Indigenous summer reading: 3 top picks by Rosanna Deerchild

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.

Deerchild is a self-professed word nerd who has stalked her favourite author Thomas King

Rosanna Deerchild, host of Unreserved, shares her favourite reads. (Doug Thomas)

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.

Rosanna Deerchild is the host of the CBC radio show Unreserved, launching on the network 7 p.m., August 30. Until then  the show is heard across the prairies, and in the North, and you can stream it anytime.

She is also an award-winning author and poet. Her debut poetry collection this is a small northern town shares her reflections of growing up in a racially divided place. It won the 2009 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. Her next book, calling down the sky, is her mother's residential school survivor story, and will be coming out soon.

A Favourite: The Grass Dancer - Susan Power 

The best stories are those you can trust completely to take you by the senses, guide you through to the very last word and then leave you aching for the places it took you. When I want to immerse myself in story, I take this book from my shelf.
"Revealing the harsh price of unfulfilled longings and the healing power of mystery and hope, The Grass Dancer takes readers on a journey through past and present-in a tale as resonant and haunting as an ancestor’s memory, and as promising as a child’s dream." (Penguin Random House)

Set on a Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, The Grass Dancer weaves indigenous story and spirituality into the fabric of contemporary reality.  It's a vibrant tale about the connections between generations, how the actions of our ancestors affect our contemporary lives — and how it all resonates within us.

Back in the 1860s, Ghost Horse, a handsome young heyo'ka, or sacred clown, loved and lost the warrior woman Red Dress. Since then their spirits have sought to be reunited, and it is this repeated playing out of this loss that shapes the sometimes violent fate of those who have come after them. 

Now, in the 1980s, Charlene Thunder, a descendant of Red Dress, is in love with Harley Wind Soldier, the dashing traditional dancer of Ghost Horse's lineage. When Harley's soul mate, Pumpkin, dies in a crash, Charlene suspects her own grandmother, the witch Anna Thunder, of causing it. Charlene and Harley strive to make peace with the ghosts of the old ways, while they contend with the living. 

The Grass Dancer is a dance between time, mood, voice, and ceremony.

A recommendation: The Truth About Stories by Thomas King

As a self-proclaimed indigi-word-nerd I have an eclectic taste in genres. While the top of my love list will always be poetry (more on that later) I also strive to learn from the masters of storytelling, be that fiction, essays or in this case lectures.
In his 2003, Massey lecture, award-winning author and scholar Thomas King looks at the breadth and depth of indigenous experience and imagination. (CBC)

Keeping that in mind, I confess: I have a Thomas King addiction. I have all of his books which I have read over and again, laughing and crying at all the same parts. I have interviewed him, and attended several public appearances where I sit in the front row, beaming all my nerdliness up at him. 

My favourite book inscription of all time is in my copy of his novel The Back of The Turtle where he wrote: "Oh go to hell Rosanna! Thom King." I stood in line for 20 minutes for that lovely sentiment and sage advise.

​Anyways, in The Truth About Stories this master storyteller encompasses everything I love about a good story: intrigue, humour, and history from an indigenous perspective. 

Beginning with a traditional oral story, King weaves his way through literature and history, religion and politics, popular culture and social protest, gracefully elucidating North America's relationship with its Indigenous Peoples.

Our cultures have deep ties to storytelling, and yet no other North American culture has been the subject of more erroneous stories.

The Indian of fact, as King says, bears little resemblance to the literary Indian, the dying Indian, the construct so powerfully and often destructively projected by White North America. With keen perception and wit, King illustrates that stories are the key to, and only hope for, human understanding. He compels us to listen well.

"The truth about stories is," declares the award-winning author and scholar, "that's all we are."

To Read: The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont

"Combining free verse and metered poems, her latest collection aims to recreate a palpable sense of the Riel Resistance period." (ECW Press)
My love of poetry goes back to when I was a wee Deerchild and discovered this language where I could both tell and keep secrets at the same time. Poetry has saved my life more times than I can say.

The Pemmican Eaters is Métis poet Marilyn Dumont's fourth collection and revisits what she calls "the shadow side of Canada's story," which deprived the Métis of their rightful land. 

A haunting series of poems mourns the slaughter of the buffalo, "the brothers that fed and clothed us" — but also celebration. Dumont honours Métis traditions in music and beadwork in a number of lyrically driven poems. 

The Pemmican Eaters is a statement of cultural pride and defiance, much like Marilyn herself. 

Tune into CBC Radio One after the 5 p.m. news in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, and after the 4 p.m. news in Yukon and the N.W.T. for these stories and more on Unreserved. 

You can also listen on demand.​


Rosanna Deerchild is the host of Unreserved on CBC Radio One. She's an award-winning Cree author and has been a broadcaster for almost 20 years — including stints with APTN, CBC Radio, Global and a variety of indigenous newspapers. She hails from O-Pipon-Na-Piwan Cree Nation, Man.