25th Trillium Award

Open Book Recommends: Books for National Aboriginal History Month

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By Megan Philipp

June is National Aboriginal History Month — a month to appreciate and honour the contributions, heritage and culture of Aboriginal peoples in Canada — and in celebration, we have compiled a list of books from some of Ontario?s best publishers of Aboriginal literature. On this list you'll find a variety of reads that have the ability to connect Canadians to the past and inform us of the present challenges and concerns of Aboriginals. Our recommended reads include fantasy novels inspired by history, poetry that brings to life the Canadian landscape and the Native experience within it, and non-fiction that features essays and articles that examine the social and political lives of Aboriginals. Let us inspire you to familiarize yourself with some of the great writing coming from Canada?s Aboriginal authors and the Ontario publishers that help to bring these fantastic reads to us.

Thoughts And Other Human Tendencies (BookLand Press), by Reneltta Arluk

Combining the contemporary and the traditional, in her poetry collection Thoughts And Other Human Tendencies (BookLand Press), Reneltta Arluk explores what it means to be a tribal member, an Aboriginal and a woman in the 21st century. She draws from both her cultural heritage — the tradition of praising the land and spirit and Aboriginal culture — and the everyday. These are poems about love, betrayal, courage, defeat, acceptance, loss, grief, passion, delight, courting, coming of age, birth and death, youth and old age, hunting and surviving. This is a collection that is not to be missed.

Steepy Mountain (Kegedonce Press), by Joanne Arnott

Steepy Mountain (Kegedonce Press) is a collection of love poems written by award-winning Métis writer and Manitoba resident Joanne Arnott. An impressive collection by a talented poet, author and arts activist, Steepy Mountain is a book of poetry that should be read.

The Redemption of Oscar Wolf (Dundurn Press), by James Bartleman

Set to be published on June 15, 2023, The Redemption of Oscar Wolf (Dundurn Press) is a book by James Bartleman. It tells the story of a 13-year-old boy, Oscar Wolf, who is from the Chippewas of Rama Indian Reserve. After setting fire to the business section of his village in a rage against white society, which kills both his grandfather and a young maid, he feels guilt and becomes fearful of a divine retribution. This experience leads him on a quest for redemption. The journey takes Oscar to California, where he works as a fruit packer during the Great Depression, to the Second World War as a soldier, to university, and finally to the diplomatic service in the post-war era. It?s during this time that he discovers that it is difficult to get over the guilt and find peace of mind.

Read an On Writing interview with James Bartleman here.

Ceremonies for the Dead (Kegedonce Press), by Giles Benaway

In his debut poetry collection, Ceremonies for the Dead (Kegedonce Press), author Giles Benaway explores the themes of multi-generational trauma, abuse and grief through the eyes of four generations of the dead, who each take a turn at narrating these themes. Taking the reader from the Great Lakes to the Appalachian Mountains, they get to encounter the fur trade, the experiences of West Virginia coal miners and the legacy of mission schools. With black humour and satire, Giles illuminates Aboriginal peoples? will to survive and resist colonization, and how they have managed to survive despite the trials they have faced throughout history.

Jimmy Tames Horses (Kegedonce Press), by Garry Gottfriedson

Written by award-winning poet, rancher and professional breeder of horses Garry Gottfriedson, Jimmy Tames Horses (Kegedonce Press) is a children?s book that tells the story of a little boy from the city who is trying to fit in with his cousins, who have lived on the Kamloops Indian Reserve all their lives. Over the course of a summer, Jimmy overcomes his fears by training a colt, and later he becomes a famous horse tamer. Illustrated by artist Mary Longman, the book features seven stunning full-colour illustrations.

Imagine Mercy (BookLand Press), by David Groulx

The recently published Imagine Mercy (BookLand Press) is a poetry collection that deals with the everyday realities of Aboriginal life in Canada. David Groulx balances between looking at the present and connecting readers to the past. Here, readers get a glimpse of modern-day Aboriginal life and cruel realities, including the concept of mixed-blood heritage, cultural issues, resistance, sovereignty and more. This is an honest account of Aboriginal life by a highly celebrated author.

