Happy Birthday Canada! Let’s celebrate by reading books written by and about the people who lived on and cared for this land for thousands of years before our ancestors arrived. The first step on the path to reconciliation is to learn about our true history with Indigenous peoples. Why not take some books along as you bask in the sun, on your patio, or on the beach this summer? Books that educate, challenge, enlighten, entertain, and help us work through the challenges we have inherited.
Here are my recommendations for your summer reading:
A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada,by John Ralston Saul, 2009. Written by a non-Indigenous writer and thinker, this book offers an original and transformative vision of Canada, a new way of understanding our history with Indigenous peoples. Saul convincingly shows us how the Canadian values we cherish: egalitarianism, individual and group rights and obligations, reconciliation, fairness, inclusion, and minority rights,do not come out of an English or French heritage but “the Aboriginal roots of Canadian civilization.” The most important history lesson I ever received. It left me feeling a tremendous awe for the foundation of our country and more hopeful for its future.
Islands of Decolonial Love, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, 2013. At 148 pages, this book is perfect for taking to the beach, as well as for opening hearts and minds to the messy and important work of reconciliation. This evocative collection of short stories and songs demonstrates how the most important tool for decolonizing is storytelling, one of the oldest forms of resistance, survival and thriving.And Simpson’s storytelling is honest, heartbreaking and compassionate. “Right off the bat let’s just admit we’re both from places that have been f***ed up through no fault of our own in a thousand different ways for seven different generations and that takes a toll on how we treat each other. It just does.” Bonus: You can go on the publisher’s website and hear the author reading some of the stories.
Memory Serves, by Lee Maracle, 2015. This remarkable book is a collection of oratories delivered and performed by a renowned Coast Salish teacher and writer of fiction and non-fiction. Any book by Lee Maracle is worth reading, and this one is my favourite. Her masterpiece. Maracle shows us another way to be, to think, to know. “Memory is powerful,” she writes. “When we forget, we fail to learn.” This book transformed my way of reading as I allowed myself to be woven into the threads of her ancient tales. Coming from an oral storytelling tradition, she writes in a circular, poetic fashion, the way storytelling happened in the Longhouses. I suggest you read some of the passages out loud and imagine yourself in the Longhouse, sitting by the fire, listening to a great storyteller.
Indian Horse, a novel by Richard Wagamese, 2012. Wagamese, an Ojibwe, was one of Canada’s most beloved writers and teachers. Wagamese gives us a compelling description of life in Indian residential school and one boy’s salvation through hockey. The harsh truths are told with humour, and he leaves the reader with an uplifting ending. I actually learned to love hockey again. I recommend any book by Wagamese. There are many of his powerful books at the Bowen Library, including Medicine Walk.
First Nations 101: Tons of Stuff You Need to Know about First Nations People, by Lynda Gray, 2016. Enlightening, and necessary information by a member of the Tsimshian Nation who lives in Vancouver, told with the hallmark humour of Indigenous storytelling. Everything you need to know about First Nations ceremony, literature, music, the Indian Act, treaties, protocol, taxes, and justice. I enjoyed this book so much I have invited Lynda to come to Bowen and give a reading and Q&A as part of a Knowing Our Place event in the fall.
The Bowen Island Library has ordered a whole stack of wonderful books written by Indigenous authors. Go visit your favourite library and check them out.