Five nonfiction books about Canada

It’s July! When I think of July, I think of two things, Canada Day (because I’m Canadian) and Disability Pride Month.

For this month, I’ll be sharing a book lists both about Canada and about Disability Justice.


July 1st is Canada Day. It celebrates the passing of the British North America Act, which unified the United Canadas, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick as a single dominion within the British Empire. Canada didn’t become fully independent from the British Empire until 1982!

In late June of 2021, unmarked graves of Indigenous children were found at a residential school in BC. This sparked outrage across the country and led to many Canada Day celebrations to be canceled or changed into gatherings of remembrance/protests.

These unmarked graves were a reminder of how much still needs to be done for reconciliation and how recent this history really is. The last residential school was shut down in 1996 (Gordon Reserve Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan). That’s within my lifetime!

In recent years, it’s become more common to use July 1st as a time to protest or organize peaceful rallies.

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Learning about Canada

No matter how you choose to spend July 1st, I think Canada Day is a great day to learn more about Canada.

It’s important to understand how this country was formed, what influenced the creation of all our systems, and most of all, what we’ve done wrong as a country, to ensure that we have changed and continue to change for the better.

Our history informs our present. The past has lead to the present, and continues to influence it.

There are many laws formed long ago that still play a role in our governance. For instance, the Indian Act (from 1876!) is still active and plays a vital role in the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous nations. I should note, it has been amended over the years, but that doesn’t mean all the issues have been fixed.

Like most things in life, context is key. History is just the context for where we are at now, which is why it’s important to better understand how we got to this point.

The nonfiction books about Canada below showcase a range of information about Canada, starting with a personal memoir of a settler, along with a handful of nonfiction from Indigenous authors and perspectives.

Indigenous voices have often been ignored and silenced throughout Canadian history, so it’s even more vital to listen to their voices now.

Five nonfiction books about Canada

Here’s a list of five nonfiction books about Canada.

  1. Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie (1852)
  2. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (2012)
  3. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga (2017)
  4. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph (2018)
  5. Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada by Harold R. Johnson (2019)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Roughing It in the Bush (1852)

by Susanna Moodie

  • Year Published: 1852
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, memoir, challenging, emotional, informative, slow-paced
  • A canonical work of Canadian literature, with historic and cultural value, as well as literary merit

Roughing It in the Bush, first published in 1852, helped to destroy British illusions about life in Upper Canada. Susanna Moodie described a life of backbreaking labour, poverty, and hardship on a pioneer farm in the colonial wilderness. Her sharp observations, satirical character sketches, and moments of despair and terror were a startling contrast to the widely circulated optimistic accounts of life in British North America, written to entice readers across the Atlantic.

The spontaneity, wit, and candour of Moodie’s account of life on a backwoods farm give Roughing It in the Bush enduring appeal.

Links:

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012)

by Thomas King

  • Year Published: 2012
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Won the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize and was a finalist for the 2013 Trillium Book Award and the 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature
  • Adapted into a documentary titled Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Links:

Seven Fallen Feathers**: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City (2017)

by Tanya Talaga

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, politics, challenging, informative, sad, medium-paced
  • Won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing in 2017, the RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction and PMC Indigenous Literature Awards in 2018

In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.

More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.

Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.

Links:

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality (2018)

by Bob Joseph

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, politics, race, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Winner of the 2019 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award

Based on a viral article (on CBC), 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.

Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Links:

Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada (2019)

by Harold R. Johnson

  • Year Published: 2019
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, memoir, politics, emotional, informative, reflective, slow-paced

An urgent, informed, intimate condemnation of the Canadian state and its failure to deliver justice to Indigenous people by national bestselling author and former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson.

In early 2018, the failures of Canada’s justice system were sharply and painfully revealed in the verdicts issued in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The outrage and confusion that followed those verdicts inspired former Crown prosecutor and bestselling author Harold R. Johnson to make the case against Canada for its failure to fulfill its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.

