Mediate BC Blog

6 Books by Indigenous Authors

Posted by Julie.Daum

As an avid reader, books have always been a way for me to escape, learn, travel and immerse myself in the worlds that others create, describe and share, ever since my sister taught me to read when I was three.  (She did become a teacher.)

In these past couple of months, this has become even more important since the outside world became limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am grateful to have invested in an electronic reader (Kindle) so that the lack of physical books in my small world didn’t limit the breadth of the material available to me.

Events in the past 10 days have had me hungering for something comforting and while perusing Social Media, I came across a link to the 2003 Massey Lectures given by Thomas King, so I drew a bath and pressed play. His mastery of storytelling makes it easy to listen to, and the title of the first lecture, “You’ll Never Believe What Happened” Is Always a Great Place to Start.  He relates his own origin story and then a couple of Creation stories, one Indigenous and then the Biblical and illustrates the power of stories to shape our life, viewpoints and he also reminds us of the responsibility of the listeners and the storytellers. The lesson he gives us was perfect for me to think about what books are shaping my thoughts currently.

In our lives, we are both storytellers and listeners and we bear responsibility for both, and right now, in the world, we need everyone to hear the stories of the ‘others’ in their lives. As dispute resolution professionals, be it mediator, lawyer, or arbitrator, we are also someone who both helps people tell their stories and others listen to those stories.

Stories have helped me navigate the two worlds that I live in, the western mainstream Canadian society and another world, the Indigenous society, dominated by family, clan and nation but connected to other Indigenous peoples in this land and outside it too. I didn’t have these stories when I was a child and struggled to occupy both of these worlds. I didn’t have the stories to help me understand when I was told that I needed to escape one of these worlds. I did escape, but into the books that were available to me. I soaked up Lucy Maude Montgomery, Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro novels among anything else I could get my hands on. Of course, some stories were still missing.

Today, I revel in the fact that I can find many stories created by Indigenous writers, and many of them live in Canada. Here are just a few of those stories – books I have really loved this year.

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline is one of my favourites, I read it electronically but loved it so much I bought hard copies and gifted them to friends. I love the vernacular; it felt like home to me. The description of the homes and the relations and relationships brought me in and wrapped me in the shabby quilt that aunties have draped over the backs of their couches. Cherie does take th0e reader on a Wild ride.

 

Fresh Pack of Smokes by Cassandra Blanchard had me weeping at the launch. I was invited to witness a friend launch her new book of poetry but because Blanchard read before my friend, I could not even pay attention to her reading, (sorry Sarah). This is a book of prose poems that seem so simple, her dispassionate telling of events and circumstances of her life on the street amazed me. The strength and dignity in her telling of this life is awesome in the original sense of the word.

 

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle is a memoir by a Métis-Cree professor. He tells his life story and the story of his family, the inter-generational trauma from the colonization, displacement and dislocation of a people and a family. He shares openly his involvement with drugs, alcohol and homelessness and also kindness, grace, compassion and strength. Jesse is active on Twitter and I love seeing him interact with the world, he has been doing.

 

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is super relevant right now. It is the fictional story of a northern Ontario Indigenous community that gets cut off from the rest of the world and how that community and a particular family in it survives this apocalyptic event. The author was a journalist for CBC and has just left hopefully to write more novels.

 

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott is a collection of essays that hit so close to home that I wondered how this brilliant young woman got into my heart and my head. Alicia Elliott is a force in CanLit these days and I cannot wait to see what else she writes.

 

The Night Watchman by Louise ErdrichOk, to be honest, I am still reading this novel by Louise Erdrich, but I have no doubt it will be magnificent, like all her other work. She lives on the other side of the 49th parallel but it does not diminish her ability to describe and create vibrant worlds full of Indigenous people and their neighbours. Read anything and everything you can by her starting with Love Medicine.

 

Apparently, I write like I talk, enthusiastically and never-ending.

 

About the Author

 Julie Daum is the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Mediate BC and Chair of our Truth and Reconciliation committee. She is a mediator, facilitator, conflict resolution coach and instructor. She is a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, belongs to the Frog Clan, and resides on the Stellaquo Reserve in the central interior of BC.

Julie has developed and delivered workshops on culturally appropriate practices for working with First Nation families and communities.




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