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Non-Fiction for Senior Grades

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Read, Listen, Tell

Read, Listen, Tell

Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

“Don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” —Thomas King, in this volume

Read, Listen, Tell brings together an extraordinary range of Indigenous stories from across Turtle Island (North America). From short fiction to as-told-to narratives, from illustrated stories to personal essays, these stories celebrate the strength of heritage and the liveliness of innovation. Ranging in tone from humorous …

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Excerpt

The Way of the Sword

Dawn Dumont

 

Dawn Dumont is a Plains Cree comedian, actor, and writer born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. She says of her reservation, the Okanese First Nation, that it is "quite possibly the smallest reservation in the world but what it doesn’t have in terms of land area, the people make up for in sheer head size" ("Dawn Dumont"). Trained as a lawyer, Dumont has said (in a tongue-in-cheek interview) that she decided to follow the talk show host Oprah’s advice to "follow your bliss” and become a writer instead" ("Dawn Dumont"). The story included in this anthology is from her collection of linked short stories, Nobody Cries at Bingo (2011). Three of Dumont’s plays, The Red Moon (Love Medicine), Visiting Elliot, and The Trickster vs. Jesus Christ, have been broadcast on CBC. She has also published a novel, Rose’s Run (2014). In addition to her work as a writer, Dawn has performed as a comedian at comedy clubs across North America, including New York’s Comic Strip, the New York Comedy Club, and the Improv.

Dumont has no trouble bringing her prodigious talents as a comedian to the page—while also using her sharp wit to make us think more deeply about serious issues, such as the legacy of residential schools, poverty, racism, bullying, and the stereotypical ways that Native people often are represented in books, films, and media. "The Way of the Sword" is a story about a young girl, also named Dawn, who obsessively reads Conan the Barbarian comics. Dawn loves Conan because, as she says, the story of his people "mirror[s] the story of Native people" (16). Finding her own experiences "mirrored" in Conan’s stories sustains Dawn and helps her find a way to counter the stereotypes of Native people that she contends with on a daily basis. But when Dawn is confronted with a real-life challenge by a group of older, stronger girls, she needs to find a solution other than hand-to-hand combat.

EXCERPT

When I was growing up my hero was Conan the Barbarian. He wasn’t just a comic book character—Conan was a way of life, a very simple way of life. When Conan wanted something, he took it. When someone stood in his way, he slew them. There were no annoying grey areas when you were a barbarian.

Uncle Frank introduced me, my siblings and all my cousins to Conan. He arrived from Manitoba one day with a bag filled with clothes and a box full of comics. I was ten and had no idea who Uncle Frank was. "This is your uncle, " Mom said pointing at the thin man with no hair sitting next to her at the table.

" Yeah, hi, okay, " I said, breezing by as I polished an apple on my T-shirt.

I would have kept walking had I not overheard the words, "horse ranch. " I stopped short, reversed and sat to my uncle’s right as he laid out the plans for possibly the greatest single thing that has ever happened to the Okanese reserve—Uncle Frank’s ranch.

Frank had no children but his interests in horses, comic books and candies guaranteed that they would always surround him. From the first day he arrived, all the kids within a three-kilometre radius spent all our free time at Uncle Frank’s—a fact, which delighted our bingo-addicted mothers to no end. When the horses weren’t available, or the weather was inclement or we had stuffed ourselves with too many cookies and potato chips, my cousins and I gathered in Uncle Frank’s living room where we would leaf through his Conan collection. Each week, we’d fight over who got to read the latest issue, but it was just as easy to lose yourself in an old comic while a slow reader mumbled his way through the new one.

Uncle Frank had hundreds of Conan comics from various different series. You see, Conan led such a long and complex life that it had to be told from several different angles. There was Conan the Barbarian, Conan the King, Young Conan and the Savage Sword of Conan. The Savage Sword was my favourite because it was more of a graphic magazine than a comic book. On these pages, the artists took extra time and care to bring across Conan’s heroic form, stylized muscles and the blood splatters of his foes. These stories were savoured; each word would be read, each panel would be studied, to achieve maximum Conan absorption.

