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Celebrating & Exploring Indigenous Languages Through Literature

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Indigenous languages are an important aspect of daily life in Canada. Many provinces, town and city names, landmarks, and bodies of water are identified by words in Indigenous languages. Cities such as Toronto (Tkaronto) or Ottawa (Odawa) are named using Indigenous languages. Meaning behind these words needs to be celebrated and explored in a respectful manner. Through literature and connecting with Indigenous communities, Indigenous languages can be supported and honoured in the classroom.

The year 2019 was designated the “International Year of indigenous languages (#IYIL2019)” by the United Nations in an effort to acknowledge and raise awareness of Indigenous languages worldwide. Indigenous languages “foster and promote unique local cultures, customs, and values which have endured for thousands of years.” In addition, “Indigenous languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.”

According to the United Nations statement “Celebrating IYIL2019 will help promote and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak them.“ It will also support the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada adopted the declaration in 2016.

In Canada, there are over 60 different Indige …

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The Chat With Gregory Scofield

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For our first Chat of 2017, we turn to poetry and consider the themes of witnessing and reconciliation. I’m in conversation with 2016 Writers’ Trust of Canada Latner Poetry Prize winner Gregory Scofield, whose most recent collection, Witness, I Am, explores the lives and stories of some of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

The Latner jury wrote, in part, “For seven collections of poetry, Gregory Scofield has impressed us with his memorable lyrics and keen eye for the finer details. His forms embrace the musical, the documentary, and the experimental in a vision of risk and generosity ... He has courage to let us in, and the patience to help us understand.”

Gregory Scofield is Red River Métis of Cree, Scottish and European descent whose ancestry can be traced to the fur trade and to the Métis community of Kinesota, Manitoba. He has taught First Nations and Métis Literature and Creative Writing at Brandon University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the Alberta College of Art + Design. He currently holds the position …

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Jennifer Manuel: Books for Decolonizing

Book Cover The Heaviness of Things That Float

Jennifer Manuel's debut novel, The Heaviness of Things That Float, is about a non-indigenous woman negotiating her place on a West Coast First Nation where she has served as a nurse for the past forty years. Her unsettlement about her approaching retirement is further upset when a young man she's loved like a son goes missing, his disappearance bringing all kinds of stories and secrets to the surface. 

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Colonialism is not going to simply fade away on its own. It's not a matter of waiting for time to erase it. Nor is it correct to think that Indigenous people are the only ones who need to be decolonized. Non-indigenous people, too, need to insert themselves into the process by confronting colonial legacies and privilege, by questioning the deeply embedded belief that their ways of knowing and seeing and being are superior, and by acknowledging and honouring how interconnected their relationships with Indigenous peoples have become.

The Heaviness of Things That Float is, at its heart, a novel about decolonization and the moral obligation of non-Indigenous people to take part in this process. Here are some CanLit novels that inspired my writing by offering valuable insights on colonialism and decolonization.

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Why Non-Indigenous Canadians Need to Share the Burden and Historical Legacies of the Residential School System

Book Cover The Education of Augie Merasty

In Talking History, Canada's foremost historians and history experts show that Canada's history is essential to our understanding of our country and the world today. The series is made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Kaleigh Bradley is a historical consultant and PhD candidate in the Department of History at York University. Her current research examines the environmental history of Indigenous lands and the effects of mining and development on Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. She’s also a co-editor of the popular history website ActiveHistory.ca.

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In the nineteenth century, near present-day Sault Ste. Marie, Chief Shingwaukonse dreamt of a teaching wigwam where Anishinaabe children could acquire vocational and academic skills. Chief Shingwaukonse wanted children to have these tools so that they could preserve Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe language), and easily adapt to a modernizing economy and society. Indigenous peoples, with the help of church missionaries and government officials, sought the creation of the schools for their children, but the schools later became an instrument for cultural genocide.

The Indian Residential School (IRS) system began in the early nineteenth century with the missionary …

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