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Get the Facts: Indigenous & Black Non-Fiction
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Get the Facts: Indigenous & Black Non-Fiction

By barbaramcveigh
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At the 2018 edition of The FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity), Robyn Maynard said: "The facts don't actually speak for themselves." It matters who is telling the story, and with what lens the story is being told. A couple of additional titles to look for: -"Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People" by Anne Bishop -"Viola Desmond's Canada: a history of blacks and racial segregation in the promised land" by Graham Reynolds
Indigenous Writes

Indigenous Writes

A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada
also available: Paperback

In Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowel initiates myriad conversations about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. An advocate for Indigenous worldviews, the author discusses the fundamental issues—the terminology of relationships; culture and identity; myth-busting; state violence; and land, learning, law and treaties—along with wider social beliefs about these issues. She answers the questions that many people have on these topics to spark further conversations at home, in th …

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Just Don’t Call Us Late for Supper

Names for Indigenous Peoples

Any discussion needs a certain number of terms that can be understood by all participants; otherwise, communication ends up even messier than usual. I’ve read a lot of books about Indigenous peoples, and it seems every single one spends some time explaining which term the author will use in the rest of the text, and why he or she chose that particular term. I’ve tried avoiding that sort of thing when talking to people, but it absolutely always comes up.

I find it somewhat easier to start with a list of what you should definitely not be calling us – a little housecleaning of the mind, if you will. Surprisingly, there are a great number of people who still think the use of some of these terms is up for debate, but I would sincerely like to help you avoid unintentionally putting your foot in your mouth. So, between us, let’s just agree the following words are never okay to call Indigenous peoples:

  • savage
  • red Indian
  • redskin
  • primitive
  • half-breed
  • squaw/brave/buck/papoose

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other slurs we do not need to mention that are obviously unacceptable. I do not intend to spend any time discussing how the above terms might not be offensive, because engaging in a philosophical sidebar about whether words have inherent meaning tends to end in recitals of Jabberwocky; before you know it, you’ve wasted half the night trying to translate it into Cree, yet again. Or, so I’ve heard.

A lot of people who would like to talk about Indigenous issues honestly do not want to cause offence, and get very stressed out about the proper terms; so, it is in the interest of lowering those people’s blood pressure that I’m now going to discuss various terms in use out there.

First, there is no across-the-board agreement on a term. The fact that all Indigenous peoples have not settled on one term really seems to bother some people. I would like those people to take a deep breath, and chill out. It’s okay. Names are linked to identity, and notions of identity are fluid.

For example, did you have a cute nickname when you were a young child? I did. My parents called me “Goose Girl.” Twenty-five or so years later, if my employer called me “Goose Girl,” it would be awkward at best. There are terms of endearment that my friends and family call me that would sound very strange coming out of the mouth of someone I just met.

When meeting new people, we tend to err on the side of formality to avoid giving a poor first impression. So it is with identifiers for Indigenous peoples. Terms change; they evolve. What was a good term 20 years ago might be inappropriate now, or it has been worn out through constant repetition – like every hit song you used to love but can no longer stand to listen to. There is also an issue of terms becoming co-opted and changed by government, industry, or by pundits searching for new ways to take potshots at us. Sometimes, a term is abandoned because it has become so loaded that using it suggests tacit agreement to some bizarre external interpretation of who Indigenous peoples are.

Indigenous peoples are incredibly diverse; there are all sorts of internal arguments about which terms are best, what they actually mean, why people should reject this and that, and so on. What I’m okay with you calling me might really annoy someone else. If you were hoping this chapter was going to help you avoid that completely, I want to be upfront with the fact that you will leave disappointed. Be aware: no matter how safe you think a term is, someone somewhere might get upset if you call them that. No one can give you a magical pass so you never have to re-examine the terms you are using – not even your Native friend.

Be prepared to listen to what people have to say about the term you use, and to respect what they suggest you call them instead. This is surprisingly easy to do, and goes a very long way in keeping the dialogue useful. I mean, it would be a bit off to deliberately keep calling someone “Susie” when she’s asked you to call her “Susan,” right?

