes you want the answers so damn badly.


Book Cover Loyal Till Death

Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion, by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser

This is an older book, published over 20 years ago, and it is a look at the events of the 1885 Northwest Resistance (commonly called the Riel Rebellion) with respect to the First Nations people and bands who were involved or affected by the events which took place at that time. In particular, this book speaks to the treatment/mistreatment of First Nations people not only at the hands of the Canadian government, but also at the hands of the Métis. When I first read this book, I was a 16-year-old, somewhat naïve, somewhat militant young Indigenous man learning about my culture and family pretty much for the first time. Leaders like Louis Riel held up almost as a demigod, a mythical hero and champion of the Métis and of all Indigenous people against tyranny. This book helped to shatter the myth and bring Riel and his actions crashing down back to reality, showing him as a fallible human being with major faults, even using the same tactics of starvation and deprivation as the Canadian government to cajole and force First Nations people into participating in the resistance. This was one of the first books that reinforced within me the knowledge that history is ugly, and that history will make and should make you angry at times.


Book Cover Bear Bones and Feathers

Bear Bones & Feathers, by Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer

I will be honest, I could have picked any one of Louise’s books and named it on this list, because her writing style and work is so profound and powerful. This book, however, spoke to me deeply when I first read it. Originally published by the now sadly defunct Coteau Books of Regina, Louise’s first book speaks to the pain and trauma she experienced in her youth at Residential School. For me, the pieces which speak the most to me today are a series of poems towards the end of the book which reference empty apologies from a pope, while at the same time chronicling some of the horrors we as Indigenous people faced and continue to face at the hands of Colonization, keeping in mind that this book came out 28 years before the ridiculous spectacle of the Papal Visit of 2022. As traumatic as that visit was for me, I took comfort in this book, and kept going back to it many times that summer.


Book Cover Through the Eyes of Asunder

Through the Eyes of Asunder, by Nshannacappo

This was another collection of poetry I was honoured to be asked to review recently and I was very pleased to do so. This is a poetry collection that reminded me of the work I had created early in my career, and I was elated that someone who wrote in a similar style as I once did, but which has been out of favour for many years, now has their work in print. These are beautiful poems, written in a way that feels ancient, yet current, and you can see the poet enjoying their words. As I said for the book, it honestly feels like you’ve found someone’s journals and writings. It’s a beautiful collection.


Book Cover Peace and Good Order

Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada, by Harold R. Johnson

I was honoured to know and consider Harold a friend and mentor for nearly 20 years. Harold was an eclectic writer who led an amazing life as a Navy veteran, northern trapper, logger and miner, and Harvard-trained lawyer. He wrote fantasy novels and treatises on the affects of addiction upon Indigenous people and communities. On the heels of the horrendous not-guilty verdicts for the killers of both Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine, Peace and Good Order is a hard look at the treatment of Indigenous people when it comes to the Canadian Justice system, and Harold did not recuse himself for the role he himself played in that same system. I miss Harold very much.


Book Cover Cold Case North

Cold Case North: The Search for James Brady and Absolom Halkett, by Michael Nest, with Deanna Reder and Eric Bell

This book is very personal for me, as I am the grandson of James Patrick (Jim) Brady, who is considered one of the greatest Métis leaders, not only of the 20th Century, but of all time. This book chronicles my grandfather’s disappearance in June 1967 along with Absolom Halkett, investigates the mystery surrounding his disappearance, the theories, as well as the search 51 years later for their bodies at the bottom of an isolated northern Saskatchewan lake. This book brought me closer to my grandfather than I was expecting, and it was a powerful read that posed just as many questions as answers; questions we as a family hope to one day have answered.


Book Cover Iskotew Iskwew: Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl

Iskotew Iskwew: Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl, by Francine Merasty

Francine and I share a publisher in BookLand Press, and Francine and I both attended the same Residential School (though our paths never crossed there.) and one of my paintings was used for the cover of this book, so I am biased towards these poems. But all that being said, this book ranks as one of the best poetry collections I have ever read. It speaks to the strength and resilience of Northern Indigenous women, to the struggles we as survivors faced and continue to face, and you read it with the knowledge that Francine wrote these pieces while enduring the traumatic experience of being a statement taker and Counsel to the 2017 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. If you are not weeping by the end of this book, to borrow a phrase from an Indigenous matriarch, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”


Book Cover Carrying It Forward

Learn more about Carrying It Forward: Essays from Kistahpinanihk:

John Brady McDonald has lived in Kistahpinanihk, an area that includes Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, for nearly all his life. A member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and a descendent of Metis leader Jim Brady, John Brady has worked to move carefully between these two nations—to learn their stories, honour their traditions and reclaim their languages, all of which were nearly lost to him. In this wide-ranging collection the author looks at everything from the city of Prince Albert to his experience of residential school, to northern firefighting, to his time in the United Kingdom, where he “discovered” and “claimed” the island for the First People of the Americas. These are essays filled with history, much careful observation and some hard-learned lessons about racism, about recovery, about the ongoing tragedies facing Indigenous peoples. With honesty, a poet’s turn of phrase and a bit of sly humour, John Brady pulls us deep into the life he has lived in Kistahpinanihk and asks us to consider what life could be like in a New North Territory.

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