Recommended Reading

Article about a guaranteed income program specifically for trans people

Off The Book Shelf – originally published in the Brentwood Cares newsletter
By Rosemary Brown

Many of us want to learn more about Indigenous Issues and Racism but don’t always know where to start . So I thought I would share with you what I have been reading in two book clubs: Indigenous Book Discussion Group (formerly Chapters and Chat) facilitated by Indigenous activist Michelle Robinson and the Settlers’ Book Club facilitated by Cat Schick, a Calgary artist. Both book clubs can be searched for online (Chapters and Chat through the Calgary Public Library, called Indigenous Book Discussion Group: and

In Indigenous Book Discussion Group (Chapters and Chat) we have alternated reading books with studying The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. The 94 Calls to Action (available online) are a blueprint of what Indigenous peoples want to see action on in many areas including but not limited to child welfare, education, health, public services, and justice. One can track the progress being made on the Calls by googling Beyond 94. One can also get much more information on the issues that gave rise to the 94 Calls by checking out the Truth and Reconciliation Report Volumes from the public library.

The last book we read is a must read – 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph. In just over 100 pages of fast paced but detailed writing Joseph summarizes the history that different sections of the Indian Act have had on Indigenous Peoples in so many aspects of their lives. He ends with a discussion of how the Indian Act could be dismantled. There are also several appendices including one terminology, a classroom guide and the TRC’s Calls to Action.

Off the Bookshelf (2)
by Rosemary Brown

Last month I introduced readers to two book clubs: Indigenous Book Discussion Group (Chapters and Chat) and the Settlers’ Book Club, both of which can be found online. One book which has been read in both clubs is Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel. Vowel, a Métis lawyer based in Edmonton, makes it clear that she is not speaking for all Indigenous peoples. On the other hand the issues and analyses she presents echo those of many of the other books we have read. In this book Vowel uses humour and a well-documented research to explore a range of issues including but not limited to terminology, identity to residential schools and the 60’s Scoop, water, justice, the treaties, education. As such this is an excellent book to read alongside the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action. Vowel also has an extensive section challenging prevalent myths around Indigenous peoples.

One of the themes running through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action is the need for anti-racism education among health care professionals, child care workers, educators, the police, members of the justice system, etc. So in the Settlers’ Book Club we have also been reading several books about racism. The first was White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. This was written by the white American author and anti-racism facilitator Robin Diangelo, White Fragility explores the myriad reactions that we as white people often experience when either discussing racism or being challenged for racist comments and behaviours. These include everything from anger, and denial, to withdrawal, tears and or silence.

While I had been aware of these typical reactions before I read the book, I appreciated how Diangelo locates them within the context of white supremacy and what she calls the “good/bad binary”. She unpacks what white supremacy is and how as white people we are socialized into racism. Because we often are unconscious of this process and because we have bought into the notion that good people cannot be racist – that the racists are only those radical white supremacists. She ends with a discussion of how we can build resiliency when talking about racism so that we do not fall into typical reactive behaviours. This book has given me and others a lot to think about, as well as a list of very useful resources for further learning.

Off the Book Shelf (3)
By Rosemary Brown

One of the first and most impactful books we read in Indigenous Book Disscussion Group (Chapters and Chat) was Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life.The author is James Daschuk, Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Adjunct Professor in the Department of History at the University of Regina. The question motivating the research for this book was what were the root causes of the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous peoples as compared to mainstream society in Canada. Using a range of sources including government documents, reports from Indian agents, the RCMP and the Hudson Bay company, Daschuk locates the origins of the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous peoples on the prairies in the impact of the fur trade economy, the destruction of the buffalo herds and harsh government policies.

I was deeply disturbed to learn that the Canadian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, deliberately withheld food relief as a means to force treaties and reserves upon Indigenous peoples in order to clear the way for the railroad and settlement. Even after treaties were signed food relief, which was most often not only inadequate but spoiled, continued to be a means for control. Previous to the late 1870s and despite fatal diseases introduced through the fur trade, the Indigenous population was quite healthy. Now malnourished and crowded onto reserves they were not able to withstand the impact of tuberculosis which spread dramatically, killing a significant number of people and making others more susceptible to other diseases. A more recent example of the link between malnourishment, overcrowding and the spread of tuberculosis was a tuberculosis outbreak in the 1980s among the Lubicon Nation in northern Alberta after the disruption of their traditional economy by imposed oil and gas development.

