Indigenous authors & issues
Each of the characters in SILENT INLET by Joanna Streetly sees life without seeing each other; thus the story is told in their interweaving voices. Hesquiaht hereditary chief, Simon Lucas, once said: "You only see us with one eye." This novel brings the west coast to life through a range of perspectives within which the reader experiences the raw physicality of people and place: people who are caught in the sea of turbulence, hardship and brilliance that characterizes the west coast, shaped by its history, Indigenous culture, and the forces of nature.
KISS OF THE FUR QUEEN by Tomson Highway. The novel follows brothers Jeremiah and Gabriel Okimasis, from the idyllic innocence of their Cree childhood through a forced relocation to an abusive residential school to their lives as young artists attempting to discover how far their natural artistic talents (music and dance) can take them. As they struggle to cope in a world that increasingly alienates them from their past, their heritage re-enters their lives in unexpected and sometimes tragic ways.
KEEPER ‘N ME. This is the debut novel from the late Richard Wagamese. When Garnet Raven comes home to his reserve he's a grown man. But he knows nothing about his Ojibway roots. He's taken under the wing of Keeper, a former drunk, who has become the local knowledge keeper and holder of the sacred Water drum. Together, in wryly humorous fashion, Keeper introduces Garnet to the spiritual ways of his people. Garnet discovers that home is a truth you carry inside you.
BIRDIE by Tracey Lindberg, a citizen of the As’in’i’w’chi Ni’Yaw Nation Rocky Mountain Cree, and she incorporates elements of Cree folklore and oral tradition into the narrative of BIRDIE. The book tells the story of Bernice Meetoos (nicknamed Birdie), who leaves her Cree community in northern Alberta and travels to British Columbia in a search for home, and hope, after a childhood shattered by sexual abuse. This is a beautiful, difficult, humorous and painful first novel.
MEDICINE WALK by the late Richard Wagamese. “The story of Canada is the story of her relationship with native people," he said. "If we lean over the back fence and share part of that story with the person on the other side of the fence, we bring each other closer." In this novel, Wagamese tells the story of Franklin Starlight, who receives a summons from his biological father, an alcoholic dying of liver failure. The father wants his son to take him out on the land and bury him like a warrior in the way of his ancestors. Over the course of their journey to his final resting place, Eldon Starlight is finally able to speak the truths that have poisoned their lives. The land is the healing presence that allows him to pull off layer after layer of the tragedy of his life. Wagamese understands the stories we don't tell are as important as the ones we do. "Mosta the big talk in my life got left unsaid," Eldon says. "Makes it tough to say anything real or hard."
IN THIS TOGETHER; FIFTEEN STORIES OF TRUTH & RECONCILIATION ed. Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. These reflective and personal pieces come from journalists, writers, academics, visual artists, filmmakers, city planners, and lawyers, all of whom share their personal moments of illumination regarding when and how they grappled with the harsh reality of colonization in Canada, and its harmful legacy. Without flinching, they look deeply and honestly at their own experiences and assumptions about race and racial divides in Canada. The book’s afterward features a candid conversation between CBC radio host Shelagh Rogers and Chief Justice Sinclair.
PADDLING TO WHERE I STAND by Agnes Alfred, Qwiqwasutinuxw Noblewoman is more than another anthropological interpretation of Kwakwaka'wakw culture. It is the first-hand account, by a woman, of the greatest period of change she and her people experienced since first contact with Europeans, and her memoirs flow from her urgently felt desire to pass on her knowledge to younger generations. Agnes Alfred documents through myths, historical accounts, and personal reminiscences the foundations and the enduring pulse of her culture.
PRICE PAID: The Fight for First Nations Survival by Bev Sellars Price Paid offers the reader an overview of North and South American aboriginal contributions to European lives from first contact to the present day. Before beginning chapter one, which covers human habitation from 40,000 years ago to first contact with Europeans in the 1400s, the reader is asked: What if you owned a house and a beautiful garden? Would you share it with others? Would you welcome them? By chapter five, the question is: What if eventually you are displaced to the garage and the newcomers take over the rest of the house? Is it theirs? Price Paid can be painful reading but is necessary if we are to move forward as a country—Indigenous and newcomers* together—armed with knowledge and empathy. *The term ‘newcomers’ is applied to those who came to Canada and were helped by Indigenous people when they were found stumbling along the Fraser River, half-starved and looking for gold in the Cariboo.
RAGGED COMPANY by Richard Wagamese was written in 2009, preceding both Indian Horse and The Medicine Walk. This is the story of four street-involved, how they ended up on the street and what keeps them there. It is a heartbreaking account of the demons they each face intercepted by the power of community, family and home.
THE COMEBACK by John Ralston Saul. In 1876, Canada passed an act of Parliament: It was called "An Act Respecting Indians," or more simply, The Indian Act. Yet over a century later, many wonder if this "act respecting Indians" ever included any actual respect. From land appropriations, to bans on traditional ceremonies, forced assimilation, and constant legal battles, it often seemed that Canada's First Nations were forced to the margins, to the outer edges of the nation's consciousness.
But according to John Ralston Saul, they've slowly and quietly made a comeback. “A big transfer of power and money changes a lot of things – just transfer the power and the money, and get on with it,” Mr. Saul contends. “The issue at hand is treaty rights. It’s 75 cents on the dollar [in government funding] for aboriginal education, or even less. It’s obvious that we shouldn’t be at 65 cents or 75 cents but $1.25 or $1.50. Just do it. There is nothing stopping the government from doing it. It is not a problem of funding. It’s a problem of willpower and policy.”
“Aboriginal leaders have been saying what they’re saying today for a very long time.”