June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. Established by the Government of Canada, this is a day for all Canadians to celebrate and recognize the diverse cultures, unique heritage, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.
To honour this day, as well as National Indigenous Heritage Month (June), we have curated a selection of memoirs and autobiographies by Indigenous authors that are now displayed in the Redpath Exhibition Case. This genre represents a powerful and personal way for Indigenous authors to transmit their stories and experiences: Dä kwändur Ghày Ghàkwadīndur (our story in our words), as described by the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in their richly illustrated book of traditional stories told by elders.
Many of the books on display highlight the individual triumphs and challenges faced by Indigenous Canadians. For example, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s recent book “Indian” in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power tells her story from being raised to be a leader in her home community of We Wai Kai in British Columbia to becoming Canada’s first Indigenous Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the Cabinet. Ma-Nee Chacaby’s A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder recounts her life story from a challenging childhood in a remote Ojibwa community to leading the first gay pride parade in Thunder Bay. Eddy Weetaltuk’s From the Tundra to the Trenches traces an Inuk’s experiences of military service and world travel.
Other books on display are collections of stories from many individuals, such as Daughters of Aatentsic: Life Stories from Seven Generations which considers the lives of seven Weⁿdat / Waⁿdat women. Disinherited Generations: Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and Their Descendants recounts the struggles of two Cree women to secure legal rights for Canadian Indigenous women. And What We Learned: Two Generations Reflect on Tsimshian Education and the Day Schools includes the recollections of two generations, elders born in the 1930s and 1940s and the subsequent generation born in the 1950s and 1960s, on their experiences of attending day schools in northwestern British Columbia.
The display also includes some audio-visual sources, such as Des Muffins Pour Grand-Maman, a 2013 film in which several Indigenous elders recount their experiences in residential schools. Gently Whispering the Circle Backalso shares the personal stories of survivors and allies from a Residential School Symposium series held in Alberta. Many more films by and about Indigenous Canadians and on diverse topics are available on DVD as well as streaming and can be found on the Indigenous Studies Research Guide.
We have compiled a list of Indigenous memoirs and autobiographies available through the McGill Library in both physical and electronic formats: physical items and electronic items.
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 calledÀbadakone, 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 isDesire 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:
Mypeople 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).
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 my7th 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: Moonshotwhich 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 Indigiqueer “focuses 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.”
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.
All of the books in Claire’s Indigenous Stories book display can be found on this booklist.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A bold and profound work by Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott, A MindSpreadOut 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