In this direct, concise, and essential volume, Harold R. Johnson examines the justice system’s failures to deliver “peace and good order” to Indigenous people. He explores the part that he understands himself to have played in that mismanagement, drawing on insights he has gained from the experience; insights into the roots and immediate effects of how the justice system has failed Indigenous people, in all the communities in which they live; and insights into the struggle for peace and good order for Indigenous people now.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part two: Polynesia

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


The Pacific Islands is a huge umbrella term for all the island nations that exist within the Pacific Ocean. Technically, this also includes the larger nations with islands in the pacific like New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan.

For the sake of this post, I’m focusing more on the smaller island nations. These nations (and modern day colonies) are typically separated into three groups; Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (you can see the areas outlined below).

Map of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia

Despite these groupings, the individual nations, and even the individual islands within nations, are very distinct. Most have their own culture, identity and often times their own language/dialect too.

These areas are rich in culture and most have a strong history of oral storytelling. However, there seems to be a limited amount of published work from these areas. Usually, the works are published independently or locally, rather than getting access to the international markets.

However, there are some books that have been published internationally and that are available in English for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For this post, I will be focusing more on authors from Polynesia. If you’re interested, you can check out the post here about authors from Melanesia and Micronesia.

As you can see from the map, Polynesia is a huge area with many different nations, from Hawai’i to New Zealand. Each island and area is distinct, with their own rich cultural and historical understanding of the world.

In this list of book recommendations, I’ve tried to include some diversity, both regional and historical. But five books can only show so many perspectives. Consider this a jumping off point to learn about the region.

While you may never get a chance to visit all the islands across the Pacific Ocean, you can try reading across the region. Here are a few books recommendations to get you started.

Photo by Braden Jarvis on Unsplash

Five books from Polynesia (Pacific Islands)

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Polynesia (Pacific Islands).

  1. Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)
  2. Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)
  3. Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)
  4. Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)
  5. Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)

by Queen Lili’uokalani
Note: the local spelling of Hawai’i has an okina (an apostrophe is used here) between the two i’s to reflect the proper pronounciation, but when searching for details on this book you may need to use the anglicized spelling (Hawaii).

  • Year Published: 1898
  • Author’s Country:
    Hawai’i
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, autobiography, history, emotional, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • The Queen’s account of her time as the reigning monarch, how pro-American forces overthrew her government, and the aftermath of the American intervention.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen is an account of those difficult years at the end of the nineteenth century, when native Hawaiian historian David Malo’s 1837 prophecy concerning “the small ones” being “gobbled up” came true for the Hawaiian Islands.

When this book was first published in 1898, it was an international plea for justice. Just as Admiral Thomas had restored Hawaiian sovereignty in 1843 following an illegal action by Lord Paulet, Queen Lili’uokalani prayed that the American nation would similarly reestablish the Hawaiian throne. Queen Lili’uokalani died on November 11, 1917, her poignant plea for justice unanswered.

Links:

Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)

by Chantal T. Spitz, translated from the French by Jean Anderson

  • Year Published: 1991
  • Author’s Country:
    Tahiti
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First novel by an indigenous French Polynesian writer

Finally in English, Island of Shattered Dreams is the first ever novel by an indigenous Tahitian writer. In a lyrical and immensely moving style, this book combines a family saga and a doomed love story, set against the background of French Polynesia in the period leading up to the first nuclear tests. The text is highly critical of the French government, and as a result its publication in Tahiti was polarising.

Links:

Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)

by Sia Figiel

  • Year Published: 1997
  • Author’s Country:
    Samoa
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, poetry, informative, slow-paced
  • First novel published by a Samoan woman in the USA
  • Won the 1997 Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

A bestseller in New Zealand and winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Prize, Sia Figiel’s debut marks the first time a novel by a Samoan woman has been published in the United States.

Figiel uses the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi to talk back to Western anthropological studies on Samoan women and culture. Told in a series of linked episodes, this powerful and highly original narrative follows thirteen-year-old Alofa Filiga as she navigates the mores and restrictions of her village and comes to terms with her own search for identity.