Every time I opened a new comic, I read the italicized print above the first panel that described the world of Conan, "The proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet. "

Through these magazines we learned all we needed to know about Conan and his life philosophies. There was a recipe for living in those comics: love those who love you and conquer those who don’t. My cousins took this to heart and ran headlong into adventures like chasing down the bantam rooster until he turned on them and flew at their faces with his claws. They emerged from their adventures with bruises, scrapes and confident smiles. I always hung back, afraid of breaking a limb or scratching my smooth, plump skin. I knew I could be like Conan too, but in the distant future, far away from sharp claws and bad tempered chickens.

Part of the reason we loved Conan was we believed he was Native. The story of Conan mirrored the story of Native people. Conan was a descendent of the Cimmerians, a noble warrior people who made swords yet lived peaceably. They were attacked and annihilated by an imperial army who murdered the men and women and enslaved the children. Conan was one of those children and the only one to survive slavery (according to the movie). He was the last of his kind.

This was exactly like our lives! Well, except for the last of our kind business. We were very much alive and well even though others had made a concerted effort to kill us off. Later, I learned that throughout the world, people thought that Indians had been killed off by war, famine and disease. Chris Rock does a comedy bit about this point, claiming that you will never see an Indian family in a Red Lobster. This is a misconception: my family has gone to Red Lobster many times. (However, we are most comfortable at a Chinese buffet.)

In Saskatchewan, most non-Native people were very much aware that nearly a million Native people still existed, mainly to annoy them and steal their tax dollars.

But someone had tried to annihilate us and that was not something you got over quickly. It was too painful to look at it and accept; it was easier to examine attempted genocide indirectly. We could read about the Cimmerians and feel their pain; we could not acknowledge our own.

excerpted from "The Way of the Sword," by Dawn Dumont, in Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island.

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Louis Riel

Louis Riel

Tenth Anniversary Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

A limited-edition reprint of Brown's celebrated biography of the Canadian rebel
Louis Rieltells the story of the charismatic, and perhaps mad, nineteenth-century Metis leader whose struggle to win rights for his people led to violent rebellion on the nations western frontier. When the collected book appeared in 2003, Brown won widespread critical and industry acclaim forLouis Riel, including two Harvey Awards and inclusion on countless best-of lists. Beyond that, it single-handedly revitalized …

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This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything

Capitalism vs. the Climate
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

WINNER 2014 – Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction
Forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed system and build something radically better. In her most provocative book yet, Naomi Klein, author of the global bestsellers The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, tackles the most profound threat hu …

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The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian

A Curious Account of Native People in North America
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

WINNER of the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
 
Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in t …

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Excerpt

About fifteen years back, a bunch of us got together to form a drum group. John Samosi, one of our lead singers, suggested we call ourselves “The Pesky Redskins.” Since we couldn’t sing all that well, John argued, we needed a name that would make people smile and encourage them to overlook our musical deficiencies.

We eventually settled on the Waa-Chi-Waasa Singers, which was a more stately name. Sandy Benson came up with it, and as I remember, waa-chi-waasa is Ojibway for “far away.” Appropriate enough, since most of the boys who sit around the drum here in Guelph, Ontario, come from somewhere other than here. John’s from Saskatoon. Sandy calls Rama home. Harold Rice was raised on the coast of British Columbia. Mike Duke’s home community is near London, Ontario. James Gordon is originally from Toronto. I hail from California’s central valley, while my son Benjamin was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, and was dragged around North America with his older brother and younger sister. I don’t know
where he considers home to be.

Anishinaabe, Métis, Coastal Salish, Cree, Cherokee. We have nothing much in common. We’re all Aboriginal and we have the drum. That’s about it.

I had forgotten about “Pesky Redskins” but it must have been kicking around in my brain because, when I went looking for a title for this book, something with a bit of irony to it, there it was.

Pesky Redskins: A Curious History of Indians in North America.

Problem was, no one else liked the title. Several people I trust told me that Pesky Redskins sounded too flip and, in the end, I had to agree. Native people haven’t been so much pesky as we’ve been . . . inconvenient.

So I changed the title to The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious History of Native People in North America, at which point my partner, Helen Hoy, who teaches English at the University of Guelph, weighed in, cautioning that “history” might be too grand a word for what I was attempting. Benjamin, who is finishing a Ph.D. in History at Stanford, agreed with his mother and pointed out that if I was going to call the book a history, I would be obliged to pay attention to the demands of scholarship and work within an organized and clearly delineated chronology.

