Indigenous Stories

By Claire Grenier

This post is about the current display in the Redpath Library Exhibition Case, curated by IMPRESS intern Claire Grenier. The Indigenous Stories Exhibition will be on display in the library until the end of September.

The only accurate way to title this display was Indigenous Stories. For Indigenous cultures oral traditions and storytelling are integral to our preservation. In this display I have tried to pull a variety of these stories from varied sources and disciplines. The selections include theory, non-fiction, fiction, poetry, art, plays, graphic novels, vintage dictionaries, decolonial guides… all of which demonstrate the ongoing scope of Indigenous talent. I also wanted to offer up explanations on the Indigenous land on which McGill occupies and information on the three distinct Indigenous groups in what we call Canada. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis all have unique histories and practices which contribute to the diverse makeup of Indigenous people from coast to coast to coast. Short explanations of the land and the Indigenous groups within Canada are dispersed through the display and also available here:

McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous peoples whose presence marks this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.”

McGill must pursue an unedited truth about its historical and contemporary relationship with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples to meaningfully inform its goal of reconciliation.

As Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report emphasized, reconciliation must begin with the truth. This must include proper and ongoing consultation with Indigenous peoples, and the recognition of the Indigenous traditional territory upon which McGill is situated.

Who are the First Nations?

First Nations have existed on the land we now call Canada since time immemorial. There are over 600 nations and 50 languages across Turtle Island, each with unique histories, traditions, and practices.

Who are the Inuit?

Inuit have lived and thrived across Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland encompassing 36 per cent of Canada’s landmass and 50 per cent of its coastline. The four regions include Nunatsiavut, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Inuvialuit.

Who are the Métis?

The Métis are a post-contact group descended from European men and Indigenous women along the routes of the fur trade who created a distinct culture and language. The Métis settlements span across the prairies and parts of Ontario and British Columbia. The Métis have fought for centuries for their rights and recognition.

Indigenous Stories Book Display

Now I would like to discuss some of the featured works in the display.

The first feature is a book called Àbadakone, which is based on a celebrated exhibit in The National Gallery of Canada which opened in the Fall of 2019. This book features over 70 artists’ work from the exhibit, including those of the McGill Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative (ISCEI) 2021 and 2022 artists-in-residence Caroline Monnet and Danya Danger. The other art book on display is Desire change : contemporary feminist art in Canada, which is open to a photograph of Anishinaabekwe artist Rebecca Belmore’s 1991 piece Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother.

The next spotlight belongs to the 2021 ISCEI writer in residence, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. There are several works by Simpson in the display, the most prominent one being Noopiming: the cure for white ladies. The cover features anther work of Belmore’s – an installation piece from 2008 called Fringe. “Noopiming” is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush.” Simpson chose this title as a direct response to Canadian settler author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing it in the bush. As a novel, Noopiming takes place in the same time as Moodie’s memoir providing a cure for “Moodie’s racist treatment of Mississauga Nishnaabeg in her writing” (book listing). Simpson is one of the most clever Indigenous contemporary writers working today. Another of her books included in the display is A short history of the blockade: Giant beavers, diplomacy, and regeneration in Nishnaabewin. Portions of this book made up Simpson’s 2020 Kreisler lecture at the University of Alberta. The lecture, The Brillianchttps://youtu.be/8Jbp7uzj_YMe of the Beaver: Learning from an Anishnaabe World, has been integral to my own practice as an Indigenous academic and knowledge seeker in addition to influencing the structure of this display. In her lecture, Simpson explains that:

My people are constant storytellers throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Stories are the fabric of daily life. My ancestors woke up each morning and created an Anishnaabe world. They animated their political system of governance and diplomacy. They built their collective philosophical and ethical understandings. They made processes for solving conflicts and reestablishing balance. And they built their economy with the consent of plant and animal nations.  They built, maintained and nurtured systems for sharing knowledge and taking care of each other. They worked collectively to produce, reproduce, replicate, amplify and share Indigenous life because if they did not, Anishinaabe worlds wouldn’t exist.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “The Brilliance of the Beaver: Learning from an Anishnaabe World”, CLC Kreisel Lecture (University of Alberta), March 12, 2020, link.

The next major grouping of works in the display fall under the category of knowledge keeping and evaluation. These books range from environmental theory to classic surveys of methodology. Given the spotlight here is Margaret Kovach’s revolutionary work Indigenous Methodologies. This book was one of the first of its kind in the field. In it, Kovach expresses the necessity of storytelling to the practice of Indigenous research. “By listening intently to one another, story as method elevates the research from an extractive exercise serving the fragmentation of knowledge to a holistic endeavour that situates research firmly within the nest of the relationship” (98).

Many of the environmental texts selected for the display follow this principle too. Climate change: linking traditional and scientific knowledge (2006, edited by Roderick R Riewe and Jill E Oakes), Ancient pathways, ancestral knowledge: ethnobotany and ecological wisdom of Indigenous peoples of northwestern North America (2014, edited by Nancy J Turner), and When the caribou do not come: Indigenous knowledge and adaptive management in the western Arctic (2018, edited by Brenda Parlee and Ken J Caine) all use Indigenous stories and practice to open up a dialogue with climate and environmental scientists to see how their history and experiences can help combat the ongoing climate crisis.