Links:

Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)

by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

  • Year Published: 2004
  • Author’s Country:
    Tahiti
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced

In Tahiti, it’s a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all — or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.

Links:

Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Across the Oceanic region, editors are both from New Zealand
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, short stories, challenging, reflective, medium-paced

A stunning collection of Oceanic stories for the 21st century.

Stones move, whale bones rise out of the ground like cities, a man figures out how to raise seven daughters alone. Sometimes gods speak or we find ourselves in a not-too-distant future. Here are the glorious, painful, sharp and funny 21st century stories of Maori and Pasifika writers from all over the world. Vibrant, provocative and aesthetically exciting, these stories expand our sense of what is possible in Indigenous Oceanic writing.

Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti present the very best new and uncollected stories and novel excerpts, creating a talanoa, a conversation, where the stories do the talking. And because our commonalities are more stimulating than our differences, the anthology also includes guest work from an Aboriginal Australian writer, and several visual artists whose work speaks to similar kaupapa.

Join us as we deconstruct old theoretical maps and allow these fresh Black Marks on the White Page to expand our perception of the Pacific world.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part one: Melanesia and Micronesia

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


The Pacific Islands is a huge umbrella term for all the island nations that exist within the Pacific Ocean. Technically, this also includes the larger nations with islands in the pacific like New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan.

For the sake of this post, I’m focusing more on the smaller island nations. These nations (and modern day colonies) are typically separated into three groups; Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (you can see the areas outlined below).

Map of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia

Despite these groupings, the individual nations, and even the individual islands within nations, are very distinct. Most have their own culture, identity and often times their own language/dialect too.

These areas are rich in culture and most have a strong history of oral storytelling. However, there seems to be a limited amount of published work from these areas. Usually, the works are published independently or locally, rather than getting access to the international markets.

However, there are some books that have been published internationally and that are available in English for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For this post, I will be focusing more on authors from Melanesia and Micronesia. Come back next week for another set of book recommendations with authors from Polynesia!

Micronesia has a special place in my heart because I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad in Fiji. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, and opened my eyes to a whole new part of the world.

Being from the East coast of Canada, I hadn’t met many Pacific Islanders. But being able to live in Fiji, on a university campus that serves 12 member countries, I felt that I got learn about the region and not just Fiji. I’m so thankful for that experience.

While you may never get a chance to visit all the islands across the Pacific Ocean, you can try reading across the region. Here are a few books recommendations to get you started.

Photo by Alex Bunday on Unsplash

Five books from Melanesia and Micronesia (Pacific Islands)

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Melanesia and Micronesia (Pacific Islands).

  1. Tales of the Tikongs – Tonga* & Fiji (1988)
  2. Kava in the Blood – Fiji (1999)
  3. My Urohs – Pohnpei (2008)
  4. Black Ice Matter – Fiji (2016)
  5. Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter – Marshall Islands (2017)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them simply in order of when they were published.

*Note, Tonga is actually apart of Polynesia, but I thought it would be best to keep all the books from Fiji together in one list.

Tales of the Tikongs – Tonga & Fiji (1988)

by Epeli Hau’ofa

  • Year Published: 1988
  • Author’s Country:
    Tongan heritage and Fijian citizenship
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, short stories, adventurous, funny, slow-paced

Tiko, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, faces a tidal wave of D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T, which threatens to demolish ancestral ways and the human spirit. From Sione, who prefers to play cards with his secretary during work hours, to Ole Pasifikiwei, who masters the twists and turns of international funding games, all of the characters in these pages are seasoned surfers, capable of riding the biggest wave to shore. These are not stories of fatal impact so much as upbeat tales of indigenous responses to cultural and economic imperialism. Epeli Hauofa uses devices derived from oral storytelling to create a South Pacific voice that is lucid, hilarious, and compassionate in a work that has long been regarded as a milestone in Pacific literature.

