45 books that 'share stories and truths' from women and two-spirit Indigenous creators
Monique Gray Smith curated this list of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children's books
Monique Gray Smith is an author and storyteller of Cree, Lakota and Scottish heritage who often writes and speaks about the resilience of Indigenous communities.
Smith is known for her children's books which take a gentle approach to empathy, resilience and informing young Canadians of the legacy of the residential school system in Canada. Her books include the middle-grade book Speaking Our Truth, the picture book When We Are Kind, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt, and the picture book You Hold Me Up, illustrated by Danielle Daniel. Smith's book, Tilly and the Crazy Eights, was on the 2021 Canada Reads longlist.
On Sept. 30, Canada will mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a time to commemorate children who died while being forced to attend residential schools, those who survived and made it home, their families and communities still affected by the lasting trauma.
In 2021, Smith spoke with CBC Radio's The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers after the devastating confirmation of unmarked graves at several former residential schools in Canada. She talked about how books by Indigenous creators encourage children to show love and support for each other.
In a follow up to that interview, Smith curated this list of 45 books featuring Indigenous authors and illustrators who identify as women and/or two-spirit.
This list has been created to support all of us on our journey of truth.- Monique Gray Smith
"For those who want to see their own history, culture, language and joy emanated on the pages. For those who want to raise their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and students with a deeper sense of the truth of this place we call Canada. For those who want to learn more. And for those whose moral courage has been awoken," Smith said.
"This list has been created to support all of us on our journey of truth."
- Monique Gray Smith shares how children's books help young Canadians learn more about residential schools
Gifts from Raven is based on author Kung Jaadee's book Raven's Feast and is geared for younger readers aged 4 to 6. The picture book features illustrations from B.C.-based artist Jessika von Innerebner as it explains how we have all received special gifts, passions and talents from Raven — and that we all should use them with each other and the world.
Jaadee (Roberta Kennedy) is a professional storyteller, educator and author belonging to the Haida, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations.
Von Innerebner is an artist and illustrator from Kelowna, B.C.
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett is a board book that celebrates the bond between parent and child. Featuring lyrical language by Van Camp and stylized illustrations by Flett, We Sang You Home is a gentle reminder about the power of love, tenderness and family connection.
Van Camp writes comics, picture books and novels. His most recent book is the short story collection Moccasin Square Gardens. He is a member of the Dogrib Nation from Fort Smith, N.W.T.
Flett has illustrated several picture books, including Little You, My Heart Fills with Happiness and We Sang You Home. Her picture book Birdsong was a finalist for the 2020 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.
Published in 1988, Lee Maracle's seminal book I Am Woman is a harsh condemnation of racism and sexism in Canada. The book, Maracle writes, is a representation of her personal struggle with womanhood and race and brings to light the impact colonialism has had on Indigenous women. It is also a collection of stories from Maracle's life.
Maracle published her first book in 1975. It was an autobiographical novel called Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel and it was one of the first Indigenous works published in Canada. She's also a teacher, a lifelong political activist and an expert on First Nations culture and history. Her other books include My Conversations with Canadians, Celia's Song and Ravensong. Maracle was named to the Order of Canada in 2018.
Stand Like a Cedar is a picture book about nature, animals and the wonder of the wilderness. It is an educational look at what it means to "stand like a cedar" and features the names of animals in the Nle7kepmxcín or Halq'emeylem languages.
Carrielynn Victor is an artist and illustrator of Stó:lö, Coast Salish and settler heritage from the XwChí:yóm (Cheam) community in B.C.
Shi-shi-etko is the story of Shi-shi-etko, a young girl who has only a few days before she is sent off to a residential school. In the time she has left, she soaks in the natural wonders of the world around her, from the tall grass to the tadpoles in the creek. Before she leaves, the child learns valuable lessons and wisdom needed in the trying times ahead.
Campbell is an author of Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx and Métis descent, from British Columbia. Her stories weave cultural and land-based teachings that focus on respect, endurance, healing and reciprocity.
Kim LaFave is a painter and illustrator living in Roberts Creek, B.C.
