In the face of generations of trauma and the systemic racism evidenced by the discovery of 215 children’s bodies being found on the grounds of a Canadian residential school, putting together a list of books to read seems pretty weak. Yet, it’s somewhere to start. Pondering the value of offering this list, I came up with a couple of reasons. First, it is my desire to amplify Indigenous voices here in Canada. Second, reading existing work by Indigenous writers is a way to listen and to learn without putting extra pressure on Indigenous people right now. As a white Canadian, I want to know more. I want to learn the history of my country that has been suppressed for so long and I know that the best way to do that is to go straight to the source. But I also recognize that it is not the job of my Indigenous neighbours to educate me and that for many of them this is a moment of deep mourning. By reading books, I can learn without putting undue demands on this community.
I’m sure there are a lot of great Indigenous voices coming out of the US too but I’ve chosen to focus here on Canadian writers, primarily books that I’ve read myself. I’d love to hear more about other titles so please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments.
Edited to add: David A. Robertson, whose work I’ve referenced below, put together a list of 48 books by Indigenous writers that you can find here. There are plenty of other such lists in existence and being put together by Indigenous Canadians and we’ll be using them in our house to add to our reading.
Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese
The Marrow Thieves – Cherie Dimaline
Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
The Break – Katherena Vermette
The Lesser Blessed – Richard Van Camp
Mocassin Square Gardens – Richard Van Camp
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground – Alicia Elliott
Conversations with Canadians – Lee Maracle
The Education of Augie Merasty – David Carpenter & Joseph Auguste Merasty
A Brief History of My Body – Billy-Ray Belcourt
Halfbreed – Maria Campbell
Etched in my Memory – xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins
This is a self-publication from a local to me author. I’m not sure how widely available it is outside of the Sunshine Coast but I bet there are other memoirs written by Indigenous members and I would encourage Canadians to search out memoirs from whatever First Nations band might be local to them.
This Place: 150 Years Retold
I’m reading this right now and greatly appreciating the new view it provides of Canadian history. It would be a great read for middle grade and older kids too, I think
Some on my TBR:
I haven’t read these non-fiction books but definitely want to and will be bumping them up on my TBR in the months to come.
From the Ashes – Jesse Thistle
The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Bob Joseph
As a parent of young children, it is sometimes hard to know how much to explain to my kids. While I don’t want to instil fear in them, I do want to raise them to be aware of their privilege and to understand from a young age that Canadian history did not start with European settlers. As Christians, I want to be honest about the role the church has played in these atrocities and I want to do my best to show them how to love others as Jesus taught and demonstrated. Below are all books that we have read with our kids. Some are about residential schools. Some have Indigenous characters, language, or stories.
Birdsong – Julie Flett
Wild Berries – Julie Flett
When We Were Alone – David A. Robertson
The Girl & the Wolf – Katherena Vermette
We Sang You Home – Richard Van Camp
Stolen Words – Melanie Florence
First West Coast Books series – Roy Henry Vickers & Robert Budd
Northwest Coast Legends series – Roy Henry Vickers & Robert Budd
Reading books is a starting place but not a stopping place. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is an organization working with Residential School Survivors and is a legitimate place to donate financially if you feel so inclined. Our family will also be looking at ways to get involved in our own community with our local First Nations band and I would encourage other Canadians to do so too. For us, this may be as simple right now as showing up to events open to the public. And, of course, there are the calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Now, more than ever, is the time to really examine what these calls are and how we can enact them. I also found this version which is geared towards children. I would love to hear other suggestions and ways to get involved or specific actions to take.