While I found the content of Clearing the Plains difficult and upsetting to read I strongly recommend this book to others. It encompasses an important part of our history here in Alberta one that we cannot continue to ignore if we are serious abut the Truth and Reconciliation process.

This past summer the Settlers’ Book Club read Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in gaining insights into the relationship between black communities and urban police forces. A black investigative journalist in Toronto, Cole recounts events from the year
of 2016 on a month to month basis. He describes in chilling detail incidents of police brutality as well as interactions with immigration and child welfare. Cole is also an activist who speaks up at hearings and other public events. He describes these as well as the community organizing efforts of everyday people. Cole weaves in stories from other provinces, including the visit he made to cities in Alberta to meet with communities concerned about the issues of carding and racial profiling by the police. This book was a timely read shortly after the Black Lives Matter protests held across the world and. It continues to be significant for understanding the experiences of Black people in this
country at the hands of the authorities, and the need for change. As Cole states “Some of us have decided that policing as it exists today will never contribute to our safety or freedom”.

Off the Book Shelf (4)

by Rosemary Brown

In Indigenous Book Discussion Group (Chapters and Chat) we read Clifford, Harold R. Johnson’s poignant memoir of his older brother. The story is related through a melange of memories as Johnson spends a day and night camping outside the long-ago abandoned home where he had lived with his Swedish father and Cree mother and siblings, at Montreal Lake in northern Saskatchewan. These memories range from escapades into which Clifford led Harold to discussions of scientific theories and allusions to astral travel.

The memoir offers insights into the critical role his mother played in securing a livelihood for the family through trapping, as well as the impact on the family of a forced move from the bush and trap lines into an urban area. The memories of Clifford extend into adulthood and the tensions that sometimes existed between Harold and Clifford. The conversations they had as adults continued to fascinate me, as did Clifford’s analysis of the difference between looking and seeing when discussing internalized racism, and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples. The book left me wishing I could have met and had a chat with Clifford and with the desire to read more by Harold R. Johnson.

To honor Black History Month, the Settler’s Book Club read Cheryl Foggo’s Pourin’ Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West. Foggo is a Calgary-based award-winning author, playwright and filmmaker. Written thirty years ago and recently republished, Pourin’ Down Rain combines personal memoir and family history, all contextualized within the larger story of the migration of Black settlers into Canada around 1910.

Foggo was born in Calgary in 1956, and she describes what it was like to grow up in Bowness as part of the small close-knit community of Black families who also lived in her neighbourhood. She also recounts the long but much anticipated road trips to visit grandparents and other relatives in Winnipeg. The close bonds between Cheryl and her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents gave her a sense of identity and pride which helped her deal with the racism she encountered growing up.

She explains that she grew up into a consciousness of racism based on the experiences around her and the stories she heard from friends and family, especially when it came to finding work in Canada. There were the comments of classmates and the sudden shunning by a white boyfriend in high school. She describes the first anti-racism march she participated in and the continued evolution of her thinking when it came to racism.

Then there were the family stories told by her aunts and great aunts that related the conditions that led to the migration of hundreds of Black settlers from the U.S. into Canada. These included Foggo’s great-grandfather, who left Oklahoma for Saskatchewan in 1910.

Interspersed with the stories and vignettes of family life are numerous and wonderful photos of family, friends, and neighbours. These all contribute to a powerful depiction of what it was like to grow up Black in Calgary and in Canada in the 60’s and 70’s.

Off the Book Shelf (5)

by Rosemary Brown

Every other session of Indigenous Book Discussion Group (Chapters and Chat) focuses upon a different section of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s  94 Calls to Action. Last December marked the 5 Year Anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation report.  One of the most informative evaluations of the progress that has or has not been made on the Calls to Action was issued by the Indigenous-led  Yellowhead Institute. Entitled Calls to Action Accountability: A 2020 Status Update on Reconciliation, the full report is only 21 pages long and definitely worth reading.