In Una Huna?, Ukpik loves her life at camp in the North with her family, friends and puppy. When a trader from the south arrives, Ukpik learns how to use forks, knives and spoons and is excited to teach other children as well. But then Ukpik wonders if the new tools will change their way of life, so she turns to her grandmother for guidance.
Susan Aglukark is a Manitoba-born singer and songwriter whose blend of Inuit folk music traditions with country and pop songwriting has made her a major recording star in Canada.
Danny Christopher is a Canadian illustrator and art teacher. He has travelled throughout the Canadian Arctic as an instructor for Nunavut Arctic College.
Amanda Sandland is an artist and illustrator based in Ontario.
You Hold Me Up is a picture book that illustrates the power of strong relationships — between friends, family members and classmates — and the need to encourage empathy when it comes to discussions about reconciliation. Smith is a Canadian writer of children's and young adult literature of Cree, Lakota and Scottish descent. She is also an international speaker and consultant. She curated this list.
Danielle Daniel is a Métis author and illustrator based in Ontario.
The Orange Shirt Story & Phyllis's Orange Shirt, both written by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol
Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30 is an annual opportunity for people of all ages to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors and their families by wearing orange. The event is inspired by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad's experience of being stripped of a brand new orange shirt on her first day attending residential school when she was six years old. Webstad's book, The Orange Shirt Story, shares what it meant for the writer to be deprived of her beloved clothing — and her sense of identity — at such a young age.
The Orange Shirt Story is for readers aged 7-10.
Webstad is Northern Secwepemc from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation. She has inspired thousands of people to honour residential school survivors and their families.
Brock Nicol is an illustrator from Ottawa.
I'm Finding My Talk is Rebecca Thomas's response to I Lost My Talk, the classic book that shares Rita Joe's iconic poem with a new generation. I Lost My Talk is about how Joe, a Mi'kmaw elder and poet, lost her language and culture after she was sent to residential school. I'm Finding My Talk celebrates reconnecting with her language and culture.
Thomas is an award-winning Mi'kmaw poet and author. She is Halifax's former poet laureate and has been published in multiple journals and magazines.
Pauline Young is a Mi'kmaw artist and illustrator who lives in New Brunswick.
In When We Were Alone, a girl asks her grandmother about why she wears her hair in a long braid and why she speaks in another language. Her grandmother responds by describing her childhood, growing up in a residential school.
When We Were Alone won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books.
David A. Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. He has written several books in many genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, the picture book When We Were Alone, the YA series The Reckoner and the memoir Black Water. Robinson recently curated a list of 48 books by Indigenous writers to read to understand residential schools.
In Birdsong, a lonely girl becomes friends with her new neighbour, an elderly woman. Together, they watch the seasons change, but as they both grow older, the young girl learns to cope with her friend's declining health.
Birdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.
Spirit Bear: Fishing for Knowledge, Catching Dreams by Dr. Cindy Blackstock, illustrated by Amanda Strong
Spirit Bear is the featured character in a series of children's books by Gitxsan activist and academic Dr. Cindy Blackstock. In this adventure, Spirit Bear learns more about traditional knowledge and the legacy of Canada's residential school system, from Uncle Huckleberry and his friend, Lak'insxw. Spirit Bear then learns all about Shannen's Dream and the hope for "safe and comfy schools" for every Indigenous student.
Blackstock is a Gitxsan activist for child welfare and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She is also a professor at McGill University.
Amanda Strong is a Michif filmmaker, media artist and stop-motion director based out of the unceded Coast Salish territory in Vancouver.
I Am Not a Number follows the story of eight-year-old Irene as she gets removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school — confused, frightened and terribly homesick. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene's parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis' grandmother, the book brings a terrible part of Canada's history to light in a way that educates the children.
Dupuis is of Anishinaabe Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, researcher, artist and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education. She lives in Toronto.
Kathy Kacer is well known for her children's books about the Holocaust. Her books have won awards including the Silver Birch, the Red Maple, the Hackmatack and the Jewish Book Award. Kacer is a former psychologist and lives in Toronto.
