Beyond ‘The Break’: 5 More Indigenous Books to Read

I originally drafted this post as part of Queen’s Reads in 2017-18, when the common read was Katherena Vermette’s The Break. It never saw the light of day since I left Queen’s before the end of the program, but it’s never too late to share books and resources!

The Break is the story of how an intergenerational Métis family responds to a traumatic event. Even more than that, it’s a story of Indigenous racism, the long-lasting effects of the residential school system, and the impact of colonialism on the Indigenous population. It’s one of my top 12 favourite novels of all time, for its story, its characters and its elegant writing.

If you’ve read The Break (or even if you haven’t) and are interested in learning more about Indigenous history in Canada, the residential school system, or how our country and government treat the Aboriginal population today, try reading one of these books next.

Up Ghost River

by Edmund Metatawabin (with Alexandra Shimo)

The autobiography of Edmund Metatawabin, Up Ghost River tells the life story of an Indigenous man who attended a residential school as a child. Some parts of the book can be extremely hard to stomach as he details the atrocities that occurred at the school. His story also paints a clear picture of the lasting impact of the residential school experience- an adulthood of drinking, failed relationships, and more. This book isn’t facts and figures, but a true story, which makes the content especially powerful. >> More about Up Ghost River

Seven Fallen Feathers

by Tanya Talaga

In Thunder Bay, Indigenous teenagers are dying, and we’re not doing nearly enough to prevent it. From 2000 to 2011, 7 Indigenous teenagers, who had moved to Thunder Bay, alone, to attend high school, died. Five of their bodies were found in the rivers surrounding the city. In all deaths, Thunder Bay Police decided that there was no evidence of foul play, and the deaths were ruled accidents. But were they? Combining journalism with storytelling, Seven Fallen Feathers introduces us to the seven teenagers, tells us about their life and death, and tells us in detail how we as a country are failing the Indigenous youth of Northern Ontario- with life-threatening results. >> More about Seven Fallen Feathers

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Final Report Summary

If you want to learn more about the residential school system in Canada, there may be no better resource than the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. From 2008 to 2015, the TRC travelled all over Canada to hear the stories of residential school survivors. Using both stories and facts, the summary paints a detailed picture of the reasons the system was created, the failures of the system, and where we need to go from here. >> More about The Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Final Report Summary

Secret Path

by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

One night in the middle of winter, Chanie Wenjack ran away from his residential school, and begin the 600km walk back to his home in Northern Ontario. Only 40km in, he froze to death on the side of the railway tracks. Secret Path tells Chanie’s story through a graphic novel and music, and is Gord Downie’s attempt to get Canada to wake up and pay attention. >> More about Secret Path

The Right to Be Cold

by Sheila Watts-Cloutier

In this memoir, chosen as a Canada Reads 2017 finalist, Shelia Watts-Cloutier details her life growing up in the Inuit north, and the fight for access to education and against climate change that she undertook as an adult. The book does a great job at describing a life different from the average Canadian’s, and paints a vivid picture of how climate change is rapidly affecting the lives of the Inuit. While the book can sometimes be heavy on the science and the politics, it’s message remains powerful and vital. >> More about The Right to Be Cold

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

by Bob Joseph

The title is a pretty apt description of this book. Chapter by chapter, Bob Joseph takes you through 21 things you should know about the Indian Act, simultaneously describing the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada (since they’re obviously connected). It’s a fairly short, well-written book that pretty much leaves you without an excuse for not knowing. >> More about 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Featured image by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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