The most personal work I chose for the display is Chester Brown’s 2003 “comic-strip biography” Louis Riel. The subject of Brown’s book, Louis Riel, was the leader of the Métis’ Red River Resistance. For Métis like me, Riel is not just a hero, he is the reason that we are recognized as a distinct group. In the eyes of many Canadian settlers, he is a “traitor” who deserved his sentence of hanging for treason. Chester Brown shows these settlers the passion, drive, and charisma of Riel and the sacrifices and battles he fought for his people. I read this book for the first time when I was 12 after my 7th grade teacher insisted that Riel had been a traitor not a martyr. It was one of the first times I remember feeling connected to my history outside of the semi-annual Harvest Dinners hosted by my local Métis organization. Riel made it possible for the Métis to not only exist, but to be constitutionally recognized as we are today. Riel believed that “we must cherish our inheritance. We must preserve our nationality for the youth of our future. The story should be written down to pass on.”

Also featured in the display is another graphic novel: Moonshot which is a collection of Indigenous comics edited by Elizabeth LaPensee and Michael A Sheyahshe and published in 2020.  This particular volume focuses on how Indigenous futurism interacts with traditional knowledge and culture. Some equally fun picks are the two works which highlight two-spirit and indigiqueer identity. Two-spirit acts: queer Indigenous performances, which was edited by Jean Elizabeth O’Hara and features one-act plays by Waawaate Fobister, Muriel Miguel, and Kent Monkman, provides space in the genre of theatre to openly and unapologetically explore what it means to be queer and Indigenous. Similarly, Joshua Whitehead’s 2017 work of poems, Full-metal Indigiqueerfocuses on a hybridized Indigiqueer trickster character named Zoa who brings together the organic (the protozoan) and the technologic (the binaric) to re-beautify and re-member queer Indigeneity.”  

There are also selections in the display which are specific to Inuit culture, history, and future. Amun is a collection of Inuit poetry in French and features work from ISCEI’s 2022 writer in residence Maya Cousineau-Mollen. There is also a special photo book used in the display which depicts life in the north. Arraaguit 25 nalliutivut taimanngat Jaims Pai ammalu Kupait tarranga angirkatigiigutaulilaursimatillugit is a celebration by the Makivik corporation for the 25th anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Lastly, I would like to turn to one of my favourite things I encountered while putting this display together. The piece in this display which I find the most interesting is not by an Indigenous author, but by a 19th century French missionary. It’s a French/Cree dictionary from 1874. The author of the dictionary is Albert Lacombe, one of the best-known missionaries in Canada’s history. Lacombe had a special interest in evangelizing the Cree and Blackfoot populations in Canada’s west. To do this, he needed to understand the language. For me, the reason this dictionary is so interesting is because it is such a clear tool of colonialism, yet it is also casual. While it’s just a dictionary, the reason why Lacombe created a dictionary of French to Cree was to more effectively convert and colonize Indigenous peoples. It’s a symbol of the power of language, of how for so long outsiders learning Indigenous dialects did so with malicious intent and with the goal of having not just the language, but the ways of life, erased and replaced with Western ideals.

This dictionary holds so much tragedy and history, and it was just sitting in the stacks of McLennan! In my last two months at the library, the discovery of this dictionary helped me explore an integral line of inquiry for my work as a Métis academic: who decides which knowledge and stories are worth keeping record of?

Through this display I’ve tried to curate a selection of many different Indigenous stories currently held by the library. By putting all these different works from different fields on an equal footing I hope I have shown you the diversity of Indigenous knowledge and convinced you of the importance of preserving all these stories, including the ones of trauma, and especially the ones about joy.

Maarsi

All of the books in Claire’s Indigenous Stories book display can be found on this booklist.

National Indigenous History Month – Nonfiction Resources

This post serves as a companion piece (last in our 3-blog series) to Video Resources, and Fiction Picks, written in celebration of National Indigenous History Month this June.

As we continue to celebrate and learn about the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada throughout the month of June, nonfiction resources are great tools to further your understanding of a specific topic.

This post will outline three main information sources that you can use for research, to enhance your understanding, or simply satisfy your curiosity. A brief description will follow each source linked and towards the end of the post, you will find 5 recommended readings in case you need help starting off. 

Three Main Sources

  1. Indigenous Research Subject Guide 

This guide is a prime resource if you need help to begin your research within Indigenous studies. It encompasses an interdisciplinary approach to key topics in the historical, socio-political, and cultural dimensions of Indigenous life. 

With everything from keyword strategies, to recommendations, to great databases, this is the perfect place to begin your search for nonfiction resources. 

Our Top Picks:  

Library and Archives Canada offers treaty maps, virtual exhibitions and more

Indigenous Peoples of North America (Gale) is a great place to find primary sources from Canada. 

