35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month
June is National Indigenous History Month. Celebrate by reading one of these books by First Nations, Métis and Inuit authors.
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.
Contributors include Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena 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.
In The Red Chesterfield, a city bylaw officer finds a chesterfield in a ditch, along with a severed foot. The protagonist gets caught up in the investigation — and turns out to be more interested in what happens to the furniture than the origin of the missing body part. The Red Chesterfield subverts the mystery form with a story that has clues that lead nowhere and motivations that are deliberately ambiguous.
In NDN Coping Mechanisms, Billy-Ray Belcourt uses poetry, prose and textual art to explore how Indigenous and queer communities and identities are left out of mainstream media. The work has two parts — the first explores everyday life and the second explores influential texts such as Treaty 8.
Belcourt is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize for his first poetry collection, This Wound is a World. CBC Books named Belcourt a writer to watch in 2018.
Gwen Benaway's fourth collection of work, day/break, explores the everyday poetics of the trans feminine body. The collection offers an intimate portrayal of experiences and understandings of trans life and questions what it means to be a trans woman, both within the text and in the material world.
Benaway is a trans woman of Anishinaabe and Metis descent. Her third poetry collection, Holy Wild, won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry, was longlisted for the Pat Lowther Award and shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans Poetry and the Trillium Award. She is also the author of collections Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage. Her writing has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, Maclean's and CBC Arts.
Francine Cunningham is a writer who has spent life on the margins: she is Indigenous, but white-passing. She grew up in a city. She lives with mental illness. On/Me is her attempt to explore what this all means and to address how residential schools and the intergenerational trauma that followed has shaped her family and identity.
On/Me is Cunningham's first book.
Though he has been missing for nearly a year, Joan hasn't given up on finding her husband Victor, who disappeared after their first serious fight. One morning, hungover Joan finds herself in a packed preacher's tent on a Walmart parking lot. The charismatic Reverend Wolff is none other than Victor, who claims to have no memory of Joan or their life together.
Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. In 2017, her novel The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General's Literary Award for Young people's literature — text and the Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature. It is currently being adapted for television.
Alicia Elliott explores the systemic oppression faced by Indigenous peoples across Canada through the lens of her own experiences as a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. Elliott examines how colonial violence, including the loss of language, seeps into the present day lives of Indigenous people, often in the form of mental illness. Elliott, who lives in Brantford, Ont., won gold at the National Magazine Awards in 2017 for the essay this book is based on.
Elliott is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ont. She was chosen by Tanya Talaga as the recipient for the 2018 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award. CBC Books named Elliott a writer to watch in 2019.
When her twin sister Raven goes missing, Wren StrongEagle immediately reports it to the local police. Feeling dismissed and worrying the case won't be investigated properly, Wren launches into action and decides to find justice on her own.
- When extreme emotion makes us cry, words are there to tell us why': Carol Rose GoldenEagle on the power of words
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.
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.
Harold R. Johnson is a former prosecutor and the author of several books. In his latest, Peace and Good Order, Johnson 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.
When Brianna Jonnie was 14 years old, she wrote a letter to the Winnipeg chief of police, asking him what he would do if she, a young Ojibwe woman, went missing. Would she get the same treatment as a young white boy who went missing? Or would her disappearance be ignored? The letter went viral online and sparked an important conversation about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
If I Go Missing is a graphic novel adaptation of Jonnie's letter, featuring artwork by Nshannacappo, a poet and artist from Ditibineya-ziibiing (Rolling River First Nation).
In 2020, celebrated Indigenous writer Thomas King will turn 77 years old. His first poetry collection, 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin, collects 77 poems that lament what we have lost, lecture us for what we have allowed and looks at what we might still be able to save.
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.
In My Own Moccasins is on the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize longlist.
- Helen Knott explores the connection between violence against Indigenous women and violence against the land
Knott is a social worker and writer. In My Own Moccasins is her first book.
Field Notes for the Self is a series that takes inspiration from the poetic structuring of Patrick Lane, John Thompson and Charles Wright, but their closest cousins may be Arvo Pärt's. This collection deals with the idea of liberation from personal and inherited trauma and memories of violence inflicted on Lundy's Indigenous ancestors which continue to haunt him. Similar to Randy Lundy's past works, this collection is rooted in observations of the natural world.
