If you haven’t already, now’s a great time to get started on learning more about the complete history of Canada, reconciliation and Indigenous perspectives on the ongoing impact of colonization.
Learn more about the diverse cultures and rich historical narratives that make up the Indigenous People who live in what we now call Canada.
This book list is a great start for anyone committed to embarking on a journey of reconciliation.
1. In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier
Two sisters separated at a young age and placed into different foster homes share a family bond that unites them throughout the years. One sister attempts to maintain her Métis heritage while the other tries to assimilate into her foster family’s culture.
It’s a sad and difficult story, but a necessary one for anyone who’s interested in learning about the Sixties Scoop and the experiences of the people involved.
2. Bearskin Diary by Carol Daniels
Taken away from her family as a baby during what is now known as The Scoop, Sandy tells the story of growing up in a Ukrainian adopted family and being the only Indigenous kid in a white town.
By finding her roots and gaining strength from her traditional heritage, Sandy’s story is one that overcomes racism and the experience of being ostracized so early in life, but it is important to remember that not all were so lucky.
3. A Short History of Indians in Canada by Thomas King
A great introduction to the structure of Indigenous story-telling, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better book out there that epitomizes the style of Indigenous story-telling than this one. Thomas King offers 20 short stories filled with mysterious prose and loaded with ambiguity, drifting into darkness here and there, but also containing lightness and laughter too.
The stories often feel unresolved and 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 storytelling. Although each tale is quite different, they are all connected by that unique style and authenticity that makes Indigenous-told histories stand out.
4. 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 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 is a must-read.
5. Coppermine 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.
6. 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 in this moving novel.
7. Night Moves by Richard Van Camp
Richard Van Camp’s set of short stories does not disappoint. 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!
8. Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson
Set in 1867, Diana 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 finishes 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 worth considering.
9. 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 term that’s gaining prominence and its sad repercussions can often inspire feelings of hopelessness and defeat.
In this book, the reader is taken on a visual journey that reveals new possibilities along with 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 Outside Circle is available as a graphic novel.
10. 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.
11. They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars
They Called Me Number One is a story of resilience. Bev 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 possibilities of the future.
Discover more great books from local and international authors about diverse topics related to Indigenous history and culture.