I will admit it, I haven’t really read any books by Canada’s indigenous authors. It’s not that I avoid them, but I will admit I’m quite ignorant as to what Canada has to offer when it comes to indigenous books. They’re not the books I see on display at the grocery store, or the drug store, or even the bookstore, when I think about it. When I started researching books by indigenous authors in Canada, I came upon a HUGE wealth of amazing looking books! So I started making up a beginner’s guide to them – mainly for myself, because while I try to read diversely, I realize that I should also be trying out more diverse authors within Canada.
For more resources on where to find books by Canada’s indigenous community, you can go to the following links:
Six Indigenous Writers To Watch (CBC)
A National Aboriginal Day Reading List (CBC)
Books By First Nations and Inuit Women (49th Shelf)
8 Unmissable Books by Indigenous Authors Living In Canada (BookRiot)
So, here is the collection I came up with, and what I would like to tackle when it comes to reading the works of Canada’s indigenous authors.
Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon. He’s sixteen years old and has had the most fleeting of relationships with the man. The rare moments they’ve shared haunt and trouble Frank, but he answers the call, a son’s duty to a father. What ensues is a journey through the rugged and beautiful backcountry, and a journey into the past, as the two men push forward to Eldon’s end. From a poverty-stricken childhood, to the Korean War, and later the derelict houses of mill towns, Eldon relates both the desolate moments of his life and a time of redemption and love, and in doing so offers Frank a history he has never known, the father he has never had, and a connection to himself he never expected.
A novel about love, friendship, courage, and the idea that the land has within it powers of healing, Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving and redemptive conclusion. Wagamese’s writing soars and his insight and compassion are matched by his gift of communicating these to the reader.
About Richard Wagamese: Richard Wagamese was one of Canada’s foremost Native authors and storytellers. He worked as a professional writer since 1979. He was a newspaper columnist and reporter, radio and television broadcaster and producer, documentary producer and the author of twelve titles from major Canadian publishers.
Birdie is a darkly comic and moving first novel about the universal experience of recovering from wounds of the past, informed by the lore and knowledge of Cree traditions. Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman, leaves her home in Northern Alberta following tragedy and travels to Gibsons, BC. She is on something of a vision quest, seeking to understand the messages from The Frugal Gourmet (one of the only television shows available on CBC North) that come to her in her dreams. She is also driven by the leftover teenaged desire to meet Pat Johns, who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, because he is, as she says, a working, healthy Indian man. Bernice heads for Molly’s Reach to find answers but they are not the ones she expected.
With the arrival in Gibsons of her Auntie Val and her cousin Skinny Freda, Bernice finds the strength to face the past and draw the lessons from her dreams that she was never fully taught in life. Part road trip, dream quest and travelogue, the novel touches on the universality of women’s experience, regardless of culture or race.
Cover art by Cree author and artist, George Littlechild.
About Tracey Lindberg: Tracey Lindberg is a citizen of As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation Rocky Mountain Cree and hails from the Kelly Lake Cree Nation community. A graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, Harvard University and the University of Ottawa law schools, she is the first Aboriginal woman in Canada to complete her graduate law degree at Harvard. Lindberg won the Governor General’s Award in 2007 upon convocation for her dissertation “Critical Indigenous Legal Theory”. She is an award-winning academic writer and teaches Indigenous studies and Indigenous law at two universities in Canada. She sings the blues loudly, talks quietly and is next in a long line of argumentative Cree women. Birdie is her first novel.
The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.
This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope — a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.
About Thomas King: Thomas King was born in 1943 in Sacramento, California and is of Cherokee, Greek and German descent. He obtained his Ph.D from the University of Utah in 1986. He is known for works in which he addresses the marginalization of American Indians, delineates “pan-Indian” concerns and histories, and attempts to abolish common stereotypes about Native Americans. He taught Native American Studies at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, and at the University of Minnesota. He is currently a Professor of English at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. King has become one of the foremost writers of fiction about Canada’s Native people.
Is Cree really the sexiest of all languages? Do Native people have less or more public hair? Does Inuit sex have a dark side? These are some of the questions answered in this witty, thoughtful collection. Twelve important voices in the Native culture — including Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road, and Marissa Crazytrain, a descendant of Chief Sitting Bull — tackle a variety of previously taboo subjects with humor and insight. Noted comic writer and editor Drew Hayden Taylor wraps it up with an original contribution of his own.
About Drew Hayden Taylor: During the last twenty-five years of his life, Drew Hayden Taylor has done many things, most of which he is proud of. An Ojibway from the Curve Lake First Nations in Ontario, he has worn many hats in his literary career, from performing stand-up comedy at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., to being Artistic Director of Canada’s premiere Native theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts. He has been an award-winning playwright (with over 70 productions of his work), a journalist/columnist (appearing regularly in several Canadian newspapers and magazines), short-story writer, novelist, television scriptwriter, and has worked on over 17 documentaries exploring the Native experience. Most notably, he wrote and directed REDSKINS, TRICKSTERS AND PUPPY STEW, a documentary on Native humour for the National Film Board of Canada.
