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Aboriginal History Month at 49th Shelf

June is National Aboriginal History Month in Canada, and we've got some excellent features coming up to mark it, including a booklist by our resident Children's Librarian, and also an interview with acclaimed Métis short story writer Lisa Bird-Wilson (whose Just Pretending is shortlisted for the 2014 Danuta Gleed Award). But in the meantime, this seems like a great opportunity to bring together the great content we've featured already on books written by or about Canada's First Peoples. 

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UPDATE FOR 2015: 

 

Book Cover Kiyam

 

In 2012, we featured a guest post by Naomi McIlwraith, author of the poetry collection, kiyâm, about the experience of writing a book that bridges the space between English and Cree:

"Twice this past week I approached a Cree-speaking person in my subconscious desire to bridge the deep chasm dividing Canada’s mainstream culture and Aboriginal people. That’s what I tried to do in writing the poems that form the collection kiyâm. I remember purposefully hefting this strangely abstract weight as if I could write all the wrongs of our collective Aboriginal history, as if I could convince all non-Aboriginal Canadians that they might take an interest in our First Nations and Métis history, as if I could convince all Aboriginal people that not all white Canadians are to blame.

As if. How naïve I was to think that I could wield the political and social influence to facilitate a peaceful dialogue between two immensely polarized peoples..." 

 

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Buffy Sainte-Marie It's My Way

In our interview with Blair Stonechild, author of the authorized biography, Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way, he talks about the process of creating his biography, about Sainte-Marie's remarkable life and achievements, and leaves us with a Buffy Sainte-Marie playlist:

"Buffy is competent in a wide range of music genres so some might prefer her love songs or her protest songs or her country or pop songs depending on their taste.

However I would include her most successful song "Until It’s Time for You to Go", the Academy Award winning "Up Where We Belong", antiwar anthem "Universal Soldier", experimental music such as "God is Alive", and one of my favorite Native American songs "Star Walker", in which Buffy’s powerful and expressive voice comes out in its fullest." 

 

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Book Cover Midnight Sweatlodge

Waubgeshig Rice, author of Midnight Sweatlodge, shares with us, "Eight Books That Embody Indigenous Culture". He also explains the important connections between access to books and reading and the experiences and world views of First Nations' youth:

"Prior to colonization and the introduction of the written word, First Nations youth traditionally heard stories and learned about culture in circles around elders and established storytellers. They looked up as they listened and absorbed important lessons and timeless stories. But they were eventually shamed out of this practice as the ruling order tried to erase indigenous identity, and that's when their focus turned their eyes downward to the written word. This was how subsequent generations learned about stories, but as the ones that followed them began to reclaim culture, they utilized words in books to share their experiences on a larger scale. In that sense, a kid in a community in B.C. can read a book like Midnight Sweatlodge and learn about experiences people in my community had. Through reading, there are greater opportunities for learning and sharing like never before."

 

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Book Cover For KIng and Kanata

 

Timothy C. Winegard, author of the books, For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War and Indigenous Peoples of the British Dominions and the First World War, created a list of books that explore the connections between Aboriginal Canadians and the military.

He introduces his list by explaining, "Since the 1990s, greater attention has been afforded by authors and academics to the military role, and importance, played by Canada’s Indigenous peoples during the colonial wars of North America, to the War of 1812, to the world wars of the 20th century.  As such, this literary genre has undergone a much needed reinterpretation. The following reading list, comprised of seven diverse selections, is not itemized in order of merit or preference; rather, it is loosely chronological in context and scope. I have tried, as much as possible, to select works from across the historical timeframe, to provide for a variety of situational periods and important historical occurrences." 

 

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Book Cover Life Stages and Native Women

During the winter of 2011, Kim Armstrong, author of A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood and Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings and Story Medicine, shared some stories from Native Elders that have kept her mind and spirit warm:  

"As an urban Cree/Métis mom & writer, running as fast as everyone else in this speedy 21st century world, I don’t have the benefit of sitting with teachers by the fireplace every night. But I do have Elders that I work with, as well as books of traditional knowledge that warm and sustain me. I have recently been working with Elders for an oral history project on Indigenous masculinities, and three of the men I have interviewed are also authors. Tom Porter, Dominique Rankin and Rene Meshake share stories from their respective traditions (Mohawk, Algonquin, and Ojibway) through books in English and French, although they integrate their Indigenous languages throughout as a way of furthering our understanding of Indigenous world views."

 

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Book Cover Stories in a New Skin

Keavy Martin, author of Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature, created a fascinating reading list of books on Inuit and Indigenous Cultures and a History of the Canadian West.

The list includes the book, The Red Indians by Peter Kulchyski, of which Martin writes, "I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody can turn a phrase like Peter Kulchyski. I always recommend this book to my classes; it’s short, to-the-point, and very readable, but it draws upon the tremendous knowledge of one of the foremost Indigenous Studies scholars. Some people think that Canadian history is dry, but I challenge you to maintain that viewpoint after reading this book. These stories are essential to understanding the fraught and complicated country that we live in today." 