Links:

Kava in the Blood – Fiji (1999)

by Peter Thomson (a fifth generation Fijian)

  • Year Published: 1999
  • Author’s Country:
    Fiji
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, memoir, travel, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Winner of the EH McCormick Prize
  • About the 1987 coup in Fiji

“The literary device of juxtaposing the story of the Fiji coup against autobiographical reminiscences of a Fiji background works very well. This is an excellent story, beautifully written and skilfully mixing the personal with the political .. The EH McCormick Award for the Best First Book of Non Fiction, sponsored by the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN Inc) and Creative New Zealand, goes to Kava in the Blood by Peter Thomson.”
– Judges Report, Montana New Zealand Book Awards, 2000.

Entwined through the author’s reportage of the 1987 coups is an evocative picture of life in the islands. Thus, Kava in the Blood is also an intriguing story of hurricanes, haunted houses and copious kava consumption, set within the dramatic landscapes and vibrant cultures of the Fiji Islands.

Links:

My Urohs – Pohnpei (2008)

by Emelihter Kihleng

  • Year Published: 2008
  • Author’s Country:
    Pohnpei (Part of Micronesia)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    poetry, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • First published collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet

The first collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet, Emelihter Kihleng’s My Urohs is described by distinguished Samoan writer and artist Albert Wendt as “refreshingly innovative and compelling, a new way of seeing ourselves in our islands, an important and influential addition to our [Pacific] literature.”

Samoan writer Sia Figiel described her poetry as “disturbing and haunting, illuminating and tender”, “woven from the violent threads of postcolonialism, laced with patches of Island humour”, “a powerful addition to Pacific Literature”.

Links:

Black Ice Matter – Fiji (2016)

by Gina Cole

  • Year Published: 2016
  • Author’s Country:
    Fiji
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, short stories, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Won the 2017 award for best first book of fiction from Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

This collection of short stories explores connections between extremes of heat and cold. Sometimes this is spatial or geographical; sometimes it is metaphorical. Sometimes it involves juxtapositions of time; sometimes heat appears where only ice is expected.

In the stories, a woman is caught between traditional Fijian ways and the brutality of the military dictatorship; a glaciology researcher falls into a crevasse and confronts the unexpected; two women lose children in freak shooting accidents; a young child in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreams of a different life; secondary school girls struggle with secrets about an addicted janitor; and two women take a deathly trip through a glacier melt stream. These are some of the unpredictable stories in this collection that follow themes of ice and glaciers in the heat of the South Pacific and take us into unusual lives and explorations.

Links:

Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter – Marshall Islands (2017)

by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Marshall Islands heritage and raised in Hawaii
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, poetry, challenging, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First poetry book published by a Marshallese author

As the seas rise, the fight intensifies to save the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands from being devoured by the waters around them. At the same time, activists are raising their poetic voices against decades of colonialism, environmental destruction, and social injustice.

Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages, where she has performed in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to more than a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit.

The poet connects us to Marshallese daily life and tradition, likening her poetry to a basket and its essential materials. Her cultural roots and her family provides the thick fiber, the structure of the basket. Her diasporic upbringing is the material which wraps around the fiber, an essential layer to the structure of her experiences. And her passion for justice and change, the passion which brings her to the front lines of activist movements—is the stitching that binds these two experiences together.

Iep Jaltok will make history as the first published book of poetry written by a Marshallese author, and it ushers in an important new voice for justice.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

We might expect fairness

Excerpt from Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson

This is an excerpt from the book Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson.

In Canada there is a widely held expectation that the law will be fair. Indigenous Peoples expect that when a white man kills an Indigenous person, he will be treated with the same sternness that has been applied to us. Law is fundamental to the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers. But while we might expect fairness, our experience has been otherwise.