ESSAYS & SHORT STORIES
The inspiration for the collection comes from American Poet Charles Bukowski who wrote “In between the punctuating agonies, life is such a gentle habit.” Following this theme of extraordinary ordinariness, A Gentle Habit is a collection of six new short stories focusing on the addictions of a diverse group of characters attempting normalcy in an unnatural world.
About Cherie Demaline: Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. Her first book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007 and her novel The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy was released in 2013. In 2014, she was named the Emerging Artist of the Year at the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and became the first Aboriginal Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library. Her book A Gentle Habit was published in August 2016.
Delgamuukw. Sixties Scoop. Bill C-31. Blood quantum. Appropriation. Two-spirit. Tsilhqot’in. Status. TRC. RCAP. FNPOA. Pass and permit. Numbered Treaties. Terra nullius. The Great Peace…
Are you familiar with the terms listed above? In Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowel starts an important dialogue about these and other issues that arise between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. In 31 informative, thought provoking, and engaging essays, Chelsea explores the indigenous experience from the time of contact to the present, through five categories—The Terminology of Relationships; Culture and Identity; Myth-Busting; State Violence; and Land, Learning, Law, and Treaties. This book will spark further conversations at home, in the classroom, and in the larger community.
About Chelsea Vowel: Chelsea Vowel is Métis from manitow-sâkahikan (Lac Ste. Anne) Alberta where she and her family currently reside. She has a BEd and LLB and is mother to three girls, step-mother of two more. Chelsea is a public intellectual, writer and educator whose work intersects language, gender, Métis self-determination and resurgence. She has worked directly with First Nations researching self-government, participating in constitutional drafting and engaging in specific land claim negotiation settlements and valuation of claims over a 200 year period. She is passionate about creating programs and materials that enable Indigenous languages to thrive, not merely survive. Most recently an educator in Québec, she developed and delivered programs to Inuit youth in a restorative justice program. She is a heavily cited and internationally respected commentator on Indigenous-State relations and dedicates much of her time to mentoring other young activists.
this is a small northern town is the long-awaited, first full-length collection of poems by Rosanna Deerchild. These are poems about: what it means to be from the north; a town divided along color lines; and a family dealing with its history of secrets. At its core, this collection is about the life of a Cree girl and the places she finds comfort and escape.
About Rosanna Deerchild: 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, Manitoba
For Katherena Vermette, Winnipeg’s North End is a neighbourhood of colourful birds, stately elms, and always wily rivers. It is where a brother’s disappearance is trivialized by local media and police because he is young and aboriginal. It is also where young girls share secrets, movies, cigarettes, Big Gulps and stories of love—where a young mother full of both maternal trepidation and joy watches her small daughters as they play in the park.
“In North End Love Songs, Katherena Vermette uses spare language and brief, telling sketches to illuminate the aviary of a prairie neighbourhood. Vermette’s love songs are unconventional and imminent, an examination and a celebration of family and community in all weathers, the beautiful as well as the less clement conditions. This collection is a very moving tribute, to the girls and the women, the boys and the men, and the loving trouble that has forever transpired between us.”
– Joanne Arnott
“From a mixed-blood Métis woman with Mennonite roots, Kate weaves a story that winds its way through the north end (Nor-tend) of Winnipeg. It’s a story of death, birth, survival, beauty and ugliness; through it all there are glimmers of hope, strength, and a will to survive whatever this city throws at you.” – Duncan Mercredi
About Katherena Vermette: Katherena Vermette is a Canadian writer, who won the Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry in 2013 for her collection North End Love Songs. Vermette is of Metis descent and from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was a MFA student in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Vermette has described her writing as motivated by an activist spirit, particularly on First Nations issues. The title of her book refers to Winnipeg’s North End.
Richard Van Camp, internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author of the hugely successful Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, has partnered with talented illustrator Julie Flett to create a tender board book for babies and toddlers that honors the child in everyone. With its delightful contemporary illustrations, Little You is perfect to be shared, read or sung to all the little people in your life–and the new little ones on the way!
About Richard Van Camp: A Dogrib (Tlicho) Dene from Fort Smith, NWT, Richard Van Camp is an internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author. He is the author of the novel, The Lesser Blessed, a collection of short stories, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, and two children’s books with Cree artist, George Littlechild. His new baby book: Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns is the official selection of the Books for BC Babies program and is being given to every newborn baby in British Columbia in 2008. His new novel, Blessing Wendy, will be released in the fall of 2009 through Orca Book Publishers. Richard was awarded Storyteller of the Year for both Canada and the US by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.
Can you recommend any other titles by indigenous authors, or maybe some other resources for a beginner like me? If you could recommend one book for someone to read, by an indigenous author, what would it be?