Erin’s Picks: Seven great reads for Indigenous History Month

As a non-Indigenous guest on Algonquin territory, there is so much I can do to be an ally and advocate on the road to Truth and Reconciliation. The first step, however, is understanding that I have so much to learn and unlearn. In the spirit of National Indigenous History Month, here are some of the many books and voices that have made a profound impact on both my learning and my heart.

21 Things you May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph – This book was transformative in my understanding of the Indian Act and its impact on the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples. It is a perfect pocket-sized introduction to how we can look at the historical wrongs of the past and look forward to being a better Canada. I found the Terminology section helpful in learning how to speak and write about these topics. This book is an excellent fit in the Grade 10 history classroom. It can also lay the foundation for more in-depth critical thinking in studying Indigenous literature from Grades 7 – 12, particularly in NBE3U/3C. It is available in all high school English departments at OCSB. 

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle – This book has stayed with me long past the final page. In his National Bestselling memoir, Jesse Thistle tells his story of being Métis, homeless, and finding his way. His story is one that speaks to our Spiritual Theme, “Love Mercy and Kindness.” As Jesse said in his #ocsbTuesdayIndigenousTalks with us, it was “God or Creator working through the people to get to me. There was so much darkness and the kindness of strangers were like the stars in the sky.” Jesse’s darkness was one of addiction, intergenerational trauma, incarceration, broken family, and homelessness. But with love, mercy and kindness from both strangers and his wife, Lucy, he was able to find his way into a brighter future and has become a literary and academic “star” himself. Jesse has been a generous learning partner with staff and students at the OCSB and will continue to share his knowledge and stories with students and staff virtually. This book is being used in literature circles in the NBE3U/3C classrooms and is also available on Sora.

This Place: 150 Years Retold by David Robertson – In his #ocsbTuesdayIndigenousTalk this month, Cree graphic novelist and writer, David Robertson said, “When kids see themselves reflected in literature, music, and media accurately, it’s empowering,” and this graphic anthology does just that. I had never gravitated towards reading graphic novels until attending one of David’s workshops. I learned how these stories come together and how powerful they can be in telling (or retelling) history. This anthology of comics retells Canada’s history in a way that challenges long-standing biases and stereotypes about Indigenous peoples. It includes a variety of historical and contemporary stories that highlight important moments in Indigenous and Canadian history and explores acts of sovereignty and resiliency. This book is recommended for Grades 9–12 English, Grade 10 History, Grade 11 Global Issues, and Grade 12 Current Topics in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Studies classes. It is also adaptable to relevant university or college courses.

Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Metis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel – Shelagh Rogers, Broadcast Journalist and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Honorary Witness says, “What this book really is, is medicine,” and I couldn’t agree more. This book helps Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to learn to talk to and about one another. With boldness and humour, Chelsea Vowel, Métis writer and lawyer from near Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, presents a counter-narrative to the foundational, historical, and living myths most Canadians grew up believing. This book is available in all high school English departments and could be used in Grade 7 to 12 English and history courses. 

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga – This book was one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. In a well-researched collection of stories, Tanya Talaga dives into the lives of seven Indigenous students who died while attending high school in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2010. This book shows Canadians where we came from, where we are now, and what we need to do to make this country a better place for everyone. It is taught in both the NBE3U/3C courses. It works well in Grade 10 History to unpack how the Indian Act has impacted our country. Some teachers have chosen to teach only chapters, while others read it in full. It is available on Sora.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice – This book completely swept me away during COVID-19. It allowed me to see the parallels between what I was reading in this dystopian and post-apocalyptic literary world and the new reality I was living in during the pandemic. In an interview with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, Waub told us he “wanted to buck stereotypes and myths of what it’s like to be on a reserve and stereotypes about reserves” in this novel. Annishabe beliefs and worldviews are injected into the story from the perspective of being what he calls a “rez kid.” As a settler, I have so much to learn about life on the reserves – both historically and today. And this book was a great window into that. Waub is currently working on the sequel to this book. He has offered to work alongside teachers as they teach it in the NBE3C courses. He’s a great learning partner, and his book can also be accessed on Sora. 

Embers by Richard Wagamese – I simply love this healing book. Each morning, I wake up and reflect on the wisdom it presents to the world. In it, Richard Wagamese presents a collection of Ojibway meditations that could be used at the beginning of each class or as writing prompts in English classrooms. Through imagery and prose, the book explores the notions of honesty, stillness, harmony, trust, reverence, gratitude, and joy. I think it’s particularly important to invite these types of reflections into our everyday lives during these challenging times.  

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