12 Jan INDIGENIZING YOUR BOOKSHELF
I identify as a Muslim Settler. I am a white-passing Arab Muslim woman who immigrated to Canada from Jordan for post-secondary education. In this case, I must acknowledge that my bias has influenced my understanding of settler colonialism. I came to this land uninvited and ignorant of its violent colonial history and falling for the myth of Canada being a perfect multicultural place.
Growing up with a Middle Eastern education, I was absolutely clueless about settler colonialism on Turtle Island. I had no exposure to the politics and devastating truths about the construction of Canada. I grew up with the myth that Canada was a perfect, safe, and multicultural place that strives for equity and equality, a safe haven for my future. Little did I know that this myth was damaging and a testament to how colonialism erases and manipulates our thinking. My interest in Indigenous literature started last year. I decided to take a full year course dedicated to Indigenous literature and gender resurgence. At that time, I thought I was fulfilling a requirement with a course material I was never familiar with, which very much intimidated me. Little did I know the massive impact it would have on my knowledge, reading material, and my responsibility as a Muslim settler scholar. After that course, I never looked back on reading Indigenous literature, checking CBC for new releases from my favorite Indigenous authors, and continuously learning and unlearning many concepts I fell victim to as an immigrant.
As a Muslim settler, I have a massive role and responsibility to stand in utmost solidarity and continuously put the effort to show up and show my allyship. I learned that decolonizing goes a long way and is often very tricky. It starts by taking accountability and recognizing how our consumer habits are influenced by colonialism. Whether it’s our whitewashed Instagram feed, YouTube videos, or choosing to buy a dream catcher for aesthetic purposes without knowing the harmful implications of doing so. As settlers, we must commit to finding long-term solutions to dismantle colonial powers. Today, I will start with the bookshelf. So here are the Top 10 Indigenous books I recommend:
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Braiding Sweetgrass is a testament to the importance of the land and its reciprocity. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist, and mother, is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In this work, Kimmerer shows you how she interlaces science with her Indigenous knowledge and teachings, and how that was discouraged during her years as an academic student. She highlights the gifts in which the land has to offer us, from strawberries, sweetgrass, and asters and goldenrods. Her well-crafted responses show just how meaningful and wholesome the connection to the land is. Kimmerer will astonish you by giving you another lens to look at the world, appreciate the land, the magnitude of giving our reciprocity to the land, and how we must understand not only how it works, but as Kemmerer reiterates in her book when referring to plants “Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them”.
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
Eden Robinson is an award-winning Haisla/Heisluk writer and artist from Kitimat village in BC. This novel takes on important issues such as familial kinship, drug abuse, intergenerational trauma, assimilation of dominance, and the importance of the supernatural. It centers the protagonist, Lisa, who has a gift to see who will die next and takes her on a journey with her Indigenous heritage and her family. I stumbled upon this book when I read Queen of the North by Eden Robinson, a short story that takes another character’s perspective from the novel Monkey Beach. It wasn’t even on my course list but I decided to read and write my academic essay on it anyway. To this day, whenever I reread Monkey Beach, the effect it gives doesn’t disappoint. Merely explaining this book will never do Robinson’s impeccable writing, structure, and storytelling any justice.
Son of A Triskter by Eden Robinson
Another classic by Eden Robinson, and probably her most popular one yet. Son of A Trickster is the first novel of a trilogy series before Trickster Drift and Return of the Trickster, which will be published in 2021. This coming of age story involves the journey of a teenage boy, Jared, as he navigates his way through poverty, a broken family, and drug abuse while discovering a Haisla trickster. Robinson is notorious for weaving in cultural and supernatural elements from Haisla culture into her stories. This trilogy was recently adapted to a TV series adaptation on CBC, yet there were questions arising around the director’s Indigenous identity which may alter further production.
Indian Horse by Richard Wagemese
Probably the most popular and most taught book in the Canadian high school curriculum that has recently developed into a film adaption. Wagamese is of Ojibway heritage from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations. Indian Horse is a raw and honest coming of age story that depicts the dreadful and damaging harm behind residential schools that resulted in and cultivated intergenerational trauma, drug abuse, racism, sexual assault, homelessness, and disconnection from heritage. The story centres a young boy, Saul, his experience of surviving residential school, and how he becomes a star as a hockey player.
Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasmosake Simpson
Leanne Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg multi award-winning scholar, writer, and activist. Islands of Decolonial Love is a collection of fictional stories of contemporary Indigenous life by incorporating elements of Nishnaabeg life. This book offers you several perspectives about the struggles and challenges of being Indigenous while facing racism, discrimination, and ongoing injustices surrounding present settler colonialism. Simpson’s impeccable storytelling, writing style, and structure allow you to be emotionally invested in her characters. She makes you reflect on the ways in which settler colonialism manifests itself in various ways. I recommend listening to her spoken word performances while reading this book. Her voice is a huge part of why I love this book so dearly. Her newest release Noopiming: The Cure for white Ladies has already been deemed as the best book of the year by Globe and Mail.
Mind Spread Out on the ground by Alicia Elliot
Alicia Elliot is an award-winning Indigenous author from Haudenosaunee six nations and settler heritage. Elliot vulnerably tackles the effects of settler colonialism on her mental health by navigating oppression, race, intergenerational trauma, white-passing privilege, gentrification, food insecurity, and sexual assault in her memoir A Mind Spread Out On The Ground. This book is one of the most critically acclaimed this year. I’ve learned the most from this book about how far settler-colonial can stretch and oppress Indigenous Peoples to continuously erase their culture and heritage. This well written and purely honest work should erase the myth of Canada’s “progress”.
Treat # by Armand Ruffo
Written by Queen’s English department’s very own professor, award-winning author, professor, and filmmaker Armand Ruffo is of Ojibwa heritage. His work, Treaty #, shows how it takes two sides to respect and honor a treaty, and how treaties are continuously being broken by dominant colonial authorities. Two of my favorite poems came from this collection, Treaty letter and The Tap. Ruffo reflects on the two polar opposite sides of a treaty with empathy and responsibility as a call for justice. The reiteration of “We are all Treaty people” is an important framework for this work. This book explores the connection between political authority and identity while using memory and time.
From The Ashes by Jesse Thistle
An inspiring yet heartfelt best selling story about Thistle’s personal journey from trauma and living on the streets of Toronto. Jesse Thistle is a multi-award-winning Metis Cree author and scholar. His memoir highlights Indigenous struggles from discovering the truth about his parent’s neglect, struggling through addiction, homelessness, intergenerational trauma, and incarceration from petty theft. But mostly, it shows a story of endurance, resistance, and hope. Thistle obtained his Bachelor’s from York University and is a Ph.D. candidate at York University. I stumbled upon his memoir during Kingston’s Writers fest, where he and Armand Ruffo had a mediated conversation that influenced me to read his work.
Love Medicine and One Song by Gregory Scofield
Gregory Scofield is a Red River Metis Cree writer and beadwork artist. His collection of poetry signifies the importance of eroticism transcending beyond the physical, but the emotional and the spiritual. Most importantly, his poems resist the negative and shameful connotation behind eroticism and sexuality cultivated by eurocentric ideals. Scofield uses erotic and steamy imagery (you’re very welcome) while referencing pastoral imagery. In other words, Love Medicine and One Song celebrates sex and denies its connotation as taboo and perverse, but instead as a ceremony. He highlights that being Queer means being welcomed and appreciated in Indigenous communities unlike mainstream society, which just shows how the heteropatriarchy infiltrates its oppressive ideals in Indigenous communities, and how that harms cultural practices.
That Tongued Belonging by Marilyn Dumont
This collection has a special place in my heart. Dumont is an award-winning scholar and poet of Cree Metis descent. This collection of poetry discusses the vital relationship between language and identity, and how Indigenous peoples were robbed of their language, which develops a sense of identity crisis. Dumont illustrates the inevitable pain and persisting realities behind settler colonialism that resulted in her not learning the Cree language, but shows how familial kinship and endurance act as a form of resistance against systemic oppression.
Each one of these diverse, talented, and incredibly well-acclaimed artists contributed to my journey of learning as I settled on Turtle Island. These works inspire me to take my activism and my conversations further in my own country, Jordan. Settler colonialism is not new to our region as Arabs, which we vow to dismantle and recognize its negative implications every day. In this case, I continuously try to spark the conversation to end the myth that Canada was and will always be a perfect place, when in fact it holds a violent truth. I hope with these works you learn, reflect, and value these powerful voices and hopefully feel motivated enough to pick up a book by an Indigenous author and consider your positionality and responsibility we have as settlers.
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