Lundy is a Saskatchewan-based short story writer and award-winning poet. He has published three previous books, Under the Night Sun, Gift of the Hawk and Blackbird Song, which won the Saskatchewan Arts Board Poetry Award in 2019.
Terese Marie Mailhot traces her life story from a dysfunctional upbringing on Seabird Island in B.C., with an activist mother and abusive father, to an acceptance into the Masters of Fine Art program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. This slim poetic volume packs a powerful punch in just 140 pages.
Heart Berries was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Born and raised on Seabird Island, B.C., Mailhot is in the creative writing faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she graduated with an MFA in fiction.
Hope Matters, a collection of poetry from award-winning author Lee Maracle and her daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter, looks at the journey of Indigenous people from colonial beginnings to reconciliation. The collaborative effort documents the personal mother-daughter connection and also the shared song of hope and reconciliation from all Indigenous communities and perspectives.
Maracle is one of Canada's most acclaimed writers. Her books include Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel, I Am Woman, My Conversations with Canadians and Ravensong. Bobb is a photographer, actor, playwright and poet. Carter is an actor, playwright and poet.
Darrel J. 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.
- How writing about his difficult childhood helped Darrel J. McLeod heal — and help others in the process
McLeod is a Cree writer from treaty eight territory in Northern Alberta. Mamaskatch is his first book.
Since Hazel Ellis returned home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, an old crow has been visiting her dreams to tell her he's come to save her. As Hazel investigates what this could mean, she discovers an old magic awakening in the quarry on her late father's land. The adventure Hazel embarks on will have a lasting impact on her family and community.
Karen McBride is an Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation in the territory that is now Quebec. Crow Winter is her first novel.
Tyler Pennock's debut poetry collection, Bones, is about the ways we process the traumas of our past, and about how often these experiences eliminate moments of softness and gentleness. The poems in this collection centre on a young two-spirit Indigenous man's journey through darkness and trauma toward strength and awareness.
Pennock is a Toronto-based writer, who has worked as a community worker and educator for over a decade. He was adopted from a Cree and Métis family in the Slave Lake region of Alberta. He has a creative writing MFA from the University of Guelph.
A northern Anishinaabe community loses power just as winter arrives, burying roads and creating panic as the food supply slowly runs out. Newcomers begin to arrive on the reserve, escaping a nearby crisis, and tension builds as disease begins taking lives. As chaos takes hold, a small group turns to the land and Anishinaabe tradition to start rebuilding and restoring harmony.
Waubgeshig Rice is an Anishinaabe author, journalist and radio host originally from Wasauksing First Nation. He is also the author of Legacy and Midnight Sweatlodge. He used to be the host of CBC Radio's Up North.
Son of a Trickster is a novel about Jared, a compassionate 16-year-old, maker of famous weed cookies, the caretaker of his elderly neighbours, the son of an unreliable father and unhinged, though loving in her way, mother. As Jared ably cares for those around him, in between getting black-out drunk, he shrugs off the magical and strange happenings that follow him around.
Eden Robinson is an award-winning author from Kitamaat, B.C. She is also the author of the novels Monkey Beach and Trickster Drift. Son of a Trickster and Trickster Drift are the first two books of a planned Trickster trilogy.
Armand Garnet Ruffo's Treaty # is an examination of the nature and meaning of a treaty. Ruffo documents his observations of life from an Indigenous perspective, looking at belief systems and the complex, evolving connections and obligations between nation-to-nation, human-to-human and human-to-nature.
Ruffo is an Ojibway filmmaker, writer and poet. His other books include Grey Owl, Norval Morrisseau and The Thunderbird Poems.
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.
Combining memoir with fiction, Tanya Tagaq writes about a young girl's coming of age in 1970s Nunavut. She is a witness to the mythic wonders of the Arctic world, which juxtapose harshly against the violence and alcoholism in her community.
Split Tooth was on the longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. It also won the $2,000 Indigenous Voices Award for best published prose in English.
