As many Canadians know, June is National Indigenous History Month – a month when we recognize and commemorate the heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada. In light of recent events, Charmaine and I want to raise awareness about Indigenous culture through age-appropriate books about First Nations history. We have broken them down in age groups for ease of reference and have summarized some of our must-reads.
Kindergarten to Grade 3
Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell (illustrations by Kim LaFave)
Shi-shi-etko is a story about a girl named Shi-shi-etko, who has only four days to spend with her family before she goes to a residential school. Throughout her time, she learns more about her family’s history and savors the beauty and wonder of the world around her.
Kookum’s Red Shoes by Peter Eyvindson (illustrations by Sheldon Dawson)
Kookum’s Red Shoes tells the story of an elderly Kookum (Kookum means ‘grandmother’ in Cree), who remembers her youth and time spent at a residential school. She recounts her losses and the resulting challenges she faced as an adult. Ultimately, she explains that despite all the sadness and pain, goodness always prevails.
We All Count: Book of Ojibway Art by Jason Adair
We All Count: Book of Ojibway Art is a counting board and picture book written in both Ojibway and English. It colorfully depicts Ojibway numbers and our relationship with animals and nature.
More books …
- Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell (illustrations by Kim LaFave)
- Powwow Dancing With Family by Perry Smith
- 47,000 Beads by Angel Adeyoha and Koja Adeyoha (illustrations by Holly McGillis)
- A Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King (illustrations by Kent Monkman)
- A is for Anemone by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd
Grades 4 to 8
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer (illustrations by Gillian Newland)
Based on Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother’s life, I Am Not a Number is a picture book that follows 8-year-old Irene, as she is forced to attend a residential school. Confused, frightened, and far from home, the adults in the school only make it worse for her. Her parents eventually remove her from the school and vow to never send their children back. As a result, Irene’s family needs to hide.
The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King
Thomas King, in The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative, explains the powerful impact stories have in our lives, as they help us understand, interact, and connect with one another. With the use of storytelling and his own experiences as a Native North American, King speaks about Native culture, social injustices, and stories about Natives told by Natives.
A Stranger at Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (artwork by Liz Amini-Holmes)
A sequel to Fatty Legs, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s memoir A Stranger at Home: A True Story tells about her return from a residential school to her family in Tuktoyaktuk of the Northwest Territories. As soon as she arrives home, she is snubbed as an outsider by everyone, even her family and friends. Pokiak-Fenton’s story illustrates how important it is in challenging times to have compassion, strength of character, and, most important of all, a belief in oneself.
This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel (illustrations by Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm; colour by Scott A. Ford, and Donovan Yaciuk)
This Place: 150 Years Retold is a graphic novel anthology that showcases the last 150 years as seen through the eyes of Indigenous creators. It illustrates an emotional journey of how Indigenous peoples survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.
More books …
- Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (artwork by Liz Amini-Holmes)
- A Big Dose of Lucky by Marthe Jocelyn
- If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
- Secret Path by Gord Downie (illustrations by Jeff Lemire)
- They Dance in the Sky by Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A. Williamson (illustrations by Edgar Stewart)
A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System delves into the history of the Canadian Residential school system, which began in the 1870s. The author displays unreleased government documents and traces the roots of the system and how it grew without planning and restraint. This book is a must-read to fully comprehend the corruption and abuses of the residential school system and how it affected, and continues to affect, the lives of generations of Indigenous children.
Bev Sellar’s memoir recounts her experiences as a student in a residential school. She speaks about the effects of the school on her life, and how it led her to substance abuse and suicide attempts. However, she attains her own path of healing as she grew stronger from the atrocities she faced. Through her memoir, she breaks her silence so we can fully comprehend the injustices experienced by Indigenous children, as well remind us of the work we have to do towards reconciliation.
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
Indian Horse is a compassionate story about an Ojibway boy named Saul, who is taken from his family to live at a residential school. In the school, he discovers his passion for hockey. However, as he continues to play into his adulthood, he faces ridicule and cultural alienation for playing a “white person’s game”.
Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Marrow Thieves takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where people who can dream are Indigenous and in which their marrow holds the cure for the rest of the undreaming world. However, giving away their marrow and their dreams ultimately means death. This coming-of-age story follows a young boy who fights against “recruiters”, learns the true meaning of love and friendship, and attempts to reunite with loved ones he thought he lost forever.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (illustrations by Ellen Forney)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Sherman Alexie’s first book for young adults and tells a story from the perspective of a teen named Junior, a budding cartoonist. He narrates his experiences from living on the Spokane Indian Reservation to studying in an all-white public high school off the reservation.
More books …
- Wenjack by Joseph Boyden (illustrations by Kent Monkman)
- #IdleNoMore: And the Remaking of Canada by Ken Coates
- 100 Days of Cree by Neal McLeod and Arok Wolvengrey
- 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph
- A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliot
- Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
Tanya Talaga’s novel focuses on the loss of seven Indigenous high school students from Thunder Bay, Ontario, who died over the span of 11 years from 2000 to 2011. They were forced out of their homes, as they didn’t have sufficient schools on their reserves. It talks about systemic racism and human rights violations against Indigenous communities.
A Two-Spirit Journey by Ma-Nee Chacaby and Mary Louisa Plummer
A Two-Spirit Journey is an inspiring autobiography by Ma-Nee Chacaby, an Ojibwa-Cree lesbian. In her book, she recounts memories of her Cree grandmother and the cultural traditions she learned from her, like hunting and bush survival. By the time she was a teen, she was an alcoholic and suffered physical and sexual abuse from different adults. Through all her tribulations, she emerges with compassion and resilience to share her story with others.
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road is about two Cree soldiers who served as soldiers in World War I. It depicts their lives volunteering as soldiers and then becoming snipers during the war. Three Day Road is based on a true story of Indigenous World War 1 heroes Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak.
There There by Tommy Orange
There There tells the stories of twelve individuals from different Native communities travelling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Through sharing stories about their challenges living as “Urban Indians”, the characters realize they’re already connected. Tommy Orange’s debut novel is a classic and unforgettable story about sacrifice, spirituality, and heroism.
More books …
- The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
- The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
- Evidence of Red by LeAnne Howe
- Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese
The list above only covers a handful of books about Indigenous history and stories, but there are a lot of reputable resources online that speak about the injustice, systemic racism, and turmoil Indigenous children and their families face even today. There is no better time than now to be allies, as we fight for justice for all stolen children. There is also no better time than now to take the necessary steps towards reconciliation. If there are any books that were not mentioned, be sure to leave us a comment below.
We also want to spotlight a fantastic Indigenous owned and operated online book and gifts store, in which many of the books we listed can be found. Help us show support by clicking on the banner above, which will take you straight to an extensive collection of Indigenous literature in their online store.