CHN Bookshelf: A Look to Indigenous Brilliance—Suggested Reading List

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Given the chance, I could converse all day long about books, podcasts, and artwork by Indigenous authors, researchers, and artists. Though I am unable to list every piece that I love, the following storytellers are a source of inspiration for me. These works are rooted in Ancestral knowledge and often speak to the ways that we remain connected to our Ancestral territories, and are a small snapshot of brilliant works by Indigenous storytellers. Our stories take many different forms; words on paper, oratory, and illustrations. Chi-miigwetch to all Indigenous authors, illustrators, scholars, and storytellers for sharing your brilliance.

All My Relations, podcast hosted by Matika Wilbur, Adrienne Keene, and Desi Rodriguez Lonebear,

This podcast is all about topics and discussions relevant to Indigenous peoples today, from Indigenous resistance against capitalist extraction to Indigenous motherhood to calling out Indigenous stereotypes and appropriations. I love the love and laughter that is always so present during each episode.

Crow Winter
, by Karen McBride (Toronto, ON, Canada: HarperAvenue, 2019).

As an Algonquin Anishinaabekwe, to me this book is familiar; almost like coming home. Written by Karen McBride, an Algonquin woman from Timiskaming First Nation, this novel is rooted in Algonquin knowledge, territory, and language. Crow Winter addresses the impacts of settler-colonialism and helps us to encourage Indigenous resurgence and reconnection to our Ancestral traditions. I am so proud of Karen McBride for writing this book.

I always thought it would be Raven.

The one who finally decided it was time to teach me. Raven seemed like the right fit. In all the big stories, he’s the leading man. A beautiful bird with glossy black feathers. He’s strong and graceful. Got a sharp wit and clever tongue. I heard that he found the First People on the beaches of the West Coast. That he stole the sun one day just for the fun of it. Tough, self-assured, a good sense of humour. All the things a real Spirit Guide should be. . . .

Raven was always the one the elders and other storytellers told us about. Tales of how he stole Crow’s potlach. How he made that proud bird sing and sing until his voice was nothing but a croak, all while Raven gorged himself on food. How he’d created the world and then messed it up. A trickster and a transformer. A herald of change, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. A writer who only ever uses ink, who thinks that using pencil means admitting to mistakes. . . .

Anishinaabeg call him something else. 

Nanabush. . . .

All the stories about Nanabush read like the memoirs of an ancient troublemaker. Someone with the power to do great things but who doesn’t want to put in the work. The old, good tales they tell around a fire say he was here when the world was young. (Crow Winter, pp. 3-5)

, by Maria Campbell, revised edition (Toronto, ON, Canada: McClelland & Stewart, 2019).

A few years ago, I got into the practice of looking into the social contexts of literature when it was published. This helps me to understand what the author may have been experiencing in their life to bring them to publish at that point in time. Either before or after you read Halfbreed, I encourage you to read a bit more about why it is so significant that an Indigenous woman published a book about her life in Canada in 1973. A second edition of Halfbreed was published in 2019 and includes pages that were excluded from the first publication.

This is the grandmother place Maria occupies as she launches the revised version of Halfbreed, more than forty-five years after it was first published. If the reader wonders what happened to the passionate young woman who wrote Halfbreed, it should come as no surprise that Maria continues to be a person of hard, steady work fueled by a love for her people and a commitment to justice. She is a leader who works with an expansive range of people, always in the spirit of wahkotowin, an interconnected web of relations in which everyone has responsibilities—for as she has often said, “you never get anywhere unless you take your people with you.” These community responsibilities are intricately woven with Maria’s work as a powerful translator of art and spirit, and the foundation for all of this can be found in the narrative she shares about her life in Halfbreed. This book contains so many teachings it is possible to gain something new with each reading. (From “The Grandmother Place,” introduction by Kim Anderson to Halfbreed, rev. ed. [Toronto, ON, Canada: McClelland & Stewart, 2019], pp. vii-ix.)

Johnny Appleseed
, by Joshua Whitehead (Vancouver, BC, Canada: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018).

