Super Secret Festival of Lit: First Nations Voices

It’s Day Four of our Super Secret Festival of Lit mystery title reveals! Our decidedly-dystopian First Nations voices pick won a Saskatchewan Book Award for painting a frightening vision of a US-annexed Canada. Buy any one of our selected First Nations reads from now until December 18th and receive a free set of four CanLit holiday cards.Drum roll please…


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The Cast Stone by Harold Johnson (Thistledown Press)

What It’s About

Harold Johnson’s The Cast Stone carries the subtitle “a novel of uprising”: and there could be no question as to the revolutionary leanings of this dystopian novel where the United States has carried out a quick yet brutal annexation of Canada. Johnson explores the motivations of those who choose to take up arms and those who rest in comparative safety, but above all, he deftly paints a passionate portrait of First Nations community life, the value and safety of family, and the need for friendship.

Why We Chose It

Winner of the 2011 Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Aboriginal Peoples’ Writing Award (SBA, same year), The Cast Stone is an excellent dystopian thriller for any reader. But the deeper connections to principles of the First Nations communities that Johnson weaves into this book provides an alternate look at how fictional characters respond to fictional crises: instead of putting the safety of the individual first, the survival of the entire community is critical.

Who Would Love This Book

The ideal reader for this book is 25-50; after that, readers of literary fiction, enjoying novels dystopian/socio-political/rebellion themes, and of First Nations literature would all enjoy The Cast Stone. Aboriginal universities/colleges and professors of English/First Nations studies would also have a definite stake in reading a dystopia featuring First Nations themes.

Reviews & Media

“On the one hand, life in Saskatoon is shown as furtive and wrought with complications, betrayals, possible arrest and death. On the other, at Moccasin Lake, despite incursions from the south, families such as Ben Robe’s are re-bonding, and traditional ways such as living off the land or dogsledding are being cleaved to or reengaged.” –Saskatoon Star-Phoenix“The importance of family, community, history, and treaty rights and responsibilities to the land and to each other all come together in this fascinating novel.” –SPG* * *

More First Nations Voices that Need to be Heard:

Bearskin Diary by Carol Daniels (Nightwood Editions)

Bearskin Diary follows Sandy, a victim of the “Sixties Scoop” – a government-sanctioned abduction of 20,000 First Nations children that were then adopted into white Canadian homes. Surviving this tragic event, an adult Sandy seeks to rediscover her roots and, in doing so, find a new anchor against the everyday discriminations. Learn more.

Why We Chose It

With an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women still sorely needed, Daniels’ novel provides firsthand insight into the challenges that modern-day First Nations women still experience, as well as the historical context for those challenges. 

Who Would Love This Book

This is a story of hope and resilience that will resonate with readers from all walks of life, but activists, feminists, and those looking to learn more about the Sixties Scoop or injustices suffered at the hands of the Canadian government in a more narrative way would also do well to pick it up.

calling down the sky by Rosanna Deerchild (BookLand Press)

Calling Down the Sky is a poetry collection that describes deep personal experiences and post generational effects of the Canadian Aboriginal Residential School system. Learn more.

Why We Chose It

Like Bearskin Diary, Cree poet Deerchild’s collection explains the context and lasting effects of residential schools through poetic language, viewed through the lens of her mother’s own experiences.

Who Would Love This Book

Anyone looking to deepen their understanding of Residential Schools, lovers of Indigenous poetry and poetry in general, or those looking to ford the discussion with their own parent or parents who’ve suffered childhood trauma.

Talking to the Diaspora by Lee Maracle (ARP Books)

Award-winning, distinguished writer Lee Maracle’s second book of poetry is Talking to the Diaspora, meditations on the Sto:Lo Nation’s traditions and stories, as well as her own life. Learn more.

Why We Chose It

Lee Maracle is a Queen of letters, and we’d be hard-pressed to leave her out of any picks list. We chose her for this list, in particular, because Talking to the Diaspora is a beautiful collection that truly expresses First Nations women’s experiences, thoughts, and memories, and is beautifully-designed, too.

Who Would Love This Book

Lee Maracle fans aside, buy this book for poetry fans and/or fans of absolutely gorgeous print book objects (we go into a little more depth about the design of this book here).

A Gentle Habit by Cherie Dimaline (Kegedonce Press)

This collection of short stories by Cherie Dimaline centres on the everyday lives of characters struggling with addictions, borrowing its title from a Bukowski poem. Learn more.*A Gentle Habit is hot off the printer; copies will be ready to ship next week. If you’re interested, sign up for an email reminder here.

Why We Chose It

Joseph Boyden calls Dimaline “one of our most fresh and exciting voices”, and it’s certainly apparent in this arresting collection, where the characters’ attempts at stability in chaos are alternately funny and heartbreaking.

Who Would Love This Book

Fans of Charles Bukowski, readers who seek deliciously crafted characters. and readers who appreciate irreverent humour would all find themselves fans of this book.* * *We’ll be revealing each of our eight mystery titles over the course of the next several days. Get caught up on our Super Secret Festival of Lit here. Buy any one of these titles from now until December 18th and receive a free set of four CanLit holiday cards.