It is packed with useful information and thought-provoking analysis. The report  explains that the first 42 Calls are the Legacy Calls  “that seek to address the ongoing structural inequalities that marginalize Indigenous peoples — intentionally or not — in contemporary Canadian society”. These-include the calls related to child welfare, health, justice  and education.  Calls 43-94 come under the umbrella of Reconciliation and  deal with the inclusion of Indigenous  peoples, the education of those of us who are not Indigenous and the recognition of  Indigenous rights.

The report states  that only two of the Legacy Calls have been completed and only six of the Reconciliation Calls.  The writers of the report made a decision not  to use the category “in progress” for this status  update,  only “completed” and “not completed”. I understand why they feel  that the term “in progress” can be misleading. In one of our Chapters and Chat sessions we studied  the calls around Missing Children and Burial Information. The government has allocated funds for the implementation of some of these calls and says that it is in negotiations to set up processes with Indigenous communities for collecting burial information and erecting memorials on residential school sites.  There were nine Indian residential schools in Treaty 7 territory. Yet when I wrote last fall asking the government if they had entered into negotiations with Nations in this area they replied they had not.

The report  details how the different calls have been or not been addressed and discusses what still needs to be done. The writers  analyze why more progress has not been made and highlight the urgent need for all levels of government to move to “meaningful action”. If we are serious about reconciliation we need to keep abreast of what progress has or has not been made so that we can support meaningful change. This report is one way to do that.

The Right to be Cold by Sheila (pronounced Seela) Watt-Cloutier, was the March selection for the Settlers’ Book Club. This inspiring book is both a personal memoir beginning with her childhood in Inuvik in northern Quebec, and an impassioned accounting of the negative impact of the outside world on Inuit communities in the  Canadian north, and on their traditional hunting culture. The hunting way of life was the foundation of the culture and the training ground in the skills and mental attributes needed to survive on the land.

These outside influences included  the introduction of the trapping economy by the Hudson Bay Company, the collapse of the market for fox furs in the 40s, the 60s anti-sealing campaign, increasing dependence on government assistance and the associated pressure to move into permanent communities, the introduction of a non traditional education system  the forced relocation of some Inuit communities to the far North, and the 1960s slaughter of the Inuit dog sled teams by the RCMP.

Over time these have led to social dislocation and  an increase in many social problem such as poverty, alcoholism,  crime, and violence. Watt-Cloutier believes that the way forward for Inuit communities in the North and a key means of breaking dependency lies in building and integrating those aspects, including spirituality, of what still remains of the hunting culture into new ways of doing things.

The capacity to do this, however, is diminishing as rapidly as the ice and the permafrost in the north due to global warming . As a result  Watt-cloudier has spent much of her adult life addressing environmental issues through her role as Canadian President and then as the International Chair of the ICC or Inuit Circumpolar Conference. On the one hand she   details the complex and interconnected ways in which global warming  impacts the ice and permafrost  and  Inuit communities.

On the other she recounts the intense international campaigns and the ins and outs of negotiating with all stakeholders such as Inuit  and  environmental organizations,  various industries  and governments  to create international agreements to protect the  environment and the communities impacted by harmful environmental practices.

Watt-Cloutier was instrumental in bringing the world and the UN Human Rights Council to an understanding that environmental rights are also human rights. And as Watt-cloudier s eloquently demonstrates,  one of these human rights is “the right to be cold”.

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by Rosemary Brown

I am writing this column only a few days after the discovery of the graves of 215 Indigenous children at the Kamloops Residential School. The news has been deeply distressful for Indigenous communities and residential school survivors. Indigenous colleagues have also  expressed their frustration and dismay that many settler Canadians were surprised at this discovery and continue to be unaware of the  impact of historical and ongoing colonization today.