  1. Tools for Researchers 

This website not only highlights helpful search points in our catalogue where you can begin your reading but also features amazing recommendations for articles such as Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know by Absalon, K (Minogiizhigokwe). 

  1. ​​e-Scholarship@McGill

This platform is an institutional digital repository that ensures that research produced at McGill is easily accessible, disseminated, and preserved for future interests – all the while maintaining researchers’ copyright. This is a great place to read scholarly articles and further your understanding of different topics related to Indigenous studies that are written by individuals in the McGill community.  You can keyword search exactly what you’re looking for using the search bar and learn about anything from using education as healing, to preserving Indigenous languages in universities to political theories on settler colonialism. 

Recommended Reads

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph

Based on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussions on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer. Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. This book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo.

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Fighting for a hand to hold: confronting medical colonialism against indigenous children in Canada by Samir Shaheen-Hussain

Penned by a member of the McGill community, this book exposes the medical establishment’s role in the displacement, colonization, and genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Through meticulously gathered government documentation, historical scholarship, media reports, public inquiries, and personal testimonies, Shaheen-Hussain connects the draconian medevac practice with often-disregarded crimes and medical violence inflicted specifically on Indigenous children. 

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Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, the author has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to the Americas, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. In this book, she brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as “the younger brothers of creation.”

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Unsettling Canada : a national wake-up call by Arthur Manuel and Ronald Derrickson

As the son of George Manuel, who served as president of the National Indian Brotherhood and founded the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in the 1970s, Arthur Manuel was born into the struggle. From his unique and personal perspective, as a Secwepemc leader and an Indigenous activist who has played a prominent role on the international stage, Arthur Manuel describes the victories and failures, the hopes and the fears of a generation of activists fighting for Aboriginal title and rights in Canada.

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A mind spread out on the ground by Alicia Elliott

A bold and profound work by Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a personal and critical meditation on trauma, legacy, oppression and racism in North America. In an urgent and visceral work that asks essential questions about Native people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma, Alicia Elliott offers indispensable insight and understanding to the ongoing legacy of colonialism. What are the links between depression, colonialism and loss of language–both figurative and literal?

This blog is co-authored by Tamanna Patel and Vanja Lugonjic

National Indigenous History Month – Fiction Picks

A Glimpse into McGill Library’s Indigenous Fiction Titles and Where to Find Them

This post serves as a companion piece (second in our 3-blog series) to National Indigenous History Month – Video Resources, written in celebration of National Indigenous History Month this June.

During this month, there is a nationwide celebration of the remarkable heritage, history and achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. What better way to commemorate the rich history of storytelling prevalent in various Indigenous cultures than through the power of Indigenous literature!

With that in mind, we have curated the following list of fiction titles from our collections that bring out the distinct flavours of Indigenous literature. Simply click on the book covers to access the titles!

These works and more can be found on the McGill Library website:

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

A girl grows up in Nunavut in the 1970s. She knows joy, friendship, and her parents’ love. She knows boredom, listlessness, and bullying. She knows the tedium of the everyday world, and the raw, amoral power of the ice and sky, the seductive energy of the animal world. She knows the ravages of alcohol, and violence at the hands of those she should be able to trust. She sees the spirits surrounding her and the immense power that dwarfs all of us. 

When she becomes pregnant, she must navigate all this.

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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine. Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unravelling clues from ancient legends, trading favours with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.

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Ravensong: a novel by Lee Maracle

Set in an urban Native American community on the Pacific Northwest coast in the early 1950s, Ravensong is a story about Stacey, who must balance her family’s traditional ways against white society’s intrusive values.

It is by turns damning, humorous, inspirational, and prophetic.

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Red: A Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

A groundbreaking mix of Haida imagery and Japanese manga, Red tells the story of the eponymous hero, the prideful leader of a small village in the islands off the northwest coast of British Columbia. His sister was abducted years ago by a band of raiders. When news comes that she has been spotted in a nearby village, Red sets out to rescue his sister and exact revenge on her captors. Tragic and timeless, it is reminiscent of such classic stories as Oedipus Rex and Macbeth

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Another “book bank” where you can explore indigenous fiction titles is McGill Library’s Overdrive. These are some of the enthralling titles available there!

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her husband, Victor, for almost a year–ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument. One terrible, hungover morning in a Walmart parking lot in a little town near Georgian Bay, she is drawn to a revival tent where the local Métis have been flocking to hear a charismatic preacher named Eugene Wolff. By the time she staggers into the tent, the service is over. But as she is about to leave, she hears an unmistakable voice. She turns, and there Victor is. The same face, the same eyes, the same hands. But his hair is short and he’s wearing a suit and he doesn’t recognize her at all.

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This Place by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm

Explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in the graphic novel anthology, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

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Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. Alone and without any skills, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five friends cross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission.

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Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.

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Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez,” and his former life, to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The next seven days are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s world is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.

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And that is it for some of our top fiction picks for National Indigenous History Month.

Happy Reading! And keep an eye out for the last in our 3-blog series where we highlight a range of non-fiction Indigenous resources for you!