A Reading List for National Indigenous Peoples Day

It’s only when I sit down to write up a bit about each book I’ve chosen to include in this list that I notice that these six books share two strong themes. The first relates to memory and remembering. Each book plays with remembering the past and remembering the future. And each book shows that remembering needs direction if we are to point our collective memories to a future that embraces true reconciliation and a renewal of Indigenous sovereignty. The second theme is mentorship, of just stepping in to help out when needed. Of the six books on this list, poet and writer Lee Maracle was involved in the writing or editing of four—and I’ve included those stories in the summaries of each book.


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I believe that Indigenous women and men are writing some of the best books in Canada and in the world. They’re writing books that offer us a different way of thinking about our connections and relations. They’re writing books that question our possibilities for the future. They’re writing about new paths that lead to something like hope.In this short list I had to leave out more than I could include. This list is not at all definitive or authoritative. This is a list of only a few of the books I have encountered this year written by Indigenous writers: books that have moved me, books that have changed the way I understand my place in this country, books that have led me toward connection and community, books that have made me and my history visible, and books that have made my future visible, the future my grandchildren will inhabit. * * * POETRY * * *
Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb, & Tania Carter
(Book*hug Press) 
Three voices sing together in Hope Matters: Lee Maracle and her two daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter. This book of poetry is a creative act of memory directed toward hope. And it’s no mistake that, in this book, hope comes from collectivity, from mothers and daughters, and from poetry. These voices sing to us that “my body has always understood justice” and there is no word for exclusion / so your whiteness is no threat.” We hear that Honesty is a Thorny Rose and truth is an elastic nettle. We hear that Trayvon is gone and that our roots are bleeding and that we are the land and that the land remembers. Maracle is always asking who and what memory is for. And she answers: memory is a seed; memory has attitude; memory travels; memory is passed to our daughters; and memory asks for (good) direction. 
Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield
(Nightwood Editions)
In Witness, I Am award-winning poet Gregory Scofield bears witness to his own history, to the violence suffered by Indigenous women, and to the potential of re-creation. In the epic poem “Muskrat Woman,” Scofield reimagines a sacred Cree creation story. This re-imagination of a traditional story is braided with the contemporary stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women—and in this play between the sacred old and the violent present, the reader finds that the re-creation of the world, of a better world, is possible. This possibility is present also in “She Is Spitting A Mouthful of Stars” when Scofield writes that “She is laughing more than those who shamed her / She is ten horses breaking open the day. Scofield’s poetry plays between the past, the present, and the future, and is always searching for what it means to belong. 
I Am a Body of Land by Shannon-Webb Campbell
(Book*hug Press)
A book of poetry that explores poetic responsibility and accountability, I Am a Body of Land by Shannon Webb-Campbell is on this list as much as for the beauty of the poetry itself as it is for the story of a writer in trouble and the mentorship that brought this collection together. Webb-Campbell’s first poem “After the Upheaval” sets the stage: “I’ve landed here / my voice damp with shame / my insides burn. Lee Maracle wrote an introduction to the book that begins: “[m]y publishers phoned me and said they were in trouble; they had a writer whose manuscript had problems.” In this collection Webb-Campbell revisits the text of her earlier work Who Took My Sister? This book is the result of an elder who agreed to step in and provide the mentorship, love, respect, and poetic advice Webb-Campbell needed to find her way back to her best self and her best work. It’s the kind of work we are all responsible for as we examine our histories, our selves, and the futures we are reaching for.  * * * SHORT FICTION * * * 
Red Rooms by Cherie Dimaline 
(Theytus Books)
This gritty and sexy collection of short stories was published in 2007 as Cherie Dimaline’s first book. From the point of view of a hotel cleaning lady, this book tells the story of the Indigenous patrons of an urban hotel. The opening sentence in the first story in the collection “room 414” sets the stage for a curious exploration of the lives and deaths of people who’ve come to the hotel for a night. The opening sentence is: “[t]here is an old saying, ‘a servant is a master in disguise.’” In the foreword to this book, Lee Maracle tells us that this very contemporary urban book is steeped in storytelling tradition, that she “noticed the articulation of an old practice which, like storytelling, forms an unbroken chain in our cultural praxis despite efforts of colonization to stamp it out.” This book also remakes history and memory into a stubborn, new future.  
Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont
(Thistledown Press)
One of the greatest gifts that Indigenous writers offer is visibility—and that’s what writer and comedian Dawn Dumont gave me in Nobody Cries at Bingo. This hilarious book is a fictionalized collection of stories about the author growing up on the Okanese First Nation reserve. I should write here that as the daughter of a landless, urban Métis in Alberta, I didn’t grow up on a reserve, but I did grow up in a loving family that was always leaving in the middle of the night, always a bit short on food, always moving on, always feeling everything more fiercely than was strictly necessary, and always having a good laugh at ourselves. Growing up my mother was so much like the mother in Dumont’s book: “She followed no buffalo herd; only a desire for a better life that she felt was a hundred miles in the other direction. Mom was also a nomad for another reason; sometimes it is the only way to leave a man”. Dawn Dumont reminds us that sometimes the best thing we can bring from our collective pasts and into the future is our sense of humour. I can’t thank her enough for the gift of laughter and for acknowledging that “[s]adly, like most fun things, if you did it too long, you’d end up throwing up.” * * * NON-FICTION * * *
(Book*hug Press)
The essays in My Conversations With Canadians are steeped in an oral tradition that invites the reader in and sets them at ease. Lee Maracle asks Canadians in for a chat in the book’s opening: “you are always sitting just out reach of my kitchen table; you occupy a large space in my mind, and so I thought I would like to have a conversation with you.” This book has the gorgeous feel of the after-the-launch party, when a few people get together in someone’s kitchen to talk about the things that don’t always get said openly or publicly. To call it a necessary book would be to weigh it down with an authority that Maracle does not ask for in this book; and yet the book is necessary. It’s also easy to read. Each essay is a chapter written in answer to common questions she is asked when she speaks. She speaks to Canadians about multiculturalism, appropriation, cultural transmission, white feminism, tokenism and the re-imagination of our collective futures. She does all this with the skill of an orator — making the reader feel like she’s at a kitchen table, chatting with a friend or a grandmother, asking for the kind of guidance we all need to get from where we are to where we want to go.* * *Michelle Porter is a Red River Métis poet, journalist, and editor. She holds degrees in journalism, folklore, and geography (PhD). Her academic research and creative work have been focused on home, Métis mobility, and the changing nature of our relationship to land. She’s won awards for her work in poetry and journalism, and has been published in literary journals, newspapers, and magazines across the country. She lives in St. John’s.