Everything that has been done to Indigenous Peoples has been legal. Law was used to deny us access to the natural resources within the territories we share with settlers. Law has been used to confine us to tiny plots that are economically unsustainable. Under the pass system, introduced by law in 1885 and not repealed until 1951, Indians needed the permission of the Indian agent to leave our reserves to visit neighbouring relatives or to go hunting or fishing or gathering, and the Indian agent relied upon the police to enforce his decisions to deny permission. Law gave huge tracts of our territory to foreign corporations to exploit the natural resources, depriving us of sacred sites, food sources, medicines and income. We were arrested if we entered into territory where our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had lived, hunted, fished, trapped and gathered. When the Prince Albert National Park was created in 1927, it was the RCMP who came to tell my mother’s family that the territory where they lived and found sustenance had become a park and they had to leave their houses and their gardens and the trails and the land and animals they were familiar with and move somewhere else.

Canadian law determined who we were. Under the terms of the Indian Act, if a First Nations woman married a non–First Nations man, she lost her status as an Indian. She and her children lost their right to hunt, fish and gather. If they were caught hunting or fishing, they frequently were arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to jail—for the crime of feeding their families. I can remember when I was young and my mother’s brother Ben was arrested and sent to jail for hunting. Not only did his immediate family suffer; the entire community suffered because Ben was an exceptional hunter who provided meat to a lot more people than just his wife and children. I was born in a small northern community of trappers and fishers to a Cree mother and a Forest-Finn Swede father. It was not until 2011 that the Indian Act was changed and Canadian law recognized me as an Indian.

Indigenous Peoples were not only the subject of laws that encircled and diminished us. We were also denied the ability to resist those laws. Any other Canadian citizen who was the subject of an unjust law could challenge that law in court. We could not. From 1927 until 1951, it was against the law for Indigenous people or communities to hire a lawyer, without the government’s consent, to bring claims against the government to restore lands or rights taken away by that government.

Law has been used to compel us to surrender our children to residential schools, where horrors were inflicted upon them in an attempt to eradicate our culture and language. The police were instrumental in rounding up our children. (My mother attended a residential school for one year, in about 1930, and several of my cousins were sent in the 1970s and ’80s. My siblings and I were spared that horror.)

Law was used again in the 1960s, when social workers, accompanied by police officers, removed Indigenous children from their homes on the pretext that they were not being cared for properly. After my father died, my mother was told that if she continued to take me and my siblings out of school to go to the trapline with her, the government would take her children away. In 1967, if you told an Indigenous woman with one year of schooling and six children at home that you were going to take her children away from her, she would do anything she was told. My mother surrendered her independence. She moved us to a larger community, where she was forced to go on welfare.

And law has been used to fill the jails with Indigenous men, women and children at rates that continue to rise. Not only are Indigenous people more likely to be sentenced to prison, but they are also subject to some of the restrictive types of punishment, including segregation, high-security classifications and involuntary transfers.

To say that law and justice have failed Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a vast understatement. Law and justice appear to be the tools employed to continue the forced subjugation of an entire population.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Peace and Good Order – Summary

Here is the book summary:

An urgent, informed, intimate condemnation of the Canadian state and its failure to deliver justice to Indigenous people by national bestselling author and former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson.

In early 2018, the failures of Canada’s justice system were sharply and painfully revealed in the verdicts issued in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The outrage and confusion that followed those verdicts inspired former Crown prosecutor and bestselling author Harold R. Johnson to make the case against Canada for its failure to fulfill its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.

In this direct, concise, and essential volume, Harold R. Johnson examines the justice system’s failures to deliver “peace and good order” to Indigenous people. He explores the part that he understands himself to have played in that mismanagement, drawing on insights he has gained from the experience; insights into the roots and immediate effects of how the justice system has failed Indigenous people, in all the communities in which they live; and insights into the struggle for peace and good order for Indigenous people now.

Copyright © 2019 by Harold R. Johnson.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

A braid of stories

This is a quote from the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Quote by Robin Wall Kimmerer, “So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Summary

Here is the book summary:

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass , Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

Copyright © 2013 by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth

Excerpt from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. Golden green and glossy above, the stems are banded with purple and white where they meet the ground. Hold the bundle up to your nose. Find the fragrance of honeyed vanilla over the scent of river water and black earth and you understand its scientific name: Hierochloe odorata, meaning the fragrant, holy grass. In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.

