What We’ve Read

I Sang You Down from the Stars By Tasha Spillett-Sumner

Drawing from Indigenous creation stories and traditional teachings and illustrated in dazzling watercolors, I Sang You Down from the Stars is a tribute to the bond between mother and child.

The narrator gathers gifts for a medicine bundle in anticipation of her baby’s birth; a fluffy white eagle plume, bunches of cedar and sage, a quilted star blanket, and a small stone from the river. When the baby arrives, the mother shares the bundle with her child and reveals the importance of each item inside. But when her family comes to meet the new arrival, she realizes the baby arrived with gifts of its own and that the baby is also a sacred bundle: a baby bundle.

NISGHA By Jordan Abel

NISGHA is a groundbreaking, deeply personal, and devastating autobiographical meditation that attempts to address the complicated legacies of Canada’s residential school system and contemporary Indigenous existence. Drawing on autobiography and a series of interconnected documents (including pieces of memoir, transcriptions of talks, and photography), NISHGA is a book about confronting difficult truths and it is about how both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples engage with a history of colonial violence that is quite often rendered invisible.

We Remember the Coming of the White Man By Elizabeth Yakeleya, Sarah Simon and other Sahtú and Gwich’in Elders

A work in progress since the 1970s, We Remember the Coming of the White Man chronicles the history of the Dene People in the extraordinary time of the early 20th century. Chapters are transcripts of oral histories of ten Elders and revolve around their recollections of the early days of fur trading and guns; missionaries and the flu epidemic; dismay about the way oil and uranium discoveries were handled on their land; and the emotional and economic fallout of the signing of Treaty 11. The book is rich with photographs, and Elders’ stories are in English and Dene Gwich’in.

HUMANE by Anna Marie Sewell

Who steals a dog from a shelter after receiving a dream message from their grandmother? Hazel Lesage never expected it to be her. Then again, she didn’t plan on becoming an unlicensed PI, helping the ‘throwaway people.’ However much has changed in Amiskwaciy, the problem of poor Indigenous women and girls being expendable hasn’t. Nobody else is going to help the Augusts find out who killed their daughter Nell; so Hazel takes the case. And then she takes the dog. What follows will force Hazel and her family to confront the question of what it means to be Human, and what it matters to be Humane.

LEGACY: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing by Suzanne Methot

Five hundred years of colonization have taken an incalculable toll on the Indigenous peoples of the Americas: substance use disorders and shockingly high rates of depression, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions brought on by genocide and colonial control. With passionate logic and chillingly clear prose, author and educator Suzanne Methot uses history, human development, and her own and others’ stories to trace the roots of Indigenous cultural dislocation and community breakdown in an original and provocative examination of the long-term effects of colonization. But all is not lost. Methot also shows how we can come back from this with Indigenous ways of knowing lighting the way.

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up. Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents, whose tough-love attitudes quickly resulted in conflicts. Throughout it all, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling with all that had happened, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. Finally, he realized he would die unless he turned his life around.

In this heart-warming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured, and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education—and newfound love—he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family. An eloquent exploration of the impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help us find happiness despite the odds.

Residential Schools with the Words and Images of Survivors by Larry Loyie

Residential Schools, with the Words and Images of Survivors, A National History Honours the survivors, the former students, who attended residential schools. Designed for ther Young Adult reader this accessible, 112 page history offers a first-person perspective of the residential school system in Canada, as it shares the memories of more than 70 survivors from across Canada as well as 125 archival and contemporary images (65 black & white photographs, 51 colour, some never before published). Written by Larry Loyie (Cree), a survivor of St Bernard Mision residential school in Grouard, AB, and co-authored by Constance Brissenden and Watne K. Spears (Mohawk), reflects the ongoing commitment of this team to express the truths about residential school experience and to honour the survivors whose voices are shared in this book.

This essential volume written by award-winning author Larry Loyie, 1933-2016 (Cree), a survivor of St. Bernard Mission residential school in Grouard, AB, and co-authored by Constance Brissenden and Wayne K. Spear (Mohawk), reflects the ongoing commitment of this team to express the truths about residential school experiences and to honour the survivors whose voices are shared in this book.

The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont

With a title derived from John A. Macdonald’s moniker for the Métis, The Pemmican Eaters explores Marilyn Dumont’s sense of history as the dynamic present. Combining free verse and metered poems, her latest collection aims to recreate a palpable sense of the Riel Resistance period and evoke the geographical, linguistic/cultural, and political situation of Batoche during this time through the eyes of those who experienced the battles, as well as through the eyes of Gabriel and Madeleine Dumont and Louis Riel.

Included in this collection are poems about the bison, seed beadwork, and the Red River Cart, and some poems employ elements of the Michif language, which, along with French and Cree, was spoken by Dumont’s ancestors. In Dumont’s The Pemmican Eaters, a multiplicity of identities is a strengthening rather than a weakening or diluting force in culture.

Life Among the Qallunaat By Mini Aodla Freeman

Life Among the Qallunaat is the story of Mini Aodla Freeman’s experiences growing up in the Inuit communities of James Bay and her journey in the 1950s from her home to the strange land and stranger customs of the Qallunaat, those living south of the Arctic. Her extraordinary story, sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking, illustrates an Inuit woman’s movement between worlds and ways of understanding. It also provides a clear-eyed record of the changes that swept through Inuit communities in the 1940s and 1950s.

