Indigenous summer reading: 3 top picks by Leanne Simpson

Author writer, educator and activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson chooses Celia's Song, by Lee Maracle, as one of her all-time favourite books.

Lee Maracle's Celia's song 'a must read – an incredible novel,' says Simpson

Leanne Simpson shares her summer reading list. (Supplied)

In this on-going summer series authors, celebrities and CBC personalities share their favourite indigenous books, the ones they want to read this summer and the ones they think everyone should read. 

Here's author  writer, educator and activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, of Mississauga Nishnaabeg ancestry, with her top three picks. 

A fave: Celia's song by Lee Maracle

Every once in awhile I decide I'm going to write a barn burner of a book that rips open the sexism and capitalism of colonialism in the most beautiful and articulate way possible.
Celia's Song chronicles the experiences of a Nuu'Chahlnuth family over several generations. (Cormorant Books)

Then I re-read Lee Maracle's, I am Woman as my jumping off point, and I realize that even though three decades have now passed since she self-published the original edition of this book, every word still rings true, and there is precious little for me to add.

Lee also writes poetry and fiction. She has two new books coming this fall along with my favourite, her new novel, Celia's Song, released earlier this year. Celia's Song is a must read – an incredible novel woven through a multi-generational Nuu'Chahlnuth family in which ancient intelligence is layered in complex and clarifying way.

It is an old story echoing into the present, and the first line "There's something helpless about being a witness", has stayed with me from the second I read it. 

A recommendation: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

A Cree woman leaves her home in northern Alberta to meet Jesse from The Beachcombers. (Harper Collins)
I highly recommend Cree writer Tracey Lindberg's fantastic debut novel Birdie. This is a beautiful and poetic book from start to finish.

Lindberg is a writer that can whisper painful truths in a graceful way while making transformation the most tender of rebellious acts.

The female characters in Birdie are so very Cree – their warmth, laughter and strength dances off the pages. 

This novel is also funny, Beachcomber funny, and  Lindberg has managed to capture a great many Canadian pop culture references from  the past, including — you'll be happy to remember —The Frugal Gourmet.

Reading right now: Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies by Reneltta Arluk

'There is both wisdom and magic in these words with some bare bones truth telling that makes me feel less alone,' says Leanne Simpson. (BookLand Press)
Having spent a good chunk of the past few months in Denendeh, I'm compelled to point readers to the rich and diverse storytelling of the north.

My sense is that we're going to be reading a lot more from emerging Dene, Métis and Inuit writers in the near future as young writers, playwrights and filmakers carry on those storytelling traditions in new ways.

This summer, I've just started reading Reneltta Arluk's book of poetry, Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies. Reneltta is a writer and actor of Inuvialuit-Dene and  founder of Akpik Theatre based in Somba'ke (Yellowknife), NWT.

I'm only a few poems in, but there is both wisdom and magic in these words with some bare bones truth telling that makes me feel less alone.


Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a writer, educator and activist of Mississauga Nishnaabeg ancestry. She is the author of Dancing on Our Turtle's Back and Islands of Decolonial Love and the inaugural recipient of the RBC Charles Taylor emerging writer award.