Read David?s Poets in Profile interview here and his Proust Questionnaire here. Please check out David?s Writer-in-Residence page on Open Book: Toronto.

Rising With A Distant Dawn (BookLand Press), by David Groulx

Part of BookLand Press? Canadian Aboriginal Voices series, Rising With A Distant Dawn is a poetry collection that explores the day-to-day lives of Aboriginal Canadians. Here, author David Groulx focuses on skin colour, language and religion, and brings readers closer to the Aboriginal experience. Taking the reader through the Canadian landscape, across the plains and into the woodlands, these poems focus on love, war, the known, the mysterious, and more, highlighting Aboriginal urban life and the cultural challenges that come with it. David Groulx has created a book of poetry that is important to read for an understanding of Aboriginal urban life.

Way of Thorn & Thunder Trilogy (Kegedonce Press), by Daniel Heath Justice

The Way of Thorn & Thunder Trilogy consists of Kynship, Wyrwood and Dreyd (Kegedonce Press), three fantasy novels written by Daniel Heath Justice. The trilogy follows a group of Indigenous people, the Folk, whose land, the Everland, is invaded by people hungry to take the resources and purge the land of its people. Inspired by historical events, but set in a fictional world, the trilogy focuses on Tarsa?deshae, a she-warrior of the Kyn nation, who is trained in the ways of battle and who gets swept into the fray by the Sevenfold Council, who are standing fast against Dreydmaster Vald?s treaty terms. With the threat of civil war looming, Tarsa?deshae travels to Eromar City, which is the centre of Dreydmaster Vald?s influence, in order to rescue diplomats. The people have to find a middle path if they are going to have a chance of survival.

First Voices: An Aboriginal Women?s Reader (Inanna Publications), edited by Patricia A. Monture and Patricia D. McGuire

Published by feminist book publisher Inanna Publications, First Voices: An Aboriginal Women?s Reader is a collection of articles that examines the many struggles of Aboriginal women in Canada — struggles that they have faced and continue to face to this day. Edited by Patricia A. Monture, a citizen of the Mohawk nation in the Grand River area near Brantford, and Patricia D. McGuire, a citizen of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek, this volume also has numerous female contributors of Aboriginal heritage. Sections of the book include Profiles of Aboriginal Women, Identity, Territory, Activism, Confronting Colonialism, the Canadian Legal System and Indigenous Knowledges, with the inclusion of photographs and poems. With very little writing in existence on Aboriginal women, this book is hugely important.

Diversity and First Nations Issues in Canada, Second Edition (Emond Montgomery Publications), by John Roberts, Darion Boyington and Shahé S. Kazarian

A book that aims to support college and university students in courses related to diversity issues in law enforcement and First Nations issues, the second edition of Diversity and First Nations Issues in Canada (Emond Montgomery Publications) is divided in to two parts. The first part, written by John Roberts and Shahé S. Kazarian, explores the concepts of diversity, multiculturalism and human rights in Canada, and the influence of human rights legislation on peoples? individual collective rights and freedoms. Part two, written by Darion Boyington, lays out the contrasting history of First Nations and Europeans at the point of pre-contact, and explores the treaty process, residential school system and the long-lasting effects on Canada?s Aboriginal people. The second section takes the reader into more contemporary issues related to socio-economic issues, land disputes, and the involvement of Aboriginal peoples with the criminal justice system.

First Nations Peoples, Revised 2nd Edition (Emond Montgomery Publications), by Pamela Williamson and John Roberts

In this revised edition of First Nations Peoples (Emond Montgomery Publications), authors Pamela Williamson and John Roberts ask and answer multiple questions, including: How can one develop a better understanding of Native peoples if one is unfamiliar with the diversity of their cultures and their issues? In a student-friendly manner, they answer questions about accommodating change in the social and political life of Canada. This edition is updated to reflect the 2006 census and a new discussion of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, which came into effect in October 2008, with an overview of the origins of Native peoples, effects of colonization, and central social, economic, and political issues that affect Native peoples in Canada today.

Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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