Indigenous voices - Book roundup

The cold weather is upon us which makes it the perfect time to stock up on some great books to keep us company over the winter months. If you’re looking for books by and about Indigenous people, then look no further that this list that I’ve compiled.

Non-fiction

Black Water by David A. Robertson - In his memoir, Robertson brings us on a memorable trip he took with his father to his family’s old trapline in order to reclaim their connection to the land. Born to a Cree father and non-indigenous mother, Robertson and his siblings were brought up completely unaware of their indigenous roots and heritage. This book brings us on his journey to not only connect with his father, but to discover who he is and what it means to be Cree. Beautifully written, Black Water definitely leaves an impression on the reader. (Harper Collins)

Unreconciled by Jesse Wente - Part memoir and part manifesto, Unreconciled takes a look at indigenous identity as told through the cinematic lens. Wente shares moments of discrimination that he faced throughout his life, from the war cries opposing teams would chant on the ball pit towards him as a child, to the routine stops by the police as he simply walked down the street. These stories are interspersed with how he found his path and footing to help uplift the indigenous community by dedicating his life and career to supporting indigenous artists and storytellers. Unreconciled is a powerful, infuriating and important read. (Penguin Random House)

Up Ghost River by Edmund Metatawabin (with Alexandres Shimo) - Nothing could have prepared for what lays in the pages of this book. First Nations Chief Edmund Metatawabin does not hold back in telling the story of his life, from his time in a residential school, to the immense trauma and how it impacted his life for decades afterwards. If you were to read just one book about surviving residential school let it be this one. I had moments where I had to take a break to breathe and at the same time I am so grateful to have had the privilege to read this book. (Penguin Random House)

Permanent Astonishment by Tomson Highway - It’s no wonder that Tomson Highway is one of Canada’s most acclaimed indigenous writers and performers. His words fall across the pages like paint strokes. His stories unfold like a majestic painting as he delicately layers his canvas one page at a time. You don’t simply read a book by Tomson Highway, you experience it. This book will have you both laughing and crying. This is both a book about survival and trauma, but also about love and family. (Penguin Random House)

Fiction

Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway - Kiss of the Fur Queen was originally published in 1998 and re-released in 2021. A beautifully poetic novel about surviving residential school and the strong current of love between two brothers. This book took my breath away much like his recently published memoir Permanent Astonishment. It’s a fantastic book to curl up with on a cold winter’s day. (Penguin Random House)

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good - What happens to the children of residential schools when they are finally released, with no money and no real life skills? In Five Little Indians we meet five young adults with barely a penny to their names, who try to navigate and survive the real world with the trauma from their school days weighing on them. All five characters deal with their trauma in different ways, from drug and alcohol addiction to prostitution, they all struggle to forget and move on. Good brings us a powerful story about trauma, loss, but also love and friendship.  (Harper Collins)

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones - If you are a horror movie fan, particularly horror movies from the 80’s and 90’s, then this is the book for you. Jones brings us to a little lakeside town in Idaho, where upon hearing the news of disappearing tourists, protagonist Jade is convinced that the town might be living a real life slasher event. Jade feels as though she is a forgettable character, a cast-off half native with a traumatic past that makes her unlovable. Can she find the courage to accept that she is final girl material and save the town before it’s too late? Without a doubt Jones is a captivating brilliant storyteller. This novel is as dark and violent as any classic horror film with a protagonist that you can’t help but cheer for until the very end. (Simon and Schuster)

Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson - This book can be best described as a spider web. In the centre of the web you have our main character, branching out from her are all the people who have been in and out of her life. At first the book can seem disjointed in the way it jumps around Ruby’s timeline, but Bird-Wilson brilliantly weaves all of Ruby’s stories together into one cohesive novel. Ruby is a native woman who was adopted at birth by a white family. Never feeling like she fits in she searches for her identity in everyone she meets, ultimately trying to find her way back home to her roots - her birth family. There’s no doubt that once you finish this book a piece of Ruby will stay with you forever. (Penguin Random House)

The Removed by Brandon Hobson - It’s been 15 years since the Echota family lost their son and brother in a police shooting, and in the lead up to the anniversary the family is still trying to figure out how to manage their grief. The Removed follows the Echota family as they prepare, mentally, emotionally and physically for the annual bonfire in honour of Ray-Ray. When mother Maria and father Ernest decide to foster a teenager, it is not lost on them how much he resembles Ray-Ray and opens the door to some much needed healing. Hobson does a wonderful job here at weaving in Cherokee myths and stories, to bring in a mystical and spiritual element to this book. (Harper Collins)

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette - It’s been five years since Vermette’s spectacular debut novel The Break (featured on Canada Reads in 2017) and it was well worth the wait. The Strangers is an intergenerational saga that shows how connected we are even when we’re separated. Matriarch Margaret unexpectedly finds herself in the role of motherhood, grieving over the life she felt she could have had, disconnecting herself emotionally from her daughter Elsie. In turn Elsie struggles with addiction and is unable to hold on to her daughters, forcing them into foster care. They both resent and long for their mother and a sense of family. Elsie’s daughter Cedar is sent to live with her estranged father while Phoenix ends up in a youth detention center, again. Once again Vermette is a master storyteller, bringing us a book that tugs at your heart strings, leaving you breathless and wanting more. (Penguin Random House)

Sufferance by Thomas King - If you caught our live book club discussion about this book, then it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved it. Thomas King is one of my favourite authors and once again he delivered a great novel. Jeremiah Camp just wants to be left alone. Living in an former residential school, he’s happy to spend his days digging up the white crosses in the school’s graveyard, replacing them with proper headstones. Of course, living in a small reserve town makes it impossible to fully disconnect from the local community. King once again brings his sly sense of humour to a book with serious social commentary. It’s a book that gets you thinking about the social divides created by privilege and politics, but makes you chuckle along the way. Thomas King is a literary treasure. (Harper Collins)

Meredith is a Disney obsessed stay-at-home mom. When she’s not planning a trip, you’ll find her with her nose in a book.

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