A sheaf of sweetgrass, bound at the end and divided into thirds, is ready to braid. In braiding sweetgrass—so that it is smooth, glossy, and worthy of the gift—a certain amount of tension is needed. As any little girl with tight braids will tell you, you have to pull a bit. Of course you can do it yourself—by tying one end to a chair, or by holding it in your teeth and braiding backward away from yourself—but the sweetest way is to have someone else hold the end so that you pull gently against each other, all the while leaning in, head to head, chatting and laughing, watching each other’s hands, one holding steady while the other shifts the slim bundles over one another, each in its turn. Linked by sweetgrass there is reciprocity between you, linked by sweetgrass, the holder as vital as the braider. The braid becomes finer and thinner as you near the end, until you’re braiding individual blades of grass, and then you tie it off.

Will you hold the end of the bundle while I braid? Hands joined by grass, can we bend our heads together and make a braid to honor the earth? And then I’ll hold it for you, while you braid, too.

I could hand you a braid of sweetgrass, as thick and shining as the plait that hung down my grandmother’s back. But it is not mine to give, nor yours to take. Wiingaashk belongs to herself. So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven from three strands: indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. It is an intertwining of science, spirit, and story—old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Braiding Sweetgrass – Summary

Here is the book summary:

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass , Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

Copyright © 2013 by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

History is the stories we tell

This is a quote from the book The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.

Quote by Thomas King, “Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.
Which, of course, it isn’t.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

The Inconvenient Indian – Summary

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas King.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Forget Columbus

Excerpt from The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Photo by Abigail Loney on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.

Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.

Which, of course, it itsn’t.

History may well be a series of stories we tell about the past, but the stories are not just any stories. They’re not chosen by chance. By and large, the stories are about famous men and celebrated events. We throw in a couple of exceptional women every now and then, not our of any need to recognize female eminence, but out of embarrassment.

And we’re not easily embarrassed.

When we imagine history, we imagine a grand structure, a national chronicle, a closely organized and guarded record of agreed-upon events and interpretations, a bundle of “authenticities” and “truths” welded into a flexible, yet conservative narrative that explains how we got from there to here. It is a relationship we have with ourselves, a love affair we celebrate with flags and anthems, festivals and guns.

Well, the “guns” remark was probably uncalled for and might suggest and animus towards history. But that’s not true. I simply have difficulty with how we choose which stories become the pulse of history and which do not.

In 1492, Columbu sailed the ocean blue.

On second thought, let’s not start with Columbus. Helen was right. Let’s forget Columbus. You know, now that I say it out loud, I even like the sound of it. Forget Columbus.

Give it a try. Forget Columbus.

Instead, let’s start our history, our account, in Almo, Idaho. I’ve never been there and I suspect that most of you haven’t either. I can tell you with certainty that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the town. Nor did Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain or David Thompson or Hernando Cortes. Sacajawea, with Lewis and Clarke in two, might have passed through the general area, but since Almo didn’t exist in the early 1800s, they couldn’t have stopped there. Even if they had wanted to.

Almo is a small, unincorporated town of about 200 tucked into south central Cassia County in southern Idaho. So far as I know, it isn’t famous for much of anything except and Indian massacre.

A plaque in the town reads, “Dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in a most horrible Indian massacre, 1861. Three hundred immigrants west bound. Only five escaped. Erected by the S&D of Idaho Pioneers, 1938.”

Two hundred and ninety-five killed. Now that’s a massacre. Indians generally didn’t kill that many Whites at one time. Sure, during the 1813 For Mims massacre, in what is now Alabama. Creek Red Sticks killed about four hundred Whites, but that’s the largest massacre committed by Indians that I can find. The Lachine massacre on Montreal Island in Quebec in 1689killed around ninety, while the death toll in nearby La Chesnaye was forty-two. In 1832, eighteen were killed at Indian Creek near Ottawa, Illinois, while the 1854 Ward massacre along the Oregon Trail in western Idaho had a death toll of nineteen. The 1860 Utter massacre at Henderson Flat near the Snake River in Idaho killed twenty-five. The 1879 Meeker massacre in western Colorado killed eleven. The fort parker massacre in Texas in 1836 killed six.