Here are some of the names in use:

  • Indian
  • NDN
  • Aboriginal
  • Indigenous
  • Native
  • First Nations
  • Inuit
  • Métis
  • Native American (more in the United States than in Canada)
  • the name of a particular nation (Cree, Ojibway, Chipewyan, and so on)
  • the name of a particular nation in that nation’s original language (nêhiyaw, Anishinaabe, Dene suliné, and so on)

Notice that I always capitalize the various terms used to describe Indigenous peoples. This is deliberate; the terms are proper nouns and adjectives referring to specific groups. “To capitalize or not to capitalize” ends up being a heated debate at times, but I feel it is a measure of respect to always capitalize our names when writing in English. This is my rule of thumb: if I can swap out “Indigenous” with “Canadian” (which is always capitalized), then I use the big I. I also capitalize names for non-Indigenous peoples throughout this book.

The term Indian is probably the most contentious. There are a couple of theories about where the term originated, but that’s not the point. In Canada, Indian continues to have legal connotations, and there is still an Indian Act; so you’ll see it used officially, as well as colloquially. There is also a long history of this term being used pejoratively – two good reasons why it doesn’t sit well with everyone.

However, it is also a term that is often used internally. Please note this does not mean it’s always okay for others to use the term. I tend to suggest that avoiding this term is probably for the best, unless someone is specifically referencing the Indian Act. There is a level of sarcasm and challenge often associated with its internal use that is easy to miss, and most likely cannot be replicated. If you are interested in avoiding giving offence, this term is one you might want to drop from your vocabulary.

NDN is a term of more recent origin, in heavy use via social media. This shorthand term has no official meaning and is very informal. If you say it aloud it just sounds like Indian, so its use really only makes sense in text-based situations. NDN is more of a self-identifier than anything.

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Policing Black Lives

Policing Black Lives

State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present
also available: eBook


Delving behind Canada’s veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.

While highlighting the ubiquity of Black resistance, Policing Black Lives traces the still-living legacy of slavery acro …

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Seven Fallen Feathers

Seven Fallen Feathers

Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City
also available: eBook

Winner, 2018 RBC Taylor Prize
Winner, 2017 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
Winner, First Nation Communities Read Indigenous Literature Award
Finalist, 2017 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Finalist, 2017 Speaker’s Book Award
Finalist, 2018 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
A Globe And Mail Top 100 Book
A National Post 99 Best Book Of The Year

In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residen …

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It’s early April and the 2011 federal election is in full swing. All over Canada, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are duking it out with Jack Layton’s New Democrats and the struggling Liberals in a bid to win a majority government.

I’m in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to see Stan Beardy, the Nishawbe-Aski Nation’s grand chief, to interview him for a story on why it is indigenous people never seem to vote.

The receptionist at the NAN’s office greets me and ushers me into a large, common meeting room to wait for Stan. Everything in the room is grey — the walls, the tubular plastic tables, the carpets. The only splash of colour is a large white flag with a bear on it that has been tacked to the wall.

The Great White Bear stands in the centre of a red circle, in the middle of the flag. The white bear is the traditional symbol of the life of the North American Indian. The red circle background is symbolic of the Red Man. His feet are standing, planted firmly on the bottom line, representing the Earth while his head touches the top line, symbolic to his relationship to the Great Spirit in the sky. The bear is stretched out, arms and feet open wide, to show he has nothing to hide.

There are circles joining the bear’s rib cage. They are the souls of the people, indigenous songs, and legends. The circles are the ties that bind all the clans together.

These circles also offer protection. Without them, the ribcage would expose the great bear’s beating heart and leave it open to harm.

Stan walks in and greets me warmly, his brown eyes twinkling as he takes a seat.

Stan is pensive, quiet, and patient. He says nothing as he wearily leans back in his chair and waits for me to explain why exactly I flew 2,400 km north from Toronto to see him and talk about the federal election.

