Celebrating National Aboriginal History Month

By Caitlin Miller, EPL Library Assistant.

June is National Aboriginal History month, a time when Indigenous Canadians come together and share in their diverse cultures and rich historical narratives with pride and solidarity. This is also a time when all Canadians can commit to learning more about the Indigenous People who live in what we now call Canada. This book list is a great start for anyone standing up this month to join in the reconciliation journey.

A Short History of Indians in Canada by Thomas King

A great introduction to the structure of Indigenous story-telling. One would be hard-pressed to find a better book out there that epitomizes the style of Indigenous story-telling than this one. King offers 20 short stories filled with mysterious prose, loaded with ambiguity, some darkness here and there, but also lightness and laughter too. The stories often feel unresolved, confusing, they leave the mind curious and searching for a meaning, perhaps desiring that bright and shining moral centerpiece, so common a characteristic of mainstream stories. Although each tale is quite different, they are all connected by that unique style and authenticity that makes Indigenous-told histories stand out.

Bad Medicine by John Reilly

For anyone who is still learning about the very real issues Indigenous Canadians face, this book will be an eye opener. Provincial Court of Alberta’s Judge, John Reilly, shares his personal experiences as he examines the deeply seated corruption and mistreatment that plagues First Nations People living in Canada. He explains with sobering clarity exactly how the Canadian justice system fails to provide these communities with solutions to endemic problems such as suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. If you are interested in the concept of restorative justice, this one is a must-read.

Copper Mine by Keith Ross Leckie

Coppermine is a historical novel based on the true case of two Inuit men tried in Edmonton for the murder of two French missionaries in the Arctic Coppermine region in 1917. Part legal thriller, part adventure-survival story, the story follows Jack Creed, a young Canadian Mounted Police officer, as he tracks down the suspected killers and then brings them back to Edmonton for trial. The descriptions of the North are breath-taking, and the revelations of Inuit culture and belief systems keep the pages turning.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Saul Indian Horse has hit rock bottom after his latest booze binge lands him in a treatment facility. From this vantage point, he looks back on his life and experiences growing up northern Ojibway, forced into residential school in Canada, and being really good at hockey. Author Richard Wagamese writes a perfect picture of landscape and life, mystery and myth, of innocence lost and the journey back to peace.

Night Moves by Richard Van Camp

Richard Van Camp’s latest set of short stories does not disappoint, and his knack for making characters so real you’ll swear you saw them walking down the street last week is nothing short of magical. The stories are crazy and mystical and make the reader feel privileged to be taken into the world of northern Canadian life, what a wild ride!

Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson

Set in 1867, Davidson’s novel involves the lives of Metis Settlers at Manito Sakahigan (Spirit Lake, or Lac St. Anne, Alberta, as the maps say today). This is one story of many who lived and survived in the harsh northern land of what would eventually be known as Canada. It is also worth noting that the author finished this book with a discussion on appropriation, specifically one white woman’s experience writing about historical Indigenous characters, and the challenges and anxieties she felt while doing so. It is a thought-provoking topic and one worth considering as we celebrate National Aboriginal History Month.

The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson

Patti Laboucane-Benson and artist Kelly Mellings together have created something really special in this graphic novel set in Edmonton. Generational trauma is a word that we have been hearing often lately, and its sad repercussions can often inspire feelings of hopelessness and defeat. In this novel the reader is taken on a visual journey that reveals new possibilities, much needed answers to how the endless cycle of abuses and pain that affect Indigenous communities can be turned around for new generations through healing and ceremony. This book gives us hope for the future, and strength to help our brothers and sisters.

The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

When Wab Kinew, a Canadian musician and broadcaster, learned that his father, Chief Tobasonakwut, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decided to dedicate his time to reconnecting with his father and his past. In this book we learn of the Anishinaabe word Kiizhewaatiziwin, roughly meaning to live a life governed by humility, kindness and respect, important virtues that are all too often forgotten, or worse, considered a weakness. At its core, this is a book of growth, teaching, and understanding how we can take the pains of the past and use them to guide us to a future where we can be better, where we are better.

They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars

They Called Me Number One is a story of resilience. Sellar’s memoir is not just about her experiences at St. Joseph’s residential school in British Columbia, but how she overcame the abuse and suffering afterwards and became Williams Lake’s Chief of Xat’sull First Nation. One cannot help but feel profound respect for the author, reading this memoir is a humbling experience, and gives us hope that the wounds of the past do not always dictate the wounds of the future.

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