Now, it’s not that I think such things as chronologies are a bad idea, but I’m somewhat attached to the Ezra Pound School of History. While not subscribing to his political beliefs, I do agree with Pound that “We do NOT know the past in chronological sequence. It may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our own time.”

There’s nothing like a good quotation to help a body escape an onerous task. So I tweaked the title one more time, swapped the word “history” for “account,” and settled on The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Mind you, there
is a great deal in The Inconvenient Indian that is history. I’m just not the historian you had in mind. While it might not show immediately, I have a great deal of respect for the discipline of history. I studied history as part of my doctoral work in English and American Studies at the University of Utah. I even worked at the American West Center on that campus when Floyd O’Neil and S. Lyman Tyler ran the show, and, over the years, I’ve met and talked with other historians such as Brian Dippie, Richard White, Patricia Limerick, Jean O’Brien, Vine Deloria, Jr., Francis Paul Prucha, David Edmunds, Olive Dickason, Jace Weaver, Donald Smith, Alvin Josephy, Ken Coates, and Arrel Morgan Gibson, and we’ve had some very stimulating conversations about . . . history. And in consideration of those conversations and the respect that I have for history, I’ve salted my narrative with those things we call facts, even though we should know by now that facts will not save us.

Truth be known, I prefer fiction. I dislike the way facts try to thrust themselves upon me. I’d rather make up my own world. Fictions are less unruly than histories. The beginnings are more engaging, the characters more co-operative, the endings more in line with expectations of morality and justice. This is not to imply that fiction is exciting and that history is boring. Historical narratives can be as enchanting as a Stephen Leacock satire or as terrifying as a Stephen King thriller.

Still, for me at least, writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.

As a result, although The Inconvenient Indian is fraught with history, the underlying narrative is a series of conversations and arguments that I’ve been having with myself and others for most of my adult life, and if there is any methodology in my approach to the subject, it draws more on storytelling techniques than historiography. A good historian would have tried to keep biases under control. A good historian would have tried to keep personal anecdotes
in check. A good historian would have provided footnotes.

I have not.

And, while I’m making excuses, I suppose I should also apologize if my views cause anyone undue distress. But I hope we can agree that any discussion of Indians in North America is likely to conjure up a certain amount of rage. And sorrow. Along with moments of irony and humour.

When I was a kid, Indians were Indians. Sometimes Indians were Mohawks or Cherokees or Crees or Blackfoot or Tlingits or Seminoles. But mostly they were Indians. Columbus gets blamed for the term, but he wasn’t being malicious. He was looking for India and thought he had found it. He was mistaken, of course, and as time went on, various folks and institutions tried to make the matter right. Indians became Amerindians and Aboriginals and Indigenous People and American Indians. Lately, Indians have become First Nations in Canada and Native Americans in the United States, but the fact of the matter is that there has never
been a good collective noun because there never was a collective to begin with.

I’m not going to try to argue for a single word. I don’t see that one term is much better or worse than another. “First Nations” is the current term of choice in Canada, while “Native Americans” is the fashionable preference in the United States. I’m fond of both of these terms, but, for all its faults and problems—especially in Canada—“Indian,” as a general designation, remains for me, at least, the North American default.

Since I’m on the subject of terminology and names, I should mention the Métis. The Métis are one of Canada’s three official Aboriginal groups, Indians (First Nations) and the Inuit being the other two. The Métis are mixed-bloods, Indian and English, Indian and French, for the most part. They don’t have Status under the Indian Act, but they do have designated settlements and homelands in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Many of these communities maintain a separate culture from their White and First Nations neighbours, as well as a separate language—Michif—which features components of French and Aboriginal languages.

Terminology is always a rascal. I’ve tried to use “reservations” for Native communities in the United States and “reserves” for Native communities in Canada, and “tribes” for Native groups in the United States and “bands” for Native groups in Canada. But in a number of instances, when I’m talking about both sides of the border, I might use “reservation” or “reserve” and “band” or “tribe” or “Nation,” depending on rhythm and syntax. I actually prefer “Nation” or a specific band or tribal name, and I try to use this whenever possible.

And Whites. Well, I struggled with this one. A Japanese friend of mine likes to call Anglos “crazy Caucasoids,” while another friend told me that if I was going to use the term “Indians” I should call everyone else “cowboys.” Both of these possibilities are fun, but there are limits to satire. Besides, “Whites” is a perfectly serviceable term. Native people have been using it for years, sometimes as a description and sometimes as something else. Let’s agree that within the confines of this book the term is neutral and refers to a general group of people as diverse and indefinable as “Indians.”

