Indigenous authors across Canada donate their books to Ontario classrooms

Since the ministry of education announced that the second phase of TRC curriculum writing sessions would be cancelled, Indigenous authors across the country have begun offering their books and resources to Ontario educators.

Writers offer their work to Ontario educators after ministry of education cuts

Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature. (Cherie Dimaline, Dancing Cat Books)

Indigenous writers angry over the Ontario government's decision to cut planned curriculum revisions aimed at helping students grow their knowledge of Indigenous culture are stepping up to donate their books to classrooms. 

Two weeks ago the Ontario Ministry of Education announced it would be cancelling the second phase of the Truth and Reconciliation curriculum revision writing sessions.

The sessions were set to take place over two weeks in July bringing together over 50 Indigenous educators, Elders and knowledge holders to work on revising curriculum to introduce more Indigenous knowledge and content into provincial classrooms. 

In an effort to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is introduced into Ontario classrooms, a group of Indigenous authors are taking action by donating their books. They've also offered to personally spend time in classrooms going through the content with students and teachers. 

As news that the TRC curriculum writing sessions were cancelled spread across social media, writer Cherie Dimaline says she was compelled to action.

"I was furious — not surprised but frustrated and angry all the same. I got out of bed and went to the bookshelf to count every copy of The Marrow Thieves that I had — there was 20," says Dimaline. 

'We owe it to the youth'

She fired out a tweet offering the 20 copies of her book.

"We owe it to the youth — Indigenous and Canadian — to be allowed to live fully and well," says Dimaline.

"The only way this can happen is through Indigenous knowledge, and one of the best ways to get there in a respectful and meaningful way, is through our stories," she adds. 

The Marrow Thieves is a work of dystopian fiction where the world had been destroyed by global warming. Indigenous people are hunted for their bone marrow which carries the ability to dream, something lost by the non-Indigenous population.

It's not only authors who have been offering up their own personal copies of their books. Publishing companies have been stepping up and providing Ontario educators access to literature materials, inspired by Dimaline's efforts. 

Other authors like Tracey Lindberg, Monique Grey-Smith, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm and Chelsea Vowel have also donated. 

"I am also thrilled to see true allies beside us- Portage & Main Press, Coromorant Books, Penguin Canada, Harper Collins, OISE at U of T and the thousands of teachers and librarians who are working without extra compensation to tend the fires of growth and inclusion and excellence," says Dimaline. 

Need to respond

Portage & Main Press offered 20 copies of Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm's The Stone Collection, which features 14 short stories addressing the multifaceted experience of modern Anishinaabe people.

Anishinaabe author Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm's collection of short stories strives for a more fulsome expression of Indigenous life.

"I think we need to respond when all kinds of actions are taken by governments that are detrimental to Indigenous people, and Indigenous communities ... we need to react," says Akiwenzie-Damm. 

On top of the donation of her books, Akiwenzie-Damm is also offering readings for three schools, one in the Ottawa region, one in Northern Ontario, and one in her home territory in Southwestern Ontario. 

"In order to understand people I think it's very important to understand their literature and their art and gain that insight into who different people are," says Akiwenzie-Damm.

"Our stories come from the land, the beings that occupied territories, the climate and the weather patterns. They reach far back into the history and the sort of geological history of the territories," she adds. 

'One thing I can do'

 Monique Gray Smith knew that she needed to do something in the wake of the cancelled TRC sessions and says she was inspired to action after reading Dimaline's tweet.

"For me as a citizen, this is one thing I can do as an artist to support those who are helping to educate the hearts and minds of our young people," says Gray Smith.

She offered up twenty copies of Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation.

Monique Gray Smith is the author of Speaking Our Truth. She and the book's publisher have donated copies. (Centric Photography, Orca Books)

Grey Smith's book tells the history of Canada from another perspective, one that includes the journey of Indigenous people.

"It's a book that allows readers in a gentle way to begin to respect us and begin to think critically about the history they've learned before and understand our history in this country that we call Canada in a very different way," says Gray Smith.

After the first 20 copies Gray Smith offered were scooped up, Orca Book Publisher donated 25 more.

"Educators have written to me and told me they've done the transformation not only for the students but for themselves, we have this relationship in the classroom that is circular. Everybody's learning together," says Gray Smith.

Nearly all of the books have been spoken for, although the authors are encouraging more people to follow suit by donating what they can for teachers and classrooms. They're also calling out for more publishing companies to join the initiative.