Therefore, Tanya Talaga’s All Our Relations (read in Indigenous Book Discussion Group) would be a timely read for many of us. Talaga, an Indigenous investigative reporter with the Toronto Star, delivers a  powerful analysis of youth suicide  in Indigenous communities in Canada. What is unique to her approach is that she locates this crisis within the context of a dramatic rise in suicide rates among Indigenous youth around the globe: North and South America, Scandinavia and Australia. She also lays the blame for this suicide crisis squarely on past and current aspects of colonization: residential schools and child welfare systems and other policies common to these countries.

She also describes the  different strategies to address youth suicide, ones  based on traditional knowledge and a holistic approach, that are being advanced by  local Indigenous communities in all of these countries. No matter where you look these strategies are either ignored or insufficiently funded by governments, including our own.  

Talaga is also the author of Seven Fallen Feathers, which we read much earlier on in the book club. Here she discusses and analyzes the deaths/murders of seven Indigenous students from communities in northern Ontario who had come to Thunder Bay to continue their education.   Besides describing the details of each situation Talaga places them within larger contexts. One is the history of residential schools in Ontario. Another is the system or lack thereof for supporting students far from their home communities. A critical one is the lack of action on the part of local policing authorities and the other is the mobilization of the communities from which these students came. Community members went to Thunder Bay to search for their children and to push for more responsible policing when it came to the murder of Indigenous youths.

In  the Settlers’ Book Club we read A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. Alicia Elliott, the author, spent most of her childhood on the Six Nations reserve of Grand River in Ontario with her Tuscarora father and white mother and several siblings.

The title of her book is drawn from the Mohawk word for depression. It is an apt title as she creates a  moving portrayal of what it was like to grow up in an impoverished family with a mentally ill mother and a sometimes abusive loving father.

The book is a series of interrelated essays ranging from personal stories to reflections on the impact if colonization, the nature of racism, the agricultural industry, literature and writing and photography.

She covers a lot of ground. She critiques the social services who seemed more intent on pulling the family apart rather than providing the supports they needed. She describes how the children were coached not to say to much at school or in front of care workers so that they would not be taken away. She talks about what it was like to grow up with a mixed heritage and her journey to find herself and to become proud of her Indigenous roots. She discusses racism and compares it to our perceptions of dark matter – we can’t always see it but it is there.

She moves from a description of the lack of nutritious food available because of a limited income to an analysis of agricultural subsidies which stimulate the production of corn and soy beans which are key ingredients in the junk food that was eastern. She speaks poignantly  of her conflicted feelings towards a mother whose moods swing from loving, engaging and entertaining to sullen withdrawal and inactivity. They were also conflicted towards her father. He worked hard to support the family and was committed to keeping them together but he was emotionally abusive to his wife and there were instances of physical abuse towards his children. The theme that connects many of these essays is Elliott’s analysis of  the ongoing impact of colonization.

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by Rosemary Brown

Before beginning I would like to note that in the June column I incorrectly used the term child care instead of child welfare when discussing one of the TRC’s Calls to Action.

Red River Girl: the Life and Death of Tina Fontaine was written by Joanna Jolly a London based BBC journalist. Tina was only 15 years old in August 2014,  when her corpse was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The outcry caused by Tina’s disappearance and  murder was instrumental in the establishment of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada.

As far as I know this is the only book that has been published about Tina, the circumstances surrounding her murder and  the trial of Raymond Cormier, the man who was acquitted of murdering her. So it is worth reading for that fact alone. Jolly carried out interviews with members of Tina’s family, child welfare workers and police, lawyers, Cormier, as well as with activists around the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in order to write this book.

However, there were times when I felt that I was reading a police procedural that was focused on detailing how the investigation of Tina’s  murder was approached and on  John O’Donovan, the detective who led that investigation.

I kept wondering if an Indigenous author would have developed a more fully rounded portrait of Tina and a more comprehensive and coherent analysis of issues that surfaced in the book: intergenerational trauma; the failure of the child welfare system; racism, and the sexual exploitation of young Indigenous women in urban centres. Despite what I perceive to be its shortcomings this book should still be read as if offers a moving  context  for the 2020 final report from the Enquiry Into Missing and Murdered  Indigenous Women in Canada with its 231 calls for Justice.

