Tag Archives: National Indigenous History Month

June Reading Challenge

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June Reading Challenge: Read a biography or book of essays by an Indigenous author.

It is hard to believe that it is almost halfway through the challenge but as the year continues, so must our reading list! This month’s challenge is focused on biographies and essay collections written by Indigenous authors. June is National Indigenous History Month and during this month, we recognize the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples across Canada. As such, we also believe that reading about their experiences from a first hand perspective is paramount, which is why we are focusing on biographies and essays. For more resources, please check the bottom of this blog post.

As usual, all of the titles mentioned in this post are available at Vaughan Public Libraries where you can request these titles for yourself. If you would like some more recommendations, please check out this staff list of recommendations. If biographies are not your thing, we also recommend checking out this list of teen novels, graphic novels and non-fiction.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: this collection of essays explores the natural world using scientific knowledge and Indigenous teachings, from the author’s point of view as a professor of environmental biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. This book is frequently seen on must-read lists and for good reason! Elizabeth Gilbert proclaims that the book takes readers on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise”.

Book cover of Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: If you are looking for something on the fiction side, this short story collection is perfect for you. This debut collection of short stories focuses on Indigenous Latina women set primarly in Denver, Colarado. It is character-driven and written in a unique way that is sure to appeal to anyone. The novel has been nominated for several awards, like the National Book Award and it has even won The American Book Award. For more information about the short story collection and about the author, I highly recommend this interview the author participated in with Longreads in which the author discusses her upbringing and her desire to show that Denver has a long and cultured history that is often dismissed.

Unreconciled by Jesse Wente: Jesse Wente, an Ojibwe member of Serpent River First Nation, is an extremely accomplished arts journalist. He was on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning for 20 years and is also chairperson of the Canada Council for the Arts. Unreconciled is part manifesto, part memoir about how reconciliation is a flawed concept, Indigenous identity, and the importance of storytelling to Indigenous peoples. Wente expresses his feelings of exploring his Indigenous identity when he was younger – having grown up with certain privileges, he once felt that made him not Indigenous ‘enough’. He then skillfully links the concept of Indigenous identity with colonial practices and government policies like the Indian Act, and how the government sought to regulate identity. But if this description doesn’t do the book justice, maybe Thomas King‘s endorsement will – calling it simply “One hell of a good book.”

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National Indigenous History Month

national indigenous history monthJune is National Indigenous History Month, a celebration of the diverse histories, heritages, and present lives of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. “The Government of Canada recognizes the importance and sacred nature of cultural ceremonies and celebrations that usually occur during this time”, as per the official government websiteBut just as we at the library were preparing resources to celebrate this month, our country was rocked with a gruesome discovery: the bones of 215 children buried beneath the Kamloops Indian Residential School. horrifically apt reminder from the universe of our dark history, lest it be forgotten amidst the celebrations.  

I just finished reading Days Without End by Irish writer Sebastian Barry, a Civil War-era novel that is not shy of relating the atrocities committed by colonists in pursuit of an expanding frontier. The 1860s seem a different world but, in the grand scheme of human civilization, it was basically yesterday. We might like to think we’ve progressed beyond the horrors of the past, but the damage done to Indigenous communities lingers today. The last residential school was closed in 1996, to put that into context. And though we’ve finally scrapped the schools, Indigenous children make up 30% of the population of children in foster care. Our country has an actual human rights crisis on its hands regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW)The road to reconciliation is long, and we’re not even close to the end (as of writing this, neither the British Crown nor the Catholic Church has officially recognized their devastating roles in the residential school system) 

As part of National Indigenous History Month, the Canadian government is promoting #IndigenousReads, in hopes “to encourage reconciliation by increasing Canadians’ understanding of Indigenous issues, cultures, and history”. Publishers Weekly recently put out an interview with a handful of Canadian and American booksellers and publishers regarding Indigenous literature, highlighting the particular benefit of storytelling in “the reimagining of [Indigenous] lives through the storytelling of contemporary Indigenous authors.” The interview is a hopeful one; with the public interest in social issues growing, publishers are more likely than ever to promote (and seek out) Indigenous voices. And even better news: these titles sell well, proving public interest in the subject and thus encouraging even more Indigenous publications.  

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