Reading Indigenous Memoir

September 30 will mark the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation here in Canada. It’s an important new holiday as our country begins the difficult process of grappling with our colonial and colonizing history and the impacts, both intentional and unintentional, of this history on the Indigenous peoples of this land.

Throughout this week, I will be providing lists of some of my favorite books by Indigenous authors. Today’s (short) list is for memoirs. (The list is alphabetical by title.)

Black Water, David A. Robertson (2020)

This is a beautiful memoir structured around the memories and stories that arise when the author’s elderly father asks to go visit his family trap line one last time, for the first time in seventy years. It’s a wonderful and honest story, particularly as it deals with his experience of growing up not knowing he was Indigenous — at the same time as his father was a national leader in promoting education in Indigenous knowledge, language, and ways. An enlightening and empathetic read.

Making Love with the Land, Joshua Whitehead (2022)

While this is more a collection of essays than memoir, strictly speaking, I’m including this title because he offers some unique reflections on his own story and intersectional, ‘Indigiqueer’ identity.

One Story, One Song, Richard Wagamese (2011)

This is a book of short reflections and memoir from the late, great Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) writer Richard Wagamese. From the perspective of memoir, there are important reflections on the impact of the Sixties Scoop on his life, substance abuse and sobriety, and his recovery of his Ojibwe heritage.

Red Paint, Sasha taqʷšəblu* LaPointe (2022)

This is a beautiful-insightful-painful tour de force of a memoir, written by a Coast Salish (in the book she notes at least Lushootseed and Chinook ancestry) poet and punk-rocker. It has thoughtful reflections on relationships and sexual trauma as well as Indigenous resurgence. Highly recommended!

* A reasonable approximation this name in English pronunciation would be ‘tuck-shhh-blew’.

Thunder through my Veins, Gregory Schofield (1999)

Schofield’s memoir is without question a hard story, involving stories of childhood neglect, abuse within the family, the foster care system, and institutions, substance abuse, sexualized violence, and external and internalized anti-Indigenous racism and homophobia. It’s a lot. And yet, what shone through the whole book was the author’s desire to find meaning, purpose, and belonging in life. It was not ‘just’ an all-too-common sad story about the harsh realities of life for North America’s Indigenous peoples. It is a story about identity and finding hope within finding and accepting who one really is. (A fuller review can be found in my August 20 post).

A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder, Ma-Nee Chacaby (2016)

Whereas the other titles in this list have something of a ‘literary’ ambition, this memoir is simply the telling of an eventful life story. Like many of the others, it’s full of difficult subject matter and trigger warnings abound for physical and sexual assault, anti-Indigenous racism, homophobia, and substance abuse. But it’s also an incredible story about resilience, love, joy, and found and recovered family. It made me sad to read of the unrelenting difficulties Chacaby has faced, but her story still filled my heart.

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