There is an error in the text of the book that I have not corrected. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs” is the correct designation for the U.S. agency that is charged with looking after matters pertaining to Indians in that country, but for Canada, I have continued to use the “Department of Indian Affairs” even though the ministry is now called “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.” I simply like the older name and find it less disingenuous.

In the end, I’m not so much concerned with designing a strict vocabulary as I am with crafting a coherent and readable narrative.

One of the difficulties with trying to contain any account of Indians in North America in a volume as modest as this is that it can’t be done. Perhaps I should have called the book The  Inconvenient Indian: An Incomplete Account of Indians in North America. For whatever
I’ve included in this book, I’ve left a great deal more out. I don’t talk about European explorers and their early relationships with  Native people. I haven’t written much about the Métis in Canada and, with the exception of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, I don’t deal with the Inuit at all. I touch on early settlement and conflicts, but only in passing. I spend a great deal of time on Native people and film, because film, in all its forms, has been the only
place where most North Americans have seen Indians. I talk about some of the resistance organizations and the moments that marked them, but I don’t spend any time on Anna Mae Aquash’s murder or on the travesty of Leonard Peltier’s trial and imprisonment.

Nor do I talk about Native women such as Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin, and Mona Wilson, women whom Robert “Willie” Pickton murdered at his pig farm in British Columbia, or the Native women who have gone missing in Vancouver and along the highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. Nor do I bring up the murder of Ditidaht First Nation carver
John T. Williams, who, in 2010, was gunned down in Seattle by a trigger-happy cop.

While I spend time in the distant and the immediate past, I’ve also pushed the narrative into the present in order to consider contemporary people and events. This probably isn’t the best idea. The present tends to be too fresh and fluid to hold with any surety. Still, as I argue in the book, when we look at Native–non-Native relations, there is no great difference between the past and the present. While we have dispensed with guns and bugles, and while North America’s sense of its own superiority is better hidden, its disdain muted, twenty-first-century attitudes towards Native people are remarkably similar to those of the previous centuries. Finally, no doubt, someone will wonder why I decided to take on both Canada and the United States at the same time, when choosing one or the other would have made for a less involved and more focused conversation. The answer to this is somewhat complicated by perspective. While the line that divides the two countries is a political reality, and while the border affects bandsand tribes in a variety of ways, I would have found it impossible
to talk about the one without talking about the other.

For most Aboriginal people, that line doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of someone else’s  imagination. Historical figures such as Chief Joseph and Sitting Bull and Louis Riel moved back and forth between the two countries, and while they understood the importance of that border to Whites, there is nothing to indicate that they believed in its legitimacy.

I get stopped every time I try to cross that border, but stories go wherever they please.

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Tecumseh and Brock

Tecumseh and Brock

The War of 1812
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Now available in paperback, Tecumseh and Brock is a powerful and compelling new work on the War of 1812, from bestselling author, historian, political scientist, and scholar James Laxer.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the British Empire is engaged in a titanic war with Napoleonic France for global supremacy. The American Republic is quickly expanding its territory along the western frontier, while native peoples struggle to protect their lands from the relentless wave of new settlers.

Jame …

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The Truth About Stories

The Truth About Stories

A Native Narrative
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Winner of the 2003 Trillium Book Award

"Stories are wondrous things," award-winning author and scholar Thomas King declares in his 2003 CBC Massey Lectures. "And they are dangerous."

Beginning with a traditional Native oral story, King weaves his way through literature and history, religion and politics, popular culture and social protest, gracefully elucidating North America's relationship with its Native peoples.

Native culture has deep ties to storytelling, and yet no other North American cult …

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Why Indigenous Literatures Matter

Why Indigenous Literatures Matter

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

Part survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today.

In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? H …

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Activating the Heart

Activating the Heart

Storytelling, Knowledge Sharing, and Relationship
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Activating the Heart is an exploration of storytelling as a tool for knowledge production and sharing to build new connections between people and their histories, environments, and cultural geographies. The collection pays particular attention to the significance of storytelling in Indigenous knowledge frameworks and extends into other ways of knowing in works where scholars have embraced narrative and story as a part of their research approach.

In the first section, Storytelling to Understand, a …

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