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 list is for books that focus on introducing aspects of Indigenous cultures.
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013)
This is one of those books whose popularity never seems to stop growing. I first heard about it 2015 and it wasn’t easy to come by at the time. But now it seems it’s on the shelves of every bookstore. And I cannot be happier this is the case. Kimmerer is a masterful storyteller — if you can get a copy of the audiobook, which she reads, do it! — and in this book she weaves together her knowledge and love for plants from both her training as a PhD in Botany and from her Potawatomi heritage. The stories are gentle and disarming, and all the more powerful for it.
The Cultural Toolbox: Traditional Ojibwe Living in the Modern World, Anton Treuer (2021)
Anton Treuer is an Ojibwe knowledge-keeper as well as a Princeton-educated teacher and speaker. In this book, he introduces Ojibwe cultural practices, worldview, and ceremony in a loving and informed, but highly engaging and accessible way. This trip through the year’s seasonal cycle, understood as a metaphor for the seasons of life, is one of my favorite reads of the year. Absolutely wonderful!
Embers, Richard Wagamese (2016)
This slim book is difficult to categorize. It is full of brief anecdotes, stories, poems, and sayings that demonstrate the author’s big heart and the essence of his spirituality. The book is not a ‘cultural study’ — this is far from the first place I’d turn to to understand Anishinaabe/Ojibwe culture (see Treuer and Simpson for that!) — but is a wonderful exploration by way of bricolage of how one Ojibwe man understands his place in the world.
The Gift is in the Making, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2013)
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a thought-leader in Indigenous resurgence in Canada. This makes her work both important but also sometimes difficult to digest. For this reason, this wonderful collection of stories for children and adults can be a great introduction to her writing. These are largely retellings of traditional Anishinaabe stories, which Simpson gathered so she could have stories to tell her own children that would convey to them the teachings of their people. It’s a delightful read! (If you’re looking for a more ‘grownup’ look at Anishinaabe culture, her 2011 book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back comes highly recommended to me — I haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet but hope to do so soon!)
The World We Used to Live In, Vine Deloria, Jr. (2006)
Through works like Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and God is Red (1973), Deloria was at the forefront of the Indigenous resurgence movement from its earliest days. In this book, which was published following his 2005 death, he paints a stunning picture of the possibilities of traditional Indigenous spiritual life. He doesn’t shy away from the prophetic, miraculous, or otherwise fantastical; rather, he revels in them. Topics covered include: dreams and visions, healing, prescience and foresight, interspecies communication and transmutation, weather powers, and sacred places. It’s a wild, but completely fascinating, ride!
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