I launch into my spiel, trying not to sound like a salesperson or an interloper into his world, someone who kind of belongs here and kind of does not. This is the curse of my mixed blood. I am the daughter of a half-Anish mom and a Polish father.

I ramble off abysmal voting pattern statistics across Canada, while pointing out that in many ridings indigenous people could act as a swing vote, influencing that riding and hence the trajectory of the election.

Stan stares at me impassively. Non-plussed.

So I start firing off some questions.

It doesn’t go well. Every time I try to engage him, asking him about why indigenous people won’t get in the game and vote, he begins talking about the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Jordan Wabasse.

It was a frustrating exchange, like we were speaking two different languages.

“Indigenous voters could influence fifty seats across the country if they got out and voted but they don’t. Why?” I ask.

“Why aren’t you writing a story on Jordan Wabasse? He has been gone seventy-one days now,” replies Stan.

“Stephen Harper has been no friend to indigenous people yet if everyone voted, they could swing the course of this election,” I continue, hoping he’ll bite at the sound of Harper’s name. The man is no friend of the Indians.

“They found a shoe down by the water. Police think it might have been his,” replies Stan.

This went on for a good fifteen minutes. I was annoyed. I knew a missing Grade 9 indigenous student in Thunder Bay would not make news in urban Toronto at Canada’s largest daily newspaper. I could practically see that election bus rolling away without me.

Then I remembered my manners and where I was.

I was sitting with the elected grand chief of 23,000 people and he was clearly trying to tell me something.

I tried a new tactic. I’d ask about Jordan and then I’d swing around and get him to talk about elections.

Then Stan said: “Jordan is the seventh student to go missing or die while at school.”


Stan says their names: “Reggie Bushie. Jethro Anderson. Paul Panacheese. Curran Strang. Robyn Harper. Kyle Morrisseau. And now, Jordan Wabasse.”

He then tells me the seven were hundreds of miles away from their home communities and families.

Each was forced to leave their reserve simply because there was no high school for them to attend.

“Going to high school is the right of every Canadian child,” says Stan, adding that these children are no different.

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The Inconvenient Indian Illustrated

The Inconvenient Indian Illustrated

A Curious Account of Native People in North America

An illustrated edition of the award-winning, bestselling Canadian classic, featuring over 150 images that add colour and context to this extraordinary work.

"Every Canadian should read [this] book." —Toronto Star

Since its publication in 2012, The Inconvenient Indian has become an award-winning bestseller and a modern classic. In its pages, Thomas King tells the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Native and Indigenous people in the centuries since the two first encountered …

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A Knock on the Door

A Knock on the Door

The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Edited and Abridged

“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 residenti …

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The Reconciliation Manifesto

The Reconciliation Manifesto

Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy
also available: eBook

In this book Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson challenge virtually everything that non-Indigenous Canadians believe about their relationship with Indigenous Peoples and the steps that are needed to place this relationship on a healthy and honourable footing.

Manuel and Derrickson show how governments are attempting to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples without touching the basic colonial structures that dominate and distort the relationship. They review the current state of land clai …

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In the Black

In the Black

My Life
also available: Hardcover

A remarkable memoir about achieving prosperity in the face of relentless prejudice

In the Black traces B. Denham Jolly’s personal and professional struggle for a place in a country where Black Canadians have faced systematic discrimination. He arrived from Jamaica to attend university in the mid-1950s and worked as a high school teacher before going into the nursing and retirement-home business. Though he was ultimately successful in his business ventures, Jolly faced both overt and covert disc …

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Black Ice

Black Ice

The Val James Story
also available: Hardcover eBook
tagged : hockey

The first Black American in the NHL tells his story — now in trade paper

Val James received his first pair of skates for his 13th birthday and by 16, he left his home in New York to play in Canada, where he was the only black person on his junior team and, often, in the whole town. While popular for his tough play and winning personality, the teenager faced racist taunts at opposing arenas. The prejudice he encountered continued at all levels of the game. He became the first African American NH …

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