It’s true in 1835, just south of present-day Bushnell, Florida, Indians killed 108, but since all of the casualties were armed soldiers who were looking for trouble and not unarmed civilians who were trying to avoid it, I don’t count this one as a massacre.

By the way, these aren’t my figures. I borrowed them from William M. Osborn who wrote a book, The Wild Frontier, in which he attempted to document every massacre that occurred in North America. The figures are not dead accurate, of course. They’re approximations based on the historical information that was available to Osborn. Still, it’s nice that someone spent the time and effort to compile such a list, so I can use it without doing any of the work.

I should point out that Indians didn’t do all the massacring. To give credit where credit is due, Whites massacred Indians at a pretty good clip. In 1598, in what is now New Mexico, Juan de Onate and his troops killed over eight hundred Acoma and cut off the left foot of every man over the age of twenty-five. In 163y, John Underhill led a force that killed six to seven hundred Pequot near the Mystic River in Connecticut. In 1871, around one hundred and forty Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches were killed in the Camp Gran t massacre in Arizona Territory. Two hundred and fifty Northwestern Shoshoni were killed in the 1863 Bear River massacre in what is now Idaho, while General Henry Atkinson killed some one hundred and fifty Sauk and Fox at the mouth of the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin in 1832. And, of course, there’s always the famous 1864 Sand Creek massacre in Colorado, where two hundred peaceful Cheyenne were slaughtered by vigilantes looking to shoot anything that moved, and the even more infamous Wounded Knee in 1890, where over two hundred Lakota lost their lives.

Of course, body counts alone don’t even begin to tell the stories of these slaughters, but what the figures do suggest—if you take them at face value—is that Whites were considerably more successful at massacres than Indians. So, the 1861 Almo massacre by the Shoshone-Bannock should stand out in the annals of Indian bad behaviour. After the massacre at Fort Mims, Almo would rank at the second-largest massacre of Whites by Indians.

Three hundred people in the wagon train. Two hundred and ninety-five killed. Only five survivors. It’s a great story. The only problem is, it never happened.

You might assume that something must have happened in Almo, maybe a smaller massacre or a fatal altercation of some sort that was exaggerated and blown out of proportion.

Nope.

The story is simply a tale someone made up and told to someone else, and before you knew it, the Almo massacre was historical fact.

The best summary and critical analysis of the Almo massacre is Brigham Madsen’s 1993 article in Idaho Yesterdays, “The Almo Massacre Revisited.” Madsen was a historian at the University of Utah when I was a graduate student there. He was a smart, witty, gracious man, who once told me that historians are not often appreciated because their research tends to destroy myths. I knew the man, and I liked him. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I have a bias towards his work.

Bias or no, Madsen’s research into Almo settles the question. No massacre. As Madsen points out in his article, attacks by Indians did not go unmarked. The newspapers of the time—the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, the Sacramento Daily Union, the San Francisco Examiner—paid close attention to Indian activity along the Oregon and California trails, yet none of the papers had any mention of Almo. Such an event would certainly have come to the attention of Indian Service agents and the military, but again Madsen was unable to find any reference to the massacre either in the National Archives or in the records that the Bureau of Indian Affairs kept for the various states and territories. Nor does the Almo massacre appear in any of the early histories of Idaho.

You would expect that the rescue party from Brigham who supposedly came upon the carnage and buried the bodies of the slain settlers—or the alleged five survivors who escaped death—would have brought the massacre to the attention of the authorities. Okay, one of the survivors was a baby, but that still left a chorus of voices to sound the alarm.

And yet there is nothing.

