Read Indigenous 2021
We are glad to share our Read Indigenous 2021 list! In previous years, we shared this list in October. Starting this year, we will share our picks every year starting in June.
Read Indigenous is our yearly list of must-read books by Indigenous writers and illustrators. All of these books have been selected with Toronto Public Library’s Indigenous Advisory Council. These books are just a few among many books by Indigenous authors, so don't stop here!
Below, we're highlighting a few books for children, teens and adults, but there are plenty more to check out.
Where possible, I have included the nation(s) of the author or illustrator next to their name in brackets. All summaries below the books we are sharing today are taken from the Toronto Public Library website.
When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith (Sioux, Lakota, and Cree), illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Navajo)
"When We Are Kind celebrates simple acts of everyday kindness and encourages children to explore how they feel when they initiate and receive acts of kindness in their lives. Celebrated author Monique Gray Smith has written many books on the topics of resilience and reconciliation and communicates an important message through carefully chosen words for readers of all ages. Beautifully illustrated by artist Nicole Neidhardt, this book encourages children to be kind to others and to themselves."
Rock & Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story by Sebastian Robertson (Haudenosaunee, Cayuga, Mohawk), illustrated by Adam Gustavson
"Canadian guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson is known mainly for his central role in the musical group the Band. But how did he become one of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time? Written by his son, Sebastian, this is the story of a rock-and-roll legend's journey through music, beginning when he was taught to play guitar at nine years old on a Native American reservation. Rock and Roll Highway is the story of a young person's passion, drive, and determination to follow his dream."
When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Trapline = ācimowin ohci wanihikīskanāhk by Ida Tremblay (Cree), illustrated by Miriam Körner
"This story takes readers on a journey into the past when dog teams were part of the traditional way of life in Northern Saskatchewan. It follows the seasonal cycle of trapline life."
You can check out more of this year's Read Indigenous titles, as well as previous years titles, on our Read Indigenous list for children.
Powwow Summer by Nahanni Shingoose (Ojibway/Saulteaux)
"River is teased about her Indigenous heritage as a young girl, and she struggles with her identity. When she travels to spend the summer with her Indigenous father and grandmother, she finds out what it means to be an "urban Indian." On her family's nearby reserve, she learns about the lives of Indigenous people. River discovers a deep respect for and connection with the land and her cultural traditions. The highlight of her summer is attending the annual powwow with her new friends. After the powwow, River drinks too much and posts photos online that anger people, and she has her right to identify as an Indigenous person called into question."
A Girl Called Echo, Volume 4: Road Allowance Era by Katherena Vermette (Métis), illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, colourized by Donovan Yaciuk
"In the fourth volume of A Girl Called Echo, Echo Desjardins resumes her time travel and learns more about Métis history in Canada, including the "road allowance" land set aside by the crown, and the former community known as "Rooster Town" in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She also witnesses the trial of Louis Riel in Regina, Saskatchewan."
You can also check out the rest of A Girl Called Echo series.
If I Go Missing by Brianna Jonnie (Ojibway) and Nahanni Shingoose (Ojibway/Saulteaux), illustrated by Neal Shannacappo (Ojibway/Saulteaux)
"A powerfully illustrated graphic novel for teens about the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Combining graphic fiction and non-fiction, this young adult graphic novel serves as a window into one of the unique dangers of being an Indigenous teen in Canada today. The text of the book is derived from excerpts of a letter written to the Winnipeg Chief of Police by fourteen-year-old Brianna Jonnie -- a letter that went viral and in which, Jonnie calls out the authorities for neglecting to immediately investigate and involve the public in the search for missing Indigenous people, and urges them to "not treat me as the Indigenous person I am proud to be" if she were to be reported missing. Indigenous artist Neal Shannacappo provides the artwork for the book. Through his illustrations he imagines a situation in which a young Indigenous woman does disappear, portraying the reaction of her community, her friends, the police and media. An author's note at the end of the book provides context for young readers about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada."
You can check out more of this year's Read Indigenous titles, as well as previous years titles, on our Read Indigenous list for teens.
Indians on Vacation by Thomas King (Cherokee)
"Meet Bird and Mimi. The brilliant new novel from one of Canada’s foremost authors. Inspired by a handful of old postcards, sent by Uncle Lenny nearly a hundred years before, Bird and Mimi attempt to trace the steps of Mimi’s long-lost uncle and the family medicine bundle he took with him to Europe. By turns witty, sly and poignant, this is the unforgettable tale of one couple’s holiday trip to Prague. The often grumpy Bird and optimistic Mimi and their wanderings through the European capitals reveal a complicated history, both personal and political."
Dammed: The Politics of Loss and Survival in Anishinaabe Territory by Brittany Luby (Anishinaabeg)
""Dammed: The Politics of Loss and Survival in Anishinaabe Territory" explores Canada's hydroelectric boom in the Lake of the Woods area. It complicates narratives of increasing affluence in postwar Canada, revealing that the inverse was true for Indigenous communities along the Winnipeg River. "Dammed" makes clear that hydroelectric generating stations were designed to serve settler populations. Governments and developers excluded the Anishinabeg from planning and operations and failed to consider how power production might influence the health and economy of their communities. By so doing, Canada and Ontario thwarted a future that aligned with the terms of treaty, a future in which both settlers and the Anishinabeg might thrive in shared territories. The same hydroelectric development that powered settler communities flooded manomin fields, washed away roads, and compromised fish populations. Anishinaabe families responded creatively to manage the government-sanctioned environmental change and survive the resulting economic loss. Luby reveals these responses to dam development, inviting readers to consider how resistance might be expressed by individuals and families, and across gendered and generational lines. Luby weaves text, testimony, and experience together, grounding this historical work in the territory of her paternal ancestors, lands she calls home. With evidence drawn from archival material, oral history, and environmental observation, "Dammed" invites readers to confront Canadian colonialism in the twentieth century."
A History of my Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt (Cree)
"A profound meditation on queerness and indigeneity from the youngest ever winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize Billy-Ray Belcourt begins A History of My Brief Body with a letter to his nohkom, his grandmother. "In the world-to-come," he writes, "everyone is loved by an NDN woman like you whose soft voice reminds us that we can stop running now." What follows is a charting of the distance between the world he was born into and the world he wants--a book as beautiful as it is devastating. Reflecting on his personal history, Belcourt maps his "un-Canadian and otherworldly" desire to love at all costs. We're taken to his birthplace in Joussard, in northern Alberta, where he and his twin brother come to exemplify opposites: hard and soft, masculine and feminine. To his high school graduation, where a hug from his father teaches him how to hold and be held. To a hotel room in Edmonton, where destroying the photographic evidence of his adolescence is an act of self-abolition and of making himself anew. Blending memoir and essay, and with a poet's delight in language, A History of My Brief Body is both a grappling with a legacy of trauma and a record of the joy that flourishes in spite of it."
You can check out more of this year's Read Indigenous titles, as well as previous years titles, on our Read Indigenous list for adults.