Reading and Watching List: Indigenous Voices

This article was written by Laurel Scott

I love reading books. I also love watching movies. And who doesn’t try to convince people to watch and read the things they like and find important? This led me to the decision to start a monthly column, The Reading and Watching List, in which every month with regards to a particular theme I will create a list of notable books and movies that I think deserve your attention. I hope this sounds as interesting as I think it is, and although I feel I have good taste, maybe you have suggestions of books or movies that you think deserve to be on these lists as well- if you would like me to take note of something that you want to see on the list, send me an email at editor@themeliorist.ca. 

This month’s theme is Indigenous Voices: featuring the work of Indigenous writers, scholars, artists, directors, activists, crew members, and youth. Dealing with issues of colonization, the residential school system, and Indigenous community survival, these can be hard reads and definitely tear-jerking movies, but they are important stories to be told. I would encourage every non-Indigenous and Indigenous person to explore these titles, but especially to read the first entry, the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

* Content warning: The books and movies listed deal with sensitive content that may be traumatizing. 

Books

They Came for the Children: Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

This report is a thorough analysis of the impact residential schools have had upon Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Investigating the reasons behind the Canadian government’s initiative to implement the residential school system, the report provides detailed accounts of the experiences lived and witnessed by former residential school students. The report further examines the long term implications that the residential school system carries for Indigenous communities. It is available for free download at www.trc.ca 

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Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, by Paulette Regan 

A call to action, this book inspires and offers all Canadians- Indigenous and non-Indigenous- a new way of approaching the critical task of healing the wounds left by the residential school system. 

Lighting The Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Resurgence, and Protection of Indigenous Nations, edited by Leanne Simpson

This is a collection of essays by leading Indigenous scholars focusing on themes of freedom, liberation, and Indigenous resurgence. They analyze treaties, political culture, governance, environmental issues, economy, and radical social movements from an anti-colonial Indigenous perspective in a Canadian context.

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Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View, by Howard Adams 

Originally published in 1975, this book has become a classic of revisionist history. It shook readers at the time when it was first published, showing white readers that what Native people had to say for themselves was quite different from the convenient picture of history by white authors.

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Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights, by Tom Flanagan, Christopher Alcantara and André Le Dressay 

This book looks at the issues of how First Nations lands have been managed and the property rights that have been in place since the Indian Act of 1876. It questions whether present land practices have benefited Canada’s Indigenous peoples, challenges current laws and management, and proposes the creation of a new system that would allow First Nations to choose to have full ownership of property, both individually and collectively. 

More authors and books to check out: Thomas King (The Inconvenient Indian, The Back of the Turtle), John Burrows (Canada’s Indigenous Constitution), Lynne Davis (Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-Non-Indigenous Relationships), Tracey Lindberg (Birdie)

Movies

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Rhymes for Young Ghouls, 2013

Jeff Barnaby’s debut feature film follows a young Alia, having to grow up quick in the 1970s after her mother commits suicide and her father is sent to prison. Alia runs her father’s drug dealing business in order to pay the corrupt Indian Agent, keeping her from being placed in the residential school. This bloody tragedy ends as Alia and her friends plan a revenge against the sadistic Indian Agent. Although this movie resembles a surreal, fever-dream thriller, its terrifying fictions are grounded in even more terrible facts. 

(also check out Barnaby’s new release, Blood Quantum)

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Indian Horse 

Based on an award winning novel by Richard Wagamese, this movie sheds light on the dark history of residential schools and the experiences of the survivors. A young boy, taken from his Ojibway family and placed in residential school, finds salvation in hockey. He dedicates himself to the sport but even as he makes it to the Pros he is haunted by his past and must face a process of healing.

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After years of touring with her band, a renowned Anishinaabe musician returns home to Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in Ontario. She wants to restore herself, and is urged to reconnect with family and old friends, but finds past trauma catching up with her. Rather than a narrative of victimhood, writer-director Darlene Naponse explores facets of resilience, not just survival but how to thrive through the healing of love, family, self-expression, and the land.

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The Grizzlies

Based on a true story, The Grizzlies is about the determination and resilience of a group of Inuit youth in a small Arctic community. As a way of combatting an epidemic of youth suicide, a new school teacher to the community establishes a youth lacrosse team. Through the sport, the youth find a vital outlet and the team creates a sense of pride in themselves and their community.

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Our People Will Be Healed, 2017

This documentary, made by the well-established Director Alanis Obomsawin (this is her 50th film), reveals how a Cree community in Manitoba has been enriched through the power of education. The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House, north of Winnipeg, receives a level of funding that few other Indigenous institutions enjoy, and this documentary shows how successful the school is in helping develop the next generation.

Check out the National Film Board of Canada’s Indigenous Cinema catalogue for more feature length and short films (nfb.ca).