First Nations Communities READ Awards 2021-2022

November 12, 2021 | Jamie

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Every year, the Ontario Library Service nominates and selects finalists for First Nations Communities READ for Children, Young Adults and Adults

Below, we are highlighting this year's winners and finalists. Want to read books by other nominees for this year's First Nations Communities READ? You can check them out on these book lists:

You can also check out First Nations Communities READ Award winners and finalists from previous years for Children and for Young Adults/Adults.

Congratulations to all of the nominees, finalists and winners of this year's First Nations Communities READ Awards!

Please note, any Indigenous author or illustrator will have their nation next to their name in brackets.


First Nations Communities Read Winners (Children and Young Adult/Adult)

It's a Mitig by Bridget George

It's a Mitig! written and illustrated by Bridget George (Anishnaabe)

"A colourful children’s book written in a rhyming combination of English and Ojibwe. It’s a Mitig! guides young readers through the forest while introducing them to Ojibwe words for nature. From sunup to sundown, encounter an amik playing with sticks and swimming in the river, a prickly gaag hiding in the bushes and a big, bark-covered mitig. Featuring vibrant and playful artwork, an illustrated Ojibwe-to-English glossary and a simple introduction to the double-vowel pronunciation system, plus accompanying online recordings, It’s a Mitig! is one of the first books of its kind. It was created for young children and their families with the heartfelt desire to spark a lifelong interest in learning language."

Orange Shirt Day - September 30th by Orange Shirt Society

Orange Shirt Day: September 30th by Orange Shirt Society, edited by Joan Sorley and Phyllis Webstad (Salish, Secwepemc and Stswecem'c Xgat'tem)

"Readers of Orange Shirt Day will embark on a sacred journey to deepen their understanding of Orange Shirt Day, the Orange Shirt Society and residential school reconciliation. This book provides the necessary resources and sparks a passion for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals to make a difference moving forward. For Phyllis Webstad, as well as other survivors and their families, the orange shirt has become a symbol of healing and of hope for the future."


Children's Finalists

How I Survived Four Nights on the Ice by Serapio Ittusardjuat

How I Survived: Four Nights on the Ice written by Serapio Ittusardjuat (Inuit), illustrated by Matthew K. Hoddy

"After his snowmobile breaks down halfway across the sea ice on a trip back from a fishing camp, Serapio Ittusardjuat recounts the traditional skills and knowledge he leaned on to stay alive. This harrowing first-person account of four nights spent on the open sea ice--with few supplies and no water--shows young readers the determination and strength necessary to survive in the harsh Arctic climate, even when the worst occurs."

I Am Loved by Mary Qamaniq-Mason

I Am Loved by Mary Qamaniq-Mason and Kevin Qamaniq-Mason (Inuit), illustrated by Hwei Lim

"Pakak is in a new foster home, with new people, new food, and new smells. Feeling alone and uncertain, Pakak finds comfort in a secret shared with him by his anaanattiaq, his grandmother, and in the knowledge that he is loved no matter how far away his family may be. Written as a gift for Inuit children in care by foster parents Kevin and Mary Qamaniq-Mason, this book is lovingly imbued with cultural familiarities that will resonate with children who, like Pakak, are navigating the unknown."

Kits Cubs and Calves An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short

Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer by Suzie Napayok-Short (Inuit), illustrated by Tamara Campeau

"Akuluk is visiting her family in Nunavut and can't wait to get out on her uncle's boat for a ride into the powerful Arctic Ocean. Surrounded by her family, and with her trusty toy polar bear beside her, Akuluk experiences the beautiful sights, sounds, and animals that abound in the ocean and along the shore during the short Arctic summer--from a mother polar bear and her cubs to a family of belugas and tiny Arctic fox kits. As they encounter each animal, Akuluk's aunt and uncles share with her how each species cares for its young and how they protect their babies from the other animals who share their ecosystem. This beautiful story of family connection and respect for the natural world teaches young readers how close humans are to our animal counterparts and that caring for the environment in which we live is one of our most important responsibilities."

Siha Tooskin Knows the Strength of his Hair by Charlene Bearhead

Siha Tooskin Knows the Strength of His Hair by Charlene Bearhead and Wilson Bearhead (Stoney-Nakoda), illustrated by Chloe Bluebird Mustooch (Stoney-Nakoda)

"Siha Tooskin (Paul) experiences a bit of teasing (bullying) about his braid and his grandfather teaches him about how he can find strength in his hair through the Nakota tradition and rise above such petty taunts."

Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas

Swift Fox All Along written by Rebecca Thomas (Mi'kmaq), illustrated by Maya McKibbin (Anishinaabeg and Yaqui)

"What does it mean to be Mi'kmaq? And if Swift Fox can't find the answer, will she ever feel like part of her family?

When Swift Fox's father picks her up to go visit her aunties, uncles, and cousins, her belly is already full of butterflies. And when he tells her that today is the day that she'll learn how to be Mi'kmaq, the butterflies grow even bigger. Though her father reassures her that Mi'kmaq is who she is from her eyes to her toes, Swift Fox doesn't understand what that means. Her family welcomes her with smiles and hugs, but when it's time to smudge and everyone else knows how, Swift Fox feels even more like she doesn't belong.

Then she meets her cousin Sully and realizes that she's not the only one who's unsure--and she may even be the one to teach him something about what being Mi'kmaq means. Based on the author's own experience, with striking illustrations by Maya McKibbin, Swift Fox All Along is a poignant story about identity and belonging that is at once personal and universally resonant."

When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith

When We Are Kind written 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."


Want to read more titles like these? Check out the other nominees for this year's First Nations Communities Read for Children.


Young Adult/Adult Finalist

Black Water by David Robertson

Black Water: Family, Legacy and Blood Memory by David Robertson (Cree)

"David A. Robertson, the son of a Cree father and a white, settler mother, grew up with virtually no knowledge or understanding of his family’s Indigenous roots. His father, Dulas, or Don as he became known, had grown up on the trapline in the bush only to be transplanted permanently to a house on reserve in Manitoba, where he was not permitted to speak his language—Swampy Cree—and was forced to learn and speak only English while in day school, unless in secret in the forest with his friends. Robertson’s mother, Beverly Eyers, grew up in a small town in Manitoba, a town with no Indigenous families, until Don came to town as a United Church minister and fell in love with her. Robertson’s parents made the decision to raise their children, in his words, “separate from his Indigenous identity.” He grew up without his father’s teachings or knowledge of his life or experiences. All he had left was blood memory, the pieces of who he was engrained in the fabric of his DNA. Pieces that he has spent a lifetime putting together. Black Water is a family memoir of intergenerational trauma and healing, of connection, of story, of how David Robertson’s father’s life—growing up in Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, then making the journey from Norway House to Winnipeg—informed the author’s own life, and might even have saved it. Facing a story nearly erased by the designs of history, father and son journey together back to the trapline at Black Water, through the past to create a new future."

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good (Cree)

"Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn't want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission. Fuelled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can't stop running and moves restlessly from job to job -- through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps -- trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew. With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward."

Genocidal Love : A Life After Residential School by Bevann Fox

Genocidal Love: A Life After Residential School by Bevann Fox (Cree)

"A residential school survivor's complicated path toward healing and love. Genocidal Love delves into the long-term effects of childhood trauma on those who attended residential school and demonstrates the power of story to help in recovery and healing. Presenting herself as 'Myrtle,' Bevann Fox recounts her early childhood filled with love and warmth on the First Nation reservation with her grandparents. At the age of seven, she was sent to residential school, and her horrific experiences of abuse there left her without a voice, timid and nervous, never sure, never trusting, and always searching. This is the story of Myrtle battling to recover her voice. This is the story of her courage and resilience throughout the arduous process required to make a claim for compensation for the abuse she experienced at residential school--a process that turned out to be yet another trauma at the hands of the colonial power. This is the story of one woman finally standing up to the painful truth of her past and moving beyond it for the sake of her children and grandchildren. In recounting her tumultuous life, Fox weaves truth and fiction together as a means of bringing clarity to the complex emotions and situations she faced as she walked her path toward healing."

Ghost Lake by Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler

Ghost Lake by Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler

"Pyromaniacs, vigilantes, mysterious phenomena, prehistoric beasts, cryptid species, grave robbers and ghosts… the stories of Ghost Lake feature a cast of interrelated characters and their brushes with the supernatural, creatures of Ojibwe cosmology, the Spirit World, and with monsters, both human and otherwise. Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler shows us that the pre-colonial past is not so distant, that history informs the present, and nothing is ever truly lost or destroyed because the land remembers."


Want to read more titles like these? Check out the other nominees for this year's First Nations Communities READ for Young Adults and Adults.


Update on November 15: fixed a typo, and added a line connecting First Nations Communities READ Awards for Children and Young Adult/Adult from previous years.