In fact there is no mention of the matter at all until some sixty-six years after the fact, when the story first appeared in Charles S. Walgamott’s 1926 book Reminiscences of Early Days: A Series of Historical Sketches and Happenings in the Early Days of Snake River Valley. Walgamott claims to have gotten the story from a W.M.E. Johnston, and it’s a gruesome story to be sure, a Jacobean melodrama complete with “bloodthirsty Indians” and a brave White woman who crawls to safety carrying her nursing child by its clothing in her teeth.

A right proper Western.

That the plaque in Almo was erected in 1938 as part of “Exploration Day,” an event that was designed to celebrate Idaho history and promote tourism to the area, is probably just a coincidence. In any case, the fact that the story is a fraud didn’t bother the Sons and Daughters of Idaho Pioneers who paid for the plaque, and it doesn’t bother them now. Even after the massacre was discredited, the town was reluctant to remove the marker, defending the lie as part of the culture and history of the area. Which, of course, it now is.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Inconvenient Indian – Summary

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas King.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

We are unmovable

This is a quote from the book Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.

Quote by Terese Marie Mailhot, “She transcended resilience and actualized what Indians weren’t taught to know: We are unmovable. Time seems measured by grief and anticipatory grief. I don’t think she even measured time.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Heart Berries – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is

Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Terese Marie Mailhot.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

She transcended resilience

Excerpt from Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Photo by Kevin Erdvig on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.

You may want to look up content warnings before reading this book, if there’s certain content you wish to avoid reading about.

Zohar asked my mother if she could sleep next to my bed, on the floor. She listened to me all night. Storytelling. What potential there was in being awful. My mindlessness became a gift. I didn’t feel compelled to tell any moral tales or ancient ones. I learned how story was always meant to be for Indian women: immediate and necessary and fearless, like all good lies.

My story was maltreated. I was a teenager when I got married. I wanted a safe home. Despair isn’t a conduit for love. We ruined each other, and then my mother died. I had to leave the reservation. I had to get my GED. I left my home because welfare made me choose between necessities. I used a check and some cash I saved for a ticket away—and knew I would arrive with a deficit. That’s when I started to illustrate my story and when it became a means of survival. The ugly truth is that I lost my son Isadore in court. The Hague Convention. The ugly of that truth is that I gave birth to my second son as I was losing my first. My court date and my delivery aligned. In the hospital, they told me that my first son would go with his father.

“What about this boy,” I said, with Isaiah in my arms.

“They don’t seem interested yet,” my lawyer said.

I brought Isaiah home from the hospital, and then packed Isadore’s bag. My ex-husband Vito took him, along with police escorts. Before they left, I asked Vito if he wanted to hold his new baby. I don’t know why I offered, but he didn’t kiss our baby or tell him goodbye. He didn’t say he was sorry, or that it was unfortunate. Who wants one boy and not another?

It’s too ugly—to speak this story. It sounds like a beggar. How could misfortune follow me so well, and why did I choose it every time?

I learned how to make a honey reduction of the ugly sentences. Still, my voice cracks.

I packed my baby and left my reservation. I came from the mountains to an infinite and flat brown to bury my grief. I left because I was hungry.

In my first writing classes, my professor told me that the human condition was misery. I’m a river widened by misery, and the potency of my language is more than human. It’s an Indian condition to be proud of survival but reluctant to call it resilience. Resilience seems ascribed to a human conditioning in white people.

The Indian condition is my grandmother. She was a nursery teacher. There are stories that she brought children to our kitchen, gave them laxatives, and then put newspaper on the ground. She squatted before them and made faces to illustrate how hard they should push. She dewormed children this way, and she learned that in residential school—where parasites and nuns and priests contaminated generations of our people. Indians froze trying to run away, and many starved. Nuns and priests ran out of places to put bones, so they built us into the walls of new boarding schools.

I can see Grandmother’s face in front of those children. Her hands felt like rose petals, and her eyes were soft and round like buttons. She liked carnations and canned milk. She transcended resilience and actualized what Indians weren’t taught to know: We are unmovable. Time seems measured by grief and anticipatory grief. I don’t think she even measured time.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Heart Berries – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is

Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Terese Marie Mailhot.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.