Gillian Newland is an artist who lives in Halifax. She has also illustrated the books The Magician of Auschwitz and A Boy Asked The Wind.
Swift Fox All Along is a picture book about a young girl connecting with her Mi'kmaq family, culture and identity. When Swift Fox is first introduced to her family, she feels like she doesn't belong. But she soon realizes she's not alone in feeling like an outsider and learns to embrace her identity.
Thomas is a Mi'kmaw writer living in Nova Scotia. She was the Halifax poet laureate from 2016 to 2018. She is also the author of the children's book I'm Finding My Talk and the poetry collection I place you into the fire.
Maya McKibbin is a two-spirited Ojibwe, Yoeme and Irish illustrator and filmmaker. Swift Fox All Along is her first picture book.
In this book, a girl named Ashley meets her great-uncle by the old train tracks near their Nova Scotia community. The Train is a story of the legacy of residential schools in Canada as her uncle explains his experience and loss of identity. The book is a story of remembrance, hope and reconciliation.
Jodie Callaghan is a Mi'gmaw author and storyteller from the Listuguj First Nation in Gespegewa'gi near Quebec.
Georgia Lesley is an artist and illustrator based in British Columbia's Cariboo region.
Written in the form of a diary, My Name is Seepeetza recounts the story of a young girl taken from home to attend the Kamloops Indian Residential School in the 1950s. My Name is Seepeetza has been described as an honest, inside look at the residential school experience — one that highlights the resilience of a child in a place governed by strict nuns, and arbitrary rules.
My Name is Seepeetza won the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Awards for young people's literature — text in 1993.
Shirley Sterling was a member of the Interior Salish Nation of British Columbia. Her Nlaka'pamux name is Seepeetza.
Fatty Legs: A True Story is a picture book inspired by the true story of Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton's experience at residential school. As a young girl living in the High Arctic, Margaret was determined to learn to read even though it meant leaving her home and everything she knew behind.
Pokiak-Fenton was a Inuvialuit knowledge keeper and residential school survivor. She was the co-author of several books, including A Stranger At Home, When I Was Eight and Not My Girl. She died in 2021.
Christy Jordan-Fenton is Pokiak-Fenton's daughter-in-law and co-author. She now lives in Fort St. John, B.C.
A Stranger At Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
In this sequel to Fatty Legs, Margaret Pokiak is now 10 years old and can hardly wait to return home from residential school. But her homecoming is not what she hopes for. "Not my girl," is what her mother says when she arrives. The story follows Margaret as she moves through feelings of rejection and tries to reconnect with her family, language and culture.
Dear Canada, These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens by Ruby Slipperjack
Ruby Slipperjack's children's book, Dear Canada: These Are My Words, is the diary of a 12-year-old girl named Violet Pesheens, who is a student at a residential school. Slipperjack drew on her own experiences attending Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Slipperjack is a member of the Eabametoong First Nation. She has written seven novels for middle grade and teen readers. She lives in Thunder Bay, Ont., and recently retired as a professor in the Indigenous Learning Department at Lakehead University. She won the 2017 Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People.
In Speaking Our Truth, Smith makes the topic of reconciliation accessible to a young audience of Indigenous readers and aspiring allies alike. The innovative book helps young readers understand the history of the residential school system in Canada and its lasting effects on survivors today. Inspired by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the book includes questions and prompts to help young people think about these complicated issues, and how to move forward with understanding and empathy.
Speaking Our Truth was shortlisted for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.
In The Girl and the Wolf, a little girl gets lost in the woods while picking berries. A large grey wolf is able to tell where she is from by smelling her and helps her get home. In the meantime, the girl realizes she had the skills to find her way back all along.
When We Play Our Drums, They Sing! by Van Camp and Lucy & Lola by Smith are two novellas about reconciliation, healing and a way forward in one beautifully packaged flip book. Van Camp and Smith each take a side of the column and present different young Indigenous characters as they navigate a world made uneasy by colonialism and fracture.
Van Camp writes comics, picture books and novels. He is a member of the Dogrib Nation from Fort Smith, N.W.T.
