By Adam Dahari
One the biggest turning points in my reading life was my third year at university, where I enrolled in a Canadian Indigenous History class. To my surprise, Canadian history was wrought with horrors and tragedies towards Indigenous peoples that were never taught in elementary and high school. Since taking that course (and a few more during undergrad) I have been educating myself on Indigenous history by reading a variety of literature by Indigenous authors. Here are my three favourite reads by Indigenous authors so far.
Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America – Thomas King
As the title conveys, Inconvenient Indian is Thomas King’s (very sarcastic and witty) take on the history of Aboriginal peoples of North America. From before first contact to exploring the complicated, shifting relationship between natives and non-natives, as well as his mediations and experiences as an Indigenous person in North America, King educates the reader about what it is to be an Aboriginal person in North America, how history has affected Indigenous peoples, and his experiences and challenges he’s faced, and continues to face.
What I enjoyed about this read is just how blatantly cynical and humorous King is as he discusses topics from Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America and the introduction of colonialism in Indigenous communities, to Residential Schools and the intergenerational trauma faced by many Aboriginal peoples thereafter. King has an amazing wit throughout the book that will make you chuckle at his sense of humour in even the most appalling of descriptions. Nonetheless, he educates you all the same.
The Inconvenient Indian is one of my favourite non-fiction-reads. The combination of Thomas King’s wit and satire gives the impression of a light read in the backdrop of heavy, historical content and self-meditation. It’s a powerful, yet easy read that kickstarted my enthusiasm for further education in Indigenous history in North America and around the world.
They Called me Number One – Bev Sellars
They Called Me Number One is Bev Sellars’ memoir of her time at Saint Josephs’ Mission residential school in British Columbia and the healing process that followed. Bev also incorporates the experiences of her mother and grandmother as they attended the residential school, outlining the effects of intergenerational trauma that affected the three generations of women.
From the get-go Bev vividly illustrates her first and most traumatizing experiences at Saint Joseph’s Mission and her coping methods during and after residential school. The parallels she constantly draws between her own time at residential school and that of her mother and grandmother add a deeper, vivid understanding of intergenerational trauma and the devastating effects it can have on a single family.
Admittedly, I was not emotionally prepared to read this memoir. I remember constantly re-reading segments just to get a grasp of some of what Bev experienced. I had a hard time putting this book down; Bev writes in such a way that you don’t want to stop reading, even though you know the next page or chapter will leave you feeling emotions of disbelief, anger and hope.
Bev Sellars’ They Called Me Number One was my very first read of a first-hand account of a residential school survivor in Canada – and what an emotional one it was. It is a memoir that is full of inspiration and optimism as it is with heartbreak and tragedy. It was this memoir that propelled me into learning more from residential school survivors and sparked in me a greater passion to continuously stay engaged and informed with Indigenous cultures, communities and history.
Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations – Richard Wagamese
Embers is Richard Wagamese’s meditations and spiritual enlightenments transformed into powerful prose in accordance with his Ojibway heritage, teachings and spirituality. He explores manifestations of stillness, harmony, trust, reverence, gratitude and joy as he muses upon the universe in the hours of the early morning.
The way Richard Wagamese transforms his early morning mediations onto the pages of Embers is something I truly admired as I began reading. His words are heavy with wisdom from personal experience and teachings from Ojibway culture and spirituality that will speak to anyone looking for a spiritual uplifting, guidance, or words of wisdom a day.
I found great joy in reading a few passages each morning as his words gave me much-needed perspective on life that eased my worries for the day. The images and pictures embedded in the background of the passages add to the calming effect of Richard Wagamese’s prose––soothing images of nature that complement the meditative experience. I also appreciated learning about Ojibway spirituality through his Richard Wagamese’s own meditative experience.
Embers is a read that I will often go back to for daily inspiration and a sense of calm on days that may be stressful or rid with anxious thoughts. What’s more, I am happy that this was my first read by Richard Wagamese; I learned that he had passed away shortly after finishing his title, and to have the opportunity to read his thoughts in an intimate way now has me eager to explore his other works of literature.