In Seven Fallen Feathers, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga travels to Thunder Bay, Ont., to investigate the deaths of seven Indigenous teenagers: Jordan Wabasse, Kyle Morrisseau, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie and Jethro Anderson. Talaga looks at how their lives and untimely deaths can teach us about the injustice faced by Indigenous communities on a daily basis.
Talaga is an investigative journalist. In 2017, she was named the Atkinson Fellow for public policy. The work produced during this period form the basis of Talaga's 2018 CBC Massey Lectures, All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward.
Chasing Painted Horses follows four young friends from a reserve called Otter Lake, located north of Toronto. One day, Ralph and Shelley's mother installs a large chalkboard at home and challenges the four friends to a weekly art contest. The quietest of them, Danielle, draws a stunning horse and wins, an inconspicuous event that will reverberate throughout their lives.
Drew Hayden Taylor is an Ojibway playwright, author and journalist from Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. His other books include the YA novel The Night Wanderer, the novel Motorcycle and Sweetgrass and the sci-fi short story collection Take Us to Your Chief.
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.
- Louis Riel's great-great niece proudly defends her uncle's legacy ー but doesn't think he should be exonerated
Jean Teillet is a lawyer, Métis expert and the great-grandniece of Louis Riel.
Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree academic specializing in Indigenous homelessness, addiction and inter-generational trauma. For Thistle, these issues are more than just subjects on the page. After a difficult childhood, Thistle spent much of his early adulthood struggling with addiction while living on the streets of Toronto. Told in short chapters interspersed with poetry, his memoir From the Ashes details how his issues with abandonment and addiction led to homelessness, incarceration and his eventual redemption through higher education.
Thistle is a recipient of the Governor General's Silver Medal in 2016. From the Ashes is his first book.
Arielle Twist is a Cree, two-spirit poet and educator based in the East Coast. Twist's debut poetry collection offers perspectives of human connections after death — looking at anger, grief, trauma and displacement left in its wake. Disintegrate/Dissociate depicts life for an Indigenous trans woman, one dreaming for a hopeful future and a clear path for self-discovery.
Moccasin Square Gardens is a collection of humorous short fiction set in Denendeh, the land of the people north of the 60th parallel. Richard Van Camp's stories involve extraterrestrials, illegal wrestling moves and the legendary Wheetago, human-eating monsters who have come to punish the greed of humanity.
Katherena Vermette returns to poetry with river woman. river woman explores colonialism and the multigenerational trauma and loss it inflicted. It also explores the relationship between reclamation, love, nature and healing.
One Drum is a collection of stories and ceremonies inspired by the foundational teachings of Ojibway tradition. Wagamese's original plan was to focus on each of the seven lessons, known as the Seven Grandfather Teachings, but he died before completing the manuscript. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are humility, courage, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect and love. One Drum will focus on the lessons of humility, respect and courage and will feature four ceremonies that anyone can do.
Wagamese died in March 2017 at the age of 61. He is also the author of the novels Medicine Walk, Ragged Company, Him Standing, Dream Wheel, the poetry book Runaway Dreams and memoirs For Joshua, Embers and One Native Life.
Crow Gulch was a community in Newfoundland that was built around a pulp and paper mill. Many of the residents were of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ancestry. Some of the residents included poet Douglas Walbourne-Gough's great-grandmother and her daughter. In the 1970s, Crow Gulch was abandoned. Walbourne-Gough tries to capture the history and legacy of the community in this collection.
Walbourne-Gough is a poet and mixed/adopted Mi'kmaq from Newfoundland. Crow Gulch is his first collection.
Jonny Appleseed is about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man who has left the reserve and becomes a cybersex worker in the big city to make ends meet. But he must reckon with his past when he returns home to attend his stepfather's funeral.
Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit writer, poet and Indigiqueer scholar from Peguis First Nation. He is also the author of the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer.
Set in the near future, Carpe Fin begins as a community grapples with a fuel spill that destroys the marine foods they planned to harvest. With food supplies diminishing, a group of hunters embark on a late season sea lion expedition. An unexpected storm forces the group to abandon a hunter named Carpe on a rock, where he faces an angry Lord of the Rock.