Smith is a writer of Cree, Lakota and Scottish heritage who currently lives in Victoria. She is also the author of the novels Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience and Tilly and the Crazy Eights, the picture books When We Are Kind and My Heart Fills with Happiness and the nonfiction middle-grade book Speaking Our Truth.
The Outside Circle, a graphic novel written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings, follows two Indigenous brothers in a family that struggles against drug addiction, gang violence and abuse. When one brother ends up in prison for murder, the other is sent to foster homes to await his release. The book is inspired by LaBoucane-Benson's experience working with Indigenous men in prison.
LaBoucane-Benson is an activist, academic, politician and author of The Outside Circle.
Mellings is a designer and illustrator from Edmonton.
In the dystopian world The Marrow Thieves, climate change has ravaged the Earth and a continent-wide hunt and slaughter of Indigenous people is underway. Wanted for their bone marrow, which contains the lost ability to dream, a group of Indigenous people seek refuge in the old lands.
#NotYourPrincess is a YA anthology edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The book highlights the voices of Indigenous women across North America, using poetry, essay writing, interviews and art to explore their experiences of abuse, humiliation and stereotyping — and also hope for change in the future.
Charleyboy is a First Nations writer, storyteller, editor and social entrepreneur. She also hosted CBC's New Fire.
Leatherdale is an author and editor based in Ontario.
In Finding My Talk, author and educator Agnes Grant collects the stories and experiences from 14 women who experienced or were affected by Canada's residential schools. Women such as Eleanor Brass, Rita Joe, Shirley Sterling and more describe their years in residential schools across Canada and how they were able to survive the experience.
Grant was an author, educator, professor and administrator who worked with the Native Teacher Training programs at Brandon University. She died in 2009.
In They Called Me Number One, Xat'sull chief Bev Sellars tells the story of three generations of Indigenous women who survived the residential school system in Canada: her grandmother, her mother and herself. Sellars shares stories of enduring starvation, forced labour and physical abuse at St. Joseph's Mission in Williams Lake, B.C.
Sellars is also the author of Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival.
Birdie is the story of Bernice, a woman who leaves her home in northern Alberta and travels to British Columbia. On her journey west, she processes earlier tragedies and learns more about her past and her history.
Tracey Lindberg is a lawyer, professor, activist, blues singer and expert in Indigenous law. Birdie is her first novel.
In Five Little Indians, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie were taken from their families and sent to a residential school when they were very small. Barely out of childhood, they are released and left to contend with the seedy world of eastside Vancouver. Fuelled by the trauma of their childhood, the five friends cross paths over the decades and struggle with the weight of their shared past.
Michelle Good is a Cree writer and retired lawyer, as well as a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Five Little Indians is her first book.
Noopiming combines prose and poetic forms to create an original narrative form, and to reclaim and reframe Anishinaabe storytelling. It's a story told by Mashkawaji, who is frozen in a lake. They tell the story of seven connected characters, who are each searching for a connection to the land and the world. Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for "in the bush," and the title is a response to Susanna Moodie's 1852 memoir about settling in Canada, Roughing It in the Bush.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, activist, musician, artist, author and member of Alderville First Nation. Her other books include Islands of Decolonial Love, This Accident of Being Lost, Dancing on Our Turtle's Back and As We Have Always Done.
Jonny Appleseed is a novel about a two-spirit Indigiqueer young man who has left the reserve and becomes a cybersex worker in the big city to make ends meet. But he must reckon with his past when he returns home to attend his stepfather's funeral.
Joshua Whitehead is a two-spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation, currently pursuing his PhD. He is also the author of the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer and is the editor of the anthology Love after the End. Jonny Appleseed is his first novel.
Journalist and writer Tanya Talaga investigates the alarming rise in youth suicides in Indigenous communities. All Our Relations — part of the 2018 Massey Lectures and based on Talaga's Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy series — is a call for action and justice for Indigenous communities and youth.
Talaga is an investigative journalist. She has received two National Newspaper Awards recognizing her work on investigative projects. In 2017, she was named the Atkinson Fellow for public policy. She is also the author of Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City.