 

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Book Cover Sanaaq

Earlier this year, we were really pleased to feature an excerpt from Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel, written by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk and recently translated into English.

From the book's description: "Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people, in the mid-19th century. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in. These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family."

 

Book Cover The Place of Scraps

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And just recently, Sean Cranbury interviewed poet Jordan Abel, a Nisga'a writer in Vancouver whose The Place of Scraps won the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize last month. 

See also some lists created by users on our site, including Great First Nations Artists, Treaties, First Nations & Idle No More, Talonbooks' First Nations Booklist, and another by Coteau Books

June 5, 2014

Books mentioned in this post

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Just Pretending

by Lisa Bird-Wilson
edition: Paperback
tagged: contemporary women

A debut short story collection from one of Canada's most exciting new Aboriginal voices. "In our family, it was Trish who was Going To Be Trouble; I was Such a Good Girl." At times haunting, at times hilarious, Just Pretending explores the moments in life that send us down pathways predetermined and not-yet-forged. These are the liminal, defining m …

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kiyâm

poems

by Naomi McIlwraith
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: canadian, native american studies, native american

Through poems that move between the two languages, McIlwraith explores the beauty of the intersection between nêhiyawêwin, the Plains Cree language, and English, âkayâsîmowin. Written to honour her father's facility in nêhiyawêwin and her mother's beauty and generosity as an inheritor of Cree, Ojibwe, Scottish, and English, kiyâm articulate …

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Buffy Sainte-Marie

It's My Way

by Blair Stonechild
edition: Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged: entertainment & performing arts, women, native americans

2013 Saskatoon Book Awards: Aboriginal Peoples? Writing Award winner

Buffy Sainte-Marie is a symbol of the free expression movement of the 1960s and her powerful songs inspired countless people seeking hope and change. Her life has been one of transitions; from songwriter to famous intellectually-oriented folk and protest singer, to country and west …

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For King and Kanata

Canadian Indians and the First World War

by Timothy C. Winegard
edition: eBook
also available: Paperback
  • age: 16
  • Grade: 11
tagged: world war i, native american studies

The first comprehensive history of the Aboriginal First World War experience on the battlefield and the home front.When the call to arms was heard at the outbreak of the First World War, Canada’s First Nations pledged their men and money to the Crown to honour their long-standing tradition of forming military alliances with Europeans during times …

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A Recognition of Being

Reconstructing Native Womanhood

by Kim Anderson
edition: Paperback
tagged: women's studies, native american studies

How are Native women defined? How has this sense of identity been influenced by European culture, and how have negative images been resisted? These are only a few of the questions Cree/Metis writer Kim Anderson addresses in this important book based on interviews with forty Native women from across Canada.
Starting from the role of women in Indige …

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Life Stages and Native Women

Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine

by Kim Anderson, foreword by Maria Campbell
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback
  • age: 15
  • Grade: 10
tagged: native american studies, women's studies

A rare and inspiring guide to the health and well-being of Aboriginal women and their communities.The process of “digging up medicines” - of rediscovering the stories of the past - serves as a powerful healing force in the decolonization and recovery of Aboriginal communities. In Life Stages and Native Women, Kim Anderson shares the teachings o …

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Stories in a New Skin

Approaches to Inuit Literature

by Keavy Martin
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback
  • age: 17
  • Grade: 12
tagged: native american, native american studies, canadian

In an age where southern power-holders look north and see only vacant polar landscapes, isolated communities, and exploitable resources, it is important to note that the Inuit homeland encompasses extensive philosophical, political, and literary traditions. Stories in a New Skin is a seminal text that explores these Arctic literary traditions and, …

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The Red Indians

An Episodic, Informal Collection of Tales from the History of Aboriginal People's Struggles in Canada

by Peter Kulchyski
edition: Paperback
tagged: discrimination & race relations, native american studies

The Red Indians is a theoretically nuanced, frank, and accessible book about Aboriginal resistance in Canada, historical and contemporary. In the manner of Eduardo Galeano's famous trilogy Memories of Fire, the book uncovers a critical, living history of conflict. The Red Indians, with its polyvalent title that points to the many issues covered in …

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Sanaaq

An Inuit Novel

by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, introduction by Bernard Saladin d'Anglure, translated by Peter Frost
edition: eBook
also available: Hardcover Audiobook Paperback
tagged: native american & aboriginal, indigenous studies

Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people, in the mid-nineteenth century. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern …

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The Place of Scraps

by Jordan Abel
edition: Paperback
tagged: canadian

George Ryga Award for Social Award: Jordan Abel, The Place of Scraps (Finalist)
BC Book Prize, Poetry: Jordan Abel, The Place of Scraps (Winner)

The Place of Scraps revolves around Marius Barbeau, an early-twentieth-century ethnographer, who studied many of the First Nations cultures in the Pacific Northwest, including Jordan Abel’s ancestral Nisg …

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