In his first novel, Joshua Whitehead weaves together a beautiful, raw, and honest story of queer Indigenous fiction. Johnny Appleseed invites us to bare witness to the life of Johnny Appleseed, a Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This book is the story of the complexities of Indigenous identity and our existence in a settler-colonial space, demonstrating the vibrancy of Indigenous resilience.

The water in Winnipeg was just as feral as the rapids in Peguis—the only difference was that this river ate children, not crawfish. My kokum told me that Manitoba was a name taken from the Cree, manitowapow, which meant something like “the strait of the spirit.” She said it was the sound of the drum, of water beating the rocks in a constant thrum, noise like a round dance where the water would ask you to sing alongside it. The river is a space of convergence, where streams and currents intersect briefly, an orgy of kissing streams, a hub of sex and slapping fins. The water is the colour of rust, the kind of rust that becomes a sequin when a raindrop hovers over it. When I look out over the Red I see the strait, but I wonder just what in the hell a spirit is doing out there. How many Manito? Was mine out there too? Why would the water want to straighten my spirit? Ain’t that why I have two? (Johnny Appleseed, p. 66).

My Conversations with Canadians,
 by Lee Maracle (Toronto, ON, Canada: Book*hug Press, 2017).

Everyone should read this book. Lee sits you down at her kitchen table and tells you very directly what you must know and what your responsibilities are as a settler on Turtle Island. This book is a gift, allowing us to experience Indigenous oratories in print.

During the colonization of Canada, both land and knowledge were appropriated—that is, expropriated without permission from the owners. On the one hand, we were separated from our knowledge, and on the other, Europeans were entitled to appropriate the knowledge associated with the use of items they purchased. For instance, Johnny Whiteman purchases squaw vine for his wife’s menopausal condition from Lee’s grandma. He copyrights the knowledge he acquires. Lee is sent to school and cannot access her gramma’s knowledge about squaw vine while away because she is separated from her gramma and someone else owns the copyright of the information. Gramma dies while Lee is in school. Johnny Whiteman publishes a book and includes the squaw vine knowledge of Lee’s gramma, and on her return from school Lee learns that in order for her to access her gramma’s knowledge, she must purchase Johnny Whiteman’s book. She is purchasing from the appropriator access to her inheritance. . . . This was never the intention of our grandmothers. White people in the process of acquiring our cultural knowledge never told our ancestors the consequences of the decision they were making. In this way it is unconscionable, and it is still stealing. In fact, stealing is embedded in the definition of appropriation. (FromMy Conversations with Canadians, pp. 97-99)

Monkey Beach
, by Eden Robinson (Boston: Haughton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000).

This is one of those books that pulls you in so close to the characters that it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. Monkey Beach is a beautiful demonstration of the strength of our Indigenous kinship ties and the depth to which we are connected to our territories.

In a time distant and vague from the one we know now, she told me, flesh was less rigid. Animals and humans could switch shapes simply by putting on each other’s skins. Animals could talk, and often shared their knowledge with the newcomers that humans were then. When this age ended, flesh solidified. People were people, and animals lost their ability to speak in words. Except for medicine men, who could become animals, and sea otters and seals, who had medicine men too. They loved to play tricks on people. (From Monkey Beach, p. 210).

podcast hosted by Waubgeshig Rice and Jennifer David,

This podcast is basically a monthly digital book club that discusses brilliant written works by Indigenous authors. Waubgeshig Rice and Jennifer David are joined each week by a guest host. Each episode is centered on one book by an Indigenous author (any genre), with some of the host’s stories and experiences scattered throughout. I think of Storykeepers as a celebration of Indigenous literatures by Indigenous authors.

Chief Lady Bird

Chief Lady Bird is a Chippewa Potawatomi Artist and Illustrator from Rama First Nation. She is vibrant, takes no shit, and is straight-up so talented. Follow her on Instagram at @chiefladybird,

  • Christine Luckasavitch

    Christine Luckasavitch is an Omàmìwininì Madaoueskarini Anishinaabekwe (a woman of the Madawaska River Algonquin people), belonging to the Crane Clan, and mixed settler heritage. Her work is centered around creating spaces for Indigenous peoples to share their knowledges, both in physical and digital spaces, and encouraging the re-emergence of ancestral kinship ties.

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