June 21 marks National Aboriginal Day in Canada. This day was created to honour the Aboriginal people of Canada. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the history, culture and issues affecting the Métis, Inuit and First Nations members of our community. Interested in learning more about this important part of our Canadian mosaic? We’ve compiled a list of works available at WPL which focus on the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Check out our special National Aboriginal Day display at our Central location for these and many other titles, and help Windsor Public Library celebrate this important day.
Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times (2009) is a comprehensive history of Canada’s original inhabitants. This book offers a distinct vision, separate from the traditional settler telling of Canada’s history. Included are contemporary topics ranging from the Ipperwash Inquiry to the Caledonia land claims dispute. Also recommended is Arthur J. Ray’s An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People (2010) which charts the history of Canada’s Aboriginal people from first contact to current land claims.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture (2005) focuses on the extraordinary contributions Natives have made and continue to make in the fields of science, politics, literature and art. From the roots of the fur trade through the writing of Maria Campbell, this anthology celebrates the role that Aboriginal people have had in defining Canada and its culture.
Hollywood has an unfortunate record of misrepresenting Native people and their cultures. The documentary Reel Injun (2010) delves into the history of Aboriginal representation in film, tracing the subject from the silent era to the modern day. Features interviews with filmmakers and activists such as Clint Eastwood, Jim Jarmusch and Russell Means.
First Voices: An Aboriginal Women’s Reader (2009) explores many of the struggles that Aboriginal women face within Canada. Subjects addressed in this book include treatment by the Canadian criminal justice system, inclusion in self-government, and issues of safety for Aboriginal women. A thought-provoking read that depicts an ongoing struggle for equality.
For two years Deborah Ellis travelled across Canada and the United States interviewing Aboriginal children aged nine to eighteen. In Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids (2013) Ellis shares her experience with the Aboriginal youth she encountered and relays their stories, dreams and thoughts to the reader.
Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy (2010) recounts the violent clash between Mohawk protesters and Oka residents who planned to turn disputed land into a golf course. Author Harry Swain, deputy minister of Indian Affairs throughout the 78-day standoff, provides a deep analysis of the conflict, exploring the representations of the Mohawk people by the media, the involvement of the Canadian military and the galvanizing affect this event had on Aboriginal people coast to coast. An insightful look into how the Mohawk experience reflects the collision between European and Aboriginal cultures.
In Aboriginal Law: Commentary and Analysis (2012) Thomas Isaac highlights the most important aspects of Canadian law as it impacts Aboriginal peoples and their relationship with the wider Canadian society. Important issues are covered such as treaty rights, constitutional issues, land claims, self-government, provincial and federal roles in dealing with Aboriginal peoples. Issac also highlights the role of government in reconciling Aboriginal interests with the needs of Canadian society as a whole. Although it is a law book, it is designed for use by anyone needing to understand Aboriginal legal issues and is presented in a neutral way.
Regan Paulette recounts the history of Canada’s notorious residential schools in Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada (2010). Paulette argues that settlers must relinquish the persistent myth of themselves as peacemakers and acknowledge the destructive legacy of a society that has stubbornly ignored and devalued Indigenous experience. The book is a compassionate call to action to begin healing the wounds of the past.
Cherokee author Thomas King depicts the struggle to find balance between the modern world and Native tradition in the uproarious Green Grass, Running Water (1993).A disparate cast of characters descends upon the town of Blossom, Alberta to attend the Blackfoot reservation’s sacred Sun Dance ceremony. Among these characters are university professor Alberta Frank, who would like to trade her two boyfriends for a baby (but no husband); forty year old TV salesman Lionel; Eli, whose log cabin stands in the way of a profitable dam project; and four Native American elders who recently escaped from a mental institution. Guided by the trickster Coyote, these character’s separate stories will eventually intertwine, and the small town of Blossom will never be the same again. This novel is a brilliant mix of strong characters, folklore, and comedy.
In Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998) two Cree brothers, Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis, are torn from their family and are thrust into a Catholic residential school. Thrown into this hostile world, the brothers endure abuse by priests, are forbade from using their language, and are forced to change their names. As they grow into young men, estranged from their own people and alienated from the culture imposed on them, the Okimasis brothers fight to survive. Along the way they receive help from the Fur Queen, a shape-shifting trickster who watches over them as they fulfill their destiny to become artists. The Globe and Mail described Kiss Of The Fur Queen as “a novel that dances with life,” and is a work filled with humour, heartbreak and love.
Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach (2000) tells the story of Lisa Hill, a fiery 20-year old whose little brother is lost at sea. As the Coast Guard searches for her brother’s missing boat, Lisa sits at home ruminating over their shared childhood. Through Lisa’s flashbacks, Robinson introduces the unforgettable characters of the Hill family: Lisa’s grandmother, Ma-ma-oo, who refuses to relinquish her Haisla traditions; her parents, who struggle to reconcile the ways of Western and Native American culture; and her Uncle Mick, a Native American activist (and obsessive Elvis fan). Monkey Beach is a powerful and engaging novel depicting the bonds of family and Lisa’s journey of self-realization.
From the Giller Prize winning author of Through Black Spruce (2006) comes a literary work telling the blood-soaked brutality of our country’s formative years, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda (2013). Snow Falls is a young Iroquois girl who is kidnapped following the brutal massacre of her tribe. Her captor, Bird, is an elder of the Huron Nation’s great warriors who sees in Snow Falls the ghost of his lost daughter. While Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, both tribes now face a new threat: the charismatic Jesuit missionary Christophe and his fellow European settlers. The narration is shared between Bird, Snow Falls and Christophe, whose stories weave together to depict the battles from which Canada emerged. The Orenda is the winner of CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads competition and has been dubbed by the National Post as “timeless” and “a classic.”
Richard Wagamese is the celebrated author of Canada Reads Finalist Indian Horse (2012). His newest novel, Medicine Walk (2014), is a redemptive story about an estranged father and son. Sixteen year old Franklin Starlight is called to visit his dying father, Eldon, who asks his son to take him on a 40 mile trek into the mountains so he may be buried in the traditional Ojibway manner. The ensuing journey takes the pair through the rugged and beautiful backcountry of B.C. where Eldon’s past is revealed to his son. Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving conclusion. Recommended for readers of Joseph Boyden, Cormac McCarthy and Russell Banks.