Mi'kmaw artist hosts Indigenous literature book club at Mile End's Drawn and Quarterly

Montreal's Tara McGowan-Ross asked herself what she could do to contribute to the "Indigenous renaissance," coming up with a way to promote conversations around Indigenous literature.

Tara McGowan-Ross invites Montrealers to explore vast world of Indigenous books

Montreal artist Tara McGowan-Ross is hosting the first Indigenous literature book club at Montreal's Drawn and Quarterly. (Submitted by Tara McGowan-Ross)

When Wolastoqew singer, musicologist and composer Jeremy Dutcher won the Polaris prize for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa last year, declaring "you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance," Montrealer Tara McGowan-Ross was mesmerized.

She asked herself how her experience as an artist and a person of Mi'kmaw heritage would fit into this new renaissance.

Now McGowan-Ross is hosting the first Indigenous literatures book club at Drawn and Quarterly, an independent bookstore in Montreal's Mile End.

Meeting every two months over the next year, book club participants will examine six books written by Indigenous authors from around the world.

"There's more than 50 cultural and linguistic groups of Indigenous people in Canada alone, and within those groups there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different perspectives." McGowan-Ross said. 

"I'm really interested in hearing, reading and disseminating really diverse perspectives from Indigenous people." 

Punk and Indigenous

Tara McGowan-Ross, centre, said she identified as a punk a decade ago, when this photo was taken. 'It took me a while for me to fully grow into my self-conception as an Indigenous person,' says the artist and writer.

Growing up in Toronto, McGowan-Ross says she identified first and foremost as a young punk but always knew that she was a little different because of her Indigenous ancestry. 

Her father, the prize-winning fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross, grew up in Montreal, but his mother was Mi'kmaw, from Millbrook First Nation in Truro, N.S. 

"It took me a while for me to fully grow into my self-conception as an Indigenous person," McGowan-Ross said. 

"There was a lot of ups and downs: sometimes seeing myself reflected in art, and other moments of feeling very alienated in a way that mirrored the kind of alienation that I felt growing up knowing that I was different."

Tara McGowan-Ross, left, pictured here as a child with her father, guitarist Don Ross, and her sister Maya says although she grew up in Toronto, she still feels a profound connection to her Indigenous roots. (Submitted by Tara McGowan-Ross)

As someone whose family has been urbanized for three generations, she says her experience didn't exactly overlap that of First Nations people still living on reserve, but that didn't stop her from feeling a profound connection with her Indigenous ancestry.

McGowan-Ross said she hopes the book club will help other Indigenous people see and hear their diverse experiences reflected in the literary canon.

She says she would love to see Indigenous Montrealers show up, although the book club is open to all.

McGowan-Ross says she hopes the book club will help expand non-Indigenous people's awareness of the lives of Indigenous people. 

"I think anyone who's willing to listen should show up," she said.

Nature Poem

The Indigenous literatures book club will explore Nature Poem, by Tommy Pico. (Submitted by Tara McGowan-Ross)

Though the reading list is not yet final, McGowan-Ross says it will include a blend of nonfiction, classics and newer contributions to the field of Indigenous literature.

The first book on the list is Nature Poem, by Tommy Pico. 

"It's fascinating. It's funny. It's heartwarming. It's heartbreaking — it's really incredible," said McGowan-Ross.

Nature Poem follows Teebs, a young queer Indigenous American poet grappling with a major case of writer's block: he can't bring himself to write a poem about nature. 

McGowan-Ross says she felt a deep connection how Teebs had several identities. He's a a punk kid, with an artist's soul, and a city dweller.

She says she chose Pico's book to show  "there is such a wide diversity of Indigenous perspectives." 

The first meeting of the Indigenous literatures book club is Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7:00 p.m., at Drawn and Quarterly, 176 Bernard Street West.


Jennifer Yoon


Jennifer Yoon is a journalist at CBC Montreal.