18 books to read on Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day, which takes place Sept. 30, is an annual event that honours the survivors of residential schools and their families.

Orange Shirt Day, which takes place Sept. 30, is an annual event that honours the survivors of residential schools and their families. It is inspired by Phyllis Webstad who, at the age of six, was stripped of her new orange shirt on her first day at St. Joseph Mission residential school.

"The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn't matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing," Webstad told CBC News in 2016.

Below is a list of books by Indigenous writers about Indigenous history, the residential school system and its traumatic impact on survivors, their families and the generations that follow.

A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt 

A History of My Brief Body is a book by Billy-Ray Belcourt. (Tenille Campbell, Hamish Hamilton)

Billy-Ray Belcourt was the youngest-ever winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. He was also the first First Nations Rhodes scholar from Canada. But he was once a young boy, growing up in Driftpile Cree Nation in Alberta. A History of My Brief Body tells his story: how his family was impacted by colonialism and intergenerational trauma and yet still hold joy and love in their hearts and lives, how he came into his queer identity and how writing became both a place of comfort and solace and a weapon for a young man trying to figure out his place in the world.

Belcourt is a poet, writer and academic from Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta. He is a Rhodes Scholar and earned his PhD in English at the University of Alberta. His debut collection of poetry, This Wound is a Worldwon the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize. He is also the author of the poetry collection NDN Coping Mechanisms

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline is the author of The Marrow Thieves. (Peter Power/CBC, Dancing Cat Books)

In this dystopian narrative by Cherie Dimaline, residential schools have been reinstated in North America. Recruiters hunt and capture Indigenous people, bringing them to facilities to extract their bone marrow. It is believed the bone marrow of Indigenous people can bring back the widely lost ability to dream. The Marrow Thieves follows a young teenager named Frenchie who, along with his newfound family, has taken to the woods to escape from recruiters.

The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General's literary Award for children's literature — text and was defended by Jully Black on Canada Reads 2018. Dimaline's latest book is the novel Empire of Wild.

Cherie Dimaline on her Canad Reads contender "The Marrow Thieves." (Originally aired Oct 2, 2017)

Genocidal Love by Bevann Fox

Genocidal Love is a book by Bevann Fox. (University of Regina Press/ZG Stories)

Writer Bevann Fox blends biography and fiction to tell her story in Genocidal LoveFox tells her story as "Myrtle," a young girl who is sent to residential school at seven years old, and the abuse she suffers there traumatizes her for years to come. But Myrtle eventually finds healing as she finds her voice and discovers the power of storytelling. She faces her painful past to create a better future for her children and grandchildren.

Fox is a member of Pasqua First Nation, originally from Piapot First Nation. She is a writer, broadcaster, artist, motivational speaker and yoga instructor. She self-published her debut novel, Abstract Love, in 2011.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Michelle Good is a writer of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. (Kent Wong, Harper Perennial)

In Five Little Indians, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie were taken from their families and sent to a residential school when they were very small. Barely out of childhood, they are released and left to contend with the seedy world of eastside Vancouver. Fuelled by the trauma of their childhood, the five friends cross paths over the decades and struggle with the weight of their shared past. Five Little Indians is on the longlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Michelle Good is a Cree writer and lawyer, as well as a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Five Little Indians is her first book. CBC Books named Good a writer to watch in 2020.

Michelle Good on her debut novel Five Little Indians, which follows five characters after they leave residential school.

Speaking Our Truth by Monique Gray Smith

Monique Gray Smith is the author of Speaking Our Truth. (Centric Photography, Orca Books)

In Speaking Our Truth, Cree, Lakota and Scottish author Monique Gray Smith makes the topic of reconciliation accessible to a young audience of Indigenous readers and aspiring allies alike. The innovative book helps young readers understand the history of the residential school system in Canada and its lasting effects on survivors today. Inspired by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the book includes questions and prompts to help young people think about these complicated issues, and how to move forward with understanding and empathy.

Gray Smith was shortlisted for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for this book. She recently published the novel Tilly and the Crazy Eights.

Monique Gray Smith on her book "Speaking Our Truth," which she wrote to help young people understand the impact of residential schools.

Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson

Peace and Good Order is a nonfiction book by Harold R. Johnson. (McClelland & Stewart)

Harold R. Johnson is a former prosecutor and the author of several books. In his latest, Peace and Good OrderJohnson makes the case that Canada is failing to fulfil its legal duty to deliver justice to Indigenous people. In fact, he argues, Canada is making the situation worse and creating even more long-term damage to Indigenous communities. 

Johnson is the author of several works of both fiction and nonfiction. His nonfiction work Firewater: How Alcohol Is Killing My People (and Yours) was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience tells the story of how Helen Knott overcame addiction and trauma, and how writing became instrumental to her healing.

In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott

In My Own Moccasins is a memoir by Helen Knott. (Tenille K. Campbell/, University of Regina Press)

Helen Knott is a poet and writer of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw and European descent. Her memoir, In My Own Moccasins, is a story of addiction, sexual violence and intergenerational trauma. It explores how colonization has affected her family over generations. But it is also a story of hope and redemption, celebrating the resilience and history of her family.

Knott is a social worker and writer. In My Own Moccasins is her first book.

Darrel McLeod talks to Shelagh Rogers about his new book Mamaskatch

Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod

Darrel McLeod is the author of Mamaskatch. (Ilja Herb, Douglas & McIntyre)

Darrel McLeod's Mamaskatch is a memoir of his upbringing in Smith, Alta., raised by his fierce Cree mother, Bertha. McLeod describes vivid memories of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, surrounded by siblings and cousins. From his mother, McLeod learned to be proud of his heritage and also shares her fractured stories from surviving the residential school system.

Mamaskatch won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

McLeod is a Cree writer from treaty eight territory in Northern Alberta. Before his retirement, McLeod was chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations.  Mamaskatch is his first book. McLeod wrote an original essay called Spanning Borders for the special CBC Books series Borders.

David Alexander Robertson talks about his winning book, When We Were Alone

5 years ago
Duration 4:19
A Winnipegger's picture book about the residential school legacy has won the Governor General's Award, David Alexander Robertson found out a few weeks ago that his children's book, When We Were Alone, had won the $25,000 prize. He spoke with the CBC's Caroline Barghout earlier today.

Dakwäkãda Warriors by Cole Pauls

Dakwakada Warriors is a comic by Cole Pauls. (Conundrum Press)

Two Earth Protectors are charged with saving the planet from evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches in Dakwäkãda WarriorsThe comic, translated into two dialects of Southern Tutchone, serves as an allegory for colonialism.

Cole Pauls is a Tahltan comic artist. He created Dakwäkãda Warriors as a language revival initiative. In 2017, it won Broken Pencil Magazine's Best Comic and Best Zine of the Year Award.

Paul Seesequasis, a Saskatoon writer and member of the Plains Cree First Nation, on Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun, a collection of archival photos, and the stories behind them, that give insight into everyday life in eight Indigenous communities from the 1920s through the 1970s.

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

In When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett, a young girl listens to her grandmother's stories about attending residential school. (TD Canadian Children's Literature Award)

While working in the garden, a girl asks her grandmother about why she wears her hair in a long braid and why she speaks in another language. Her grandmother responds by describing her childhood, growing up in a residential school.

When We Were Alone won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books. David Alexander Robertson is also the author of the YA Reckoner series and numerous graphic novels, including Will I See? and Sugar FallsJulie Flett is an award-winning illustrator, whose books include Little You and Owls See Clearly At Night (Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer).

Author and Indigenous rights lawyer Jean Teillet on her epic history of the Metis nation, The North-West Is Our Mother, which is a finalist for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, at the Manitoba Book Awards.

Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun by Paul Seesequasis

Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun is a nonfiction book by Paul Seesequasis. (Knopf Canada)

After Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released, Paul Seesequasis felt compelled to do something to contribute and understand what his mother, a residential school survivor, went through. He began to collect and share archival photos of Indigenous communities, and learned the stories of those photographed. Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun shares some of the most compelling images and stories from this project. 

Seesequasis is a writer and journalist. He is a member of the Plains Cree First Nation from Saskatchewan. 

Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day, a day that honours Indigenous children who endured the horrors of residential schools. Her picture book, Phyllis's Orange Shirt, tells the story of her first day at residential school.

The North-West is Our Mother by Jean Teillet

The North-West Is Our Mother is a nonfiction book by Jean Teillet. (Ed Henderson, HarperCollins Canada)

The North-West is Our Mother is a history of the Métis Nation. It begins in the early 1800s, when the Métis became known as fierce nomadic hunters, and continues to the late 19th-century resistance led by Riel to reclaim the land stolen from them, all the way to present day as they fight for reconciliation and decolonization.

Jean Teillet is a lawyer, Métis expert and the great-grandniece of Louis Riel.

Mi'kmaq comic writer remembers Listuguj salmon raids

3 years ago
Duration 1:00
This Mi'kmaq comic writer chose the Listuguj salmon raids of 1981 for the story he contributed to This Place: 150 Years Retold, a collection of stories by Indigenous writers. Wolastoqi illustrator Tara Audibert drew the comics for Mitchel's story.

Phyllis's Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad

Phyllis's Orange Shirt is a children's book by Phyllis Webstad and illustrated by Brock Nicol. (, Medicine Wheel Education)

Phyllis's Orange Shirt is a picture book about when Phyllis Webstad was six years old and was sent to residential school. Her favourite orange shirt was taken from her on her first day. It is the inspiration for the Orange Shirt Day movement, which is a day to reflect upon the treatment of First Nations people in Canada.

Phyllis's Orange Shirt is for readers aged four and up.

Phyllis Webstad was born on Dog Creek Reserve and is Northern Secwepemc from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation. She is a residential school survivor and inspired Orange Shirt Day. Phyllis's Orange Shirt is her first book.

What the Eagle Sees by Eldon Yellowhorn & Kathy Lowinger

Eldon Yellowhorn is the co-author of What the Eagle Sees. (Annick Press)

What the Eagle Sees is a follow-up to 2017's Turtle IslandIt looks at historical events to reflect an underrepresented Indigenous perspective of our collective past and how to move on in the present and future. Academic Eldon Yellowhorn again works with author Kathy Lowinger to continue an examination of the lasting impact of settler culture on the Indigenous community.

What the Eagle Sees is for readers aged 11 and up.

Yellowhorn is an academic and author from the Peigan Indian Reserve (Piikani Nation). Yellowhorn explores the mythology and folklore of his Indigenous ancestors and in how the past informs the present in his books.

I Lost My Talk by Rita Joe & I'm Finding My Talk by Rebecca Thomas, both illustrated by Pauline Young

Pauline Young with the two books she was asked to illustrate, I Lost My Talk and I'm Finding My Talk. (Gail Harding/CBC)

This children's book shares Rita Joe's iconic poem I Lost My Talk with a new generation. I Lost My Talk is about how Joe, a Mi'kmaw elder and poet, lost her language and culture after she was sent to residential school. 

I'm Finding My Talk is Rebecca Thomas's response to Rita Joe's poem I Lost My Talk. Thomas is a poet and a second-generation residential school survivor. In I'm Finding My Talk, she celebrates reconnecting with her language and culture.

Both books are for readers aged 4 and up.

Both books are illustrated by Pauline Young, a Mi'kmaw illustrator who lives in New Brunswick.

This Place: 150 Years Retold

"Some stories were told but not through an Indigenous lens, so this an opportunity for us to share and tell our stories," This Place: 150 Years Retold contributor Brandon Mitchell said. (Logan Perley/CBC)

This Place is an anthology of comics featuring the work of Indigenous creators as they retell the history of Canada. Elements of fantasy and magical realism are incorporated throughout the book, telling the stories of characters like Jack Fiddler, an Anishinaabe shaman facing murder charges, and Rosie, an Inuk girl growing up during the Second World War. 

This Place is being adapted into a podcast by CBC Books. It will be hosted by Rosanna Deerchild.

Contributors include Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van CampKatherena Vermette, Chelsea Vowel, Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, Scott A. Ford, Donovan Yaciuk and Alicia Elliott.

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