This the story of 12-year-old Dene Cho, who is angry that his people are losing their language, traditions, and ways of being. Elder Snowbird is there to answer some of Dene Cho’s questions, and to share their history including the impact Residential schools continue to have on their people. It is through this conversation with Snowbird that Dene Cho begins to find himself, and begins to realize that understanding the past can ultimately change the future. Tessa Macintosh’s wonderful photographs are featured on the cover and interior of this memorable story.

The Lesser Blessed By Richard Van Camp

Internationally praised and the subject of a critically acclaimed film, Richard Van Camp’s bestselling novel about coming of age in Canada’s North has achieved the status of an Indigenous classic and it was included in CBC’s list of 100 novels that make you proud to be Canadian. This special 20th anniversary edition features a new introduction from the author, as well as two short stories that follow the lives of the novel’s main characters.

The Lesser Blessed tracks the exploits of Larry Sole, a Dogrib teenager living in the small Northern town of Fort Simmer. After losing much of his memory in a violent accident, what he loves more than anything is reading, hearing and collecting stories. With no interest in booze or sports, he floats on the edges of high school life, sustained by his love of Iron Maiden and a hopeless passion for school hottie Juliet Hope. When good-looking, trouble-seeking Johnny Beck moves into town, he shakes up Larry’s dreamy existence and leads him into a life of sex, drugs and violence, bringing him face to face with memories that he’s done his best to lose.

Are you familiar with the terms listed above? In Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowel, legal scholar, teacher, and intellectual, opens an important dialogue about these (and more) concepts and the wider social beliefs associated with the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. In 31 essays, Chelsea explores the Indigenous experience from the time of contact to the present, through five categories – Terminology of Relationships; Culture and Identity; Myth-Busting; State Violence; and Land, Learning, Law, and Treaties. She answers the questions that many people have on these topics to spark further conversations at home, in the classroom, and in the larger community.

This Wound is a World By Billy-Ray Belcourt

Part manifesto, part memoir, This Wound is a World is an invitation to “cut a hole in the sky to world inside.” Billy-Ray Belcourt issues a call to turn to love and sex to understand how Indigenous peoples shoulder sadness and pain like theirs without giving up on the future. His poems upset genre and play with form, scavenging for a decolonial kind of heaven where “everyone is at least a little gay.”

The Education of Augie Merasty By Joseph Auguste (Augie) Merasty, contributions by David Carpenter

A courageous and intimate memoir, The Education of Augie Merasty is the story of a child who faced the dark heart of humanity, let loose by the cruel policies of a bigoted nation. A retired fisherman and trapper who sometimes lived rough on the streets, Augie Merasty was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children who were taken from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of aggressive assimilation. As Augie recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mould children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse. But even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty’s sense of humour and warm voice shine through.

When Sedna feels the urge, she reaches out from the Land of the Dead to where Kakoot waits in hospital to depart from the Land of the Living. What ensues is a struggle for life and death and identity. In “Kakoot” and throughout this audacious collection of short stories, Norma Dunning makes the interplay between contemporary realities and experiences and Inuit cosmology seem deceptively easy. The stories are raucous and funny and resonate with raw honesty. Each eye-opening narrative twist in Annie Muktuk and Other Stories challenges readers’ perceptions of who Inuit people are.

What is real reconciliation? This collection of essays from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous contributors from across Canada welcomes readers into a timely, healing conversation—one we’ve longed for but, before now, have had a hard time approaching.

These reflective and personal pieces come from journalists, writers, academics, visual artists, filmmakers, city planners, and lawyers, all of whom share their personal light-bulb moments regarding when and how they grappled with the harsh reality of colonization in Canada, and its harmful legacy. Without flinching, they look deeply and honestly at their own experiences and assumptions about race and racial divides in Canada in hopes that the rest of the country will do the same.

Featuring a candid conversation between CBC radio host Shelagh Rogers and Chief Justice Sinclair, this book acts as a call for all Canadians to make reconciliation and decolonization a priority, and reminds us that once we know the history, we all have the responsibility—and ability—to make things better.

My Decade at Old Sun, My Lifetime of Hell is a simple and outspoken account of the sexual and psychological abuse that Arthur Bear Chief suffered during his time at Old Sun Residential school in Gleichen on the Siksika Nation. In a series of chronological vignettes, Bear Chief depicts the punishment, cruelty, abuse, and injustice that he endured at Old Sun and then later relived in the traumatic process of retelling his story in connection with a lawsuit brought against the federal government. Arthur returned to Gleichen, Alberta late in life and it was there that he began to reconnect with Blackfoot language and culture and to write his story. Although the terrific adversity Bear Chief faced in his childhood made an indelible mark on his life, his unyielding spirit is evident throughout his story.
Arthur Bear Chief left Old Sun Residential School at the age of seventeen. He worked as a student counsellor at Shingwauk Indian Residential School as a young man before embarking on a career with the government, which included work with the Public Service Commission of Canada in Edmonton and Northern Affairs in Ottawa. He now lives on the Siksika Nation.