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Top 2019 Indigenous Reads

 

Our Top 2019 Indigenous Reads

It is a perfect time of year for getting caught up on that stack of books you have been dying to get into. Whether you prefer a good thriller or romance, we have an incredible list of must-reads for days and nights. Better yet, each of these books is authored by an Indigenous author and opens up an opportunity for you to learn about the diversity of Indigenous literature out there!

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Download a printable version of this book list here!

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There There by Tommy Orange

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss. (From Penguin Random House)

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. (From Douglas & McIntyre)

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II, Terese Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father--an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist--who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. (From Penguin Random House)

Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod

Beautifully written, honest and thought-provoking, Mamaskatch—named for the Cree word used as a response to dreams shared—is ultimately an uplifting account of overcoming personal and societal obstacles. In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him to build the foundation of what would come to be a very fulfilling and adventurous life. (From Douglas & McIntyre)

Kuei, My Friend by Deni Ellis Béchard and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine

Kuei, My Friend is an engaging book of letters: a literary and political encounter between Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and Québécois-American novelist Deni Ellis Béchard. Choosing the epistolary form, they decided to engage together in a frank conversation about racism and reconciliation.

Intentionally positioned within the contexts of the Idle No More movement, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the National Inquiry into Missing or Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls, the letters in Kuei, My Friend pose questions in a reciprocal manner: how can we coexist if our common history involves collective and personal episodes of shame, injury, and anger? how can we counteract misunderstandings of the Other, which so often lead to contempt and rejection? how can we educate non-Indigenous communities about the impact of cultural genocide on the First Peoples and the invisible privileges resulting from historical modes of domination? (From Talon Books)

Bearskin Diary by Carol Rose Daniels

Raw and honest, Bearskin Diary gives voice to a generation of First Nations women who have always been silenced, at a time when movements like Idle No More call for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Carol Daniels adds an important perspective to the Canadian literary landscape.

Taken from the arms of her mother as soon as she was born, Sandy was only one of over 20,000 Aboriginal children scooped up by the federal government between the 1960s and 1980s. Sandy was adopted by a Ukrainian family and grew up as the only First Nations child in a town of white people. Ostracized by everyone around her and tired of being different, at the early age of five she tried to scrub the brown off her skin. But she was never sent back into the foster system and for that she considers herself lucky. (From CBC)

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools. At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls — all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school. In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's collection and striking artworks from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl's determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers. (From Annick Press)

In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier

When two Métis sisters are taken from their family, they end up in separate foster homes. Despite the distance, they remain close, even as they make decisions that will take them farther apart, emotionally, culturally and geographically. As a child, Beatrice Culleton Mosionier was also in foster care, and she wrote this book in 1983 after losing two sisters to suicide. A moving story about determination, triumph and the bond that siblings share. (From CBC)

Night Moves by Richard Van Camp

As a window into the magic and medicine of the Northwest Territories, Richard Van Camp's fourth short story collection is hilarious and heartbreaking. A teenaged boy confesses to a vicious assault on a cross-dressing classmate; Lance tells the sensual story of becoming much closer to his wife's dear friend Juanita; while a reluctant giant catches up with gangsters Torchy and Sfen in a story with shades of supernatural and earthly menace.

Night Moves continues to explore the incredible lives of indigenous characters introduced in The Lesser Blessed, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go, and Godless but Loyal to Heaven. If this is your first time to Fort Simmer and Fort Smith, welcome. If it's another visit — come on in: we've left the lights on for you. (From Enfield & Wizenty)

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

In 1966, 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called for and four recommendations were made to ensure the safety of Indigenous students. None of those recommendations were applied.

More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ont. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home because there was no high school on their reserves. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the cold night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau's grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang's. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie's death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water. But it was the death of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack that foreshadowed the loss of the seven.

Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada's long struggle with human rights violations against indigenous communities. (From House of Anansi)

The Break by Katherena Vermette

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected with the victim tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister, Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg's North End is exposed. (From House of Anansi Press)