Indigenous·Series

Indigenous summer reading: 3 top picks by Niigaan Sinclair

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.

Sinclair recommends reading Louis: The Heretic Poems this niibin (summer)

University of Manitoba professor Niigaan Sinclair shares his picks for some light summer reading. (Supplied)

In this ongoing 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.

Niigaan Sinclair is a University of Manitoba professor who teaches native studies and specializes in indigenous literature. Sinclair is the co-editor of the best-selling anthology Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water.

A Favourite: Godless But Loyal to Heaven by Richard Van Camp

"By juxtaposing historical events and quotes with the poetic narrative, Scofield draws attention to the side of the Métis leader that most Canadians have never contemplated: that of husband, father, friend and lover, poet and visionary." (Nightwood Editions)
This is a recent favourite from my favourite author of all time. A Tlicho (Dogrib) writer, Richard's work constantly challenges, upends and alters your perspective. His stories surprise, delight and provoke the senses. His words, simply, blow your mind.

His third collection of short stories, Godless But Loyal to Heaven, is nothing short of a spectacular and under-appreciated collection. His stories range from the recognizably traditional On the Wings of this Prayer to the modern Feeding the Fire — my fave! 

They demonstrate a dynamic, rich sense of youth and growth as young men we know from his other books — like Torchy — make appearances to extend the Van Camp compendium.

There is delicious irony, sex and love in these stories and the title story, Godless But Loyal to Heaven, is a sharp, funny and tragic narrative of beauty.

Van Camp is known as one of Canada's greatest writers, with Godless But Loyal to Heaven he raises the level of his craft. He is a voice not to be missed. 

A recommendation: Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield

"The stories offer a potent mixtape of tropes from science fiction, horror, Western and aboriginal traditions." (Great Plains)
One of my favourite writers of all time is Métis poet Gregory Scofield, and it's hard to choose what work of his I would recommend. I've been visiting and revisiting Louis: The Heretic Poems, though, finding amazing rhythm and symbols along the way.

Scofield has this rich ability to take the known and make it mysterious and new. As an expert in native studies — and someone who has written extensively on Riel — I found new discoveries in the portraits of Riel Scofield delivers, including new lessons on his love, passions, and politics.

Without giving too much away, The Orange Poems tell a new story of Riel as not only a leader but someone driven by the vision of a new Manitoba, a politician sorely needed in today's Manitoba. Scofield gives us rich research alongside a love for his people via Riel's life story and a voice with many layers and possibilities. 

I remember attending Scofield's launch of Louis: The Heretic Poems here in Winnipeg a few years ago and it was a packed house. Next time he is in town, come early.

To read this summer: The Gift is in the Making by Leanne Simpson

"Sprinkled with gentle humour and the Anishinaabe language, this collection speaks to children and adults alike and reminds us of the timelessness of stories that touch the heart." (Portage and Main Press)
​If there is one writer to read this summer, read Anishinaabe storyteller Leanne Simpson. Winner of the prestigious RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award, Simpson is a voice that will change your mind. 

Here in The Gift is in the Making (Winnipeg: Highwater, 2013), Simpson re-envisions indigenous life in modern short stories. She takes old, familiar jokes, narratives and descriptions of animals, heroes and the land while remaking them in today's universe, mixing Nanabozho with Facebook, trees with machines, and syrup with parties.

If you ever wanted to understand what makes indigenous traditions vibrant, these stories show you the brilliance of a true traditional storyteller. Simpson remakes culture in these stories and the stories are awesome for young and old. 

My and my daughter's favourites are: Please Be Careful When You're Getting Smart and The Star People are Always Watching.

Simpson is an unforgettable voice and is quickly becoming one of Canada's foremost literary superstars. Once you finish The Gift is in the Making, pick up her follow-up short story collection, Islands of Decolonial Love, too. 

You won't regret it!

Books by Canada's indigenous authors are second to none. Have an amazing niibin (summer)!

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