Monkey Beach is Eden Robinson's first novel. Monkey Beach is a supernatural story involving a woman named LisaMarie who is tormented by premonitions as she works to uncover the truth about her family and her brother's untimely death.
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
More than 2,380 people participated in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Reclaiming Power and Place is the final report on this national inquiry and highlights the strength, resilience of the families and survivors and the ongoing goals of advocacy for justice, healing and prevention. The accounts shared in these hearings reflect the reality of acts of genocide against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people in Canada.
Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 1 Summary
This book contains the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, released in June 2015. This report includes the history of the residential school system and the full text of the Commission's 94 recommendations for action to address that legacy.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a commission active in Canada from 2008 to 2015. It was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
They Came for the Children by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
This report, published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, examines the legacy of Canada's residential school system. They Came for the Children details the history, purpose, operation and supervision of the schools, including the effect and consequences of the system and its ongoing legacy.
Speaking My Truth is a collection of stories which examine the history of Canada's residential school system and possibilities for reconciliation from the perspective of the First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples. Speaking My Truth was edited by journalist and CBC host Shelagh Rogers, Mike DeGagné, Jonathan Dewar and Glen Lowry. It features first-person accounts from survivors and intergenerational survivors as it explores the lasting legacy of residential school.
Rogers is a Canadian broadcast journalist based in British Columbia. She is the host and producer of CBC Radio's The Next Chapter, and chancellor of the University of Victoria.
Mike DeGagné is the president and vice chancellor of Yukon University and the president and CEO of Indspire, Canada's largest Indigenous-led and Indigenous-focused charity. He is an Ojibway from the Animakee Wa Zhing 37 First Nation.
Jonathan Dewar, PhD, has been recognized as a leader in healing and reconciliation and Indigenous health and well-being education, policy and research. He is of mixed heritage, descended from Huron-Wendat, Scottish and French Canadian grandparents with an academic background in Indigenous arts and literatures and Indigenous Studies.
Glen Lowry is a Vancouver-based writer, educator and editor.
In his second poetry collection, NDN Coping Mechanisms, Billy-Ray Belcourt uses poetry, prose and textual art to explore how Indigenous and queer communities and identities are left out of mainstream media. The work has two parts — the first explores everyday life and the second explores influential texts such as Treaty 8.
Belcourt is a writer and academic from Driftpile Cree Nation. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize for his first collection, This Wound is a World.
Marilyn Dumont is a poet of Cree Métis descent. A Really Good Brown Girl, is about Dumont coming to understand and embrace her Métis heritage.
A Really Good Brown Girl won the 1997 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.
Dumont's other works include Green Girl Dreams Mountains and The Pemmican Eaters. She lives in Alberta.
Louise Bernice Halfe is an award-winning Cree poet. Burning in this Midnight Dream is a poetry collection inspired by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and explores the traumatic legacy of residential schools.
Halfe, whose Cree name is Sky Dancer, is Canada's ninth Parliamentary poet laureate and served as the first Indigenous Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan. Her other poetry collections include Bear Bones & Feathers, Blue Marrow, The Crooked Good and awâsis – kinky and disheveled.
Francine Cunningham is a writer who has spent life on the margins: she is Indigenous, but white-passing. She grew up in a city. She lives with mental illness. On/Me is her attempt to explore what this all means and to address how residential schools and the intergenerational trauma that followed has shaped her family and identity.
Cunningham is an Indigenous writer, artist, and educator originally from Calgary, but who currently resides in Vancouver. On/Me is Cunningham's first book.
calling down the sky is a poetry collection that describes deep personal experiences and post generational effects of residential schools. Rosanna Deerchild portrays how the ongoing impact of the residential schools problem has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist today.
#IndianLovePoems is a collection of poems inspired by the poet Tenille Campbell's experiences in dating as an Indigenous woman. The poems in #IndianLovePoems explore themes of love, desire, intimacy, romance with humour and lyrical wordplay.
Campbell is a Dene/Métis artist from English River First Nation. She is based in Saskatoon.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.