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by Rosemary Brown

Until I read From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle I was often quite judgemental about those who used drugs.  This book selection for Indigenous Book Discussion Group led to a deeper understanding of the nature of addiction and the pain that leads to addiction, and also to an unexpectedly more compassionate attitude.

Thistle offers an unvarnished account of his life. Born into a Cree Métis family in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. At a young age Jesse and his brothers were transplanted to Brampton, Ontario to live with his father’s parents. His grandparents were loving but Jesse was negatively impacted by the move to such a different community and very much lost his way.  Furthermore, his grandfather was  quite strict and as a teen Jesse often rebelled until he finally quit school and left home.  

What Thistle narrates next makes for a painful read. Often on the street Jesse slid into addiction and homelessness and made many poor choices as a result, including engaging in criminal activities. During this time, he also made attempts to go clean but they almost always failed  and his health deteriorated so severely that his survival was  at stake.

At this point he ended  up in  a long term rehabilitation program. And here the narrative took a hopeful turn. In this rehabilitation program a very long and difficult struggle ensued. With the loving support of the few people who did not give up on him, the quality of the program he was in, and sheer grit and determination Jesse finally overcame his addiction and continued his education. So in the end Thistle’s story is also one of hope for all of those experiencing addiction and for the families who love them.

The Settlers’ Book Club  continued it’s examination of racism with How To Be An Anti-Racist by Black university professor Ibram X. Kendi.

While the title might lead one to believe this was a prescriptive manual, the book is in fact an interesting weave of personal experiences and patterns of thinking with broader analyses of a range of concepts relevant to antiracist struggle. It’s an account of how Kendi’s thinking  evolved over time, from his childhood and youth to today. He considers internalized racist attitudes and ideas, and the intersecting issues of class, gender, sexuality. He also discusses  power, colour, the environment and the source of racism in society.

In the process Kendi challenges the idea of colour blindness and the belief that  one  can be a non-racist or not racist. He argues that one is either racist or anti-racist. His definition of anti-racist treats the term not as a noun but as a verb, entailing the necessity to actively counter racist ideas, policies and practices.

He locates the source of racism not in ignorance and hate but the policies and practices  that produce hate and ignorance. Further he argues that these policies and practices are not designed by those in power because they hold racist ideas, but that racist policies, practices and ideology are designed to benefit those in power – whether economically, politically or socially.

This then leads to an analysis of the viability of traditional anti-racist strategies which rely on education and moral persuasion. He argues that these have their place in the struggle, but if  they are not linked to the work of actively challenging racist policies and practices they will fail in effectively challenging racism. For Kendi the essence of being an anti-racist is to work towards the elimination of racist policies and practices head on, which means taking on power. As such Kendi’s book is a critical and thought provoking addition to the literature on anti-racism.  It is well worth reading.

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by Rosemary Brown

Outside the context of the book clubs I have been reading Braiding Sweetgrass:: Indigenous Wisdom , Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. The author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a trained botanist who teaches at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.

Syracuse, where I was born and raised,  is on the traditional lands of the Onondaga Nation, one of the members of the Haudenosaunee or  Iroquois nations. Kimmerer was also born and raised in upstate New York in a rural area. Her fascination with and love of plant life emerged from her experiences in the countryside.

Braiding Sweetgrass consists of a series of interconnected vignettes about various plants and trees, intermingled with  experiences of  Kimmerer’s  childhood, post secondary education and teaching career.

Throughout  runs the theme of the relationship between Indigenous ways of knowing and western science. As a botanist she draws on both and in the process of writing of her experiences, ignites our sense of wonder about the natural world around us and our relationships as humans within  this world.

Indigenous peoples understand at a deep spiritual  level that this is a relationship  of reciprocity: plants will take care of us if  we take care of plants. And this understanding is infused with a sense of our responsibilities to all with whom we are in relationship and also gratitude to the natural world which sustains us.

Kimmerer recounts  the experience of one of her graduate students  who carried out research about the efficacy of different harvesting techniques of Sweetgrass. One technique is to snap the Sweetgrass stem off above the root, the other is to pull part of the Sweetgrass plant up by the root. Her control group was to be one that was not harvested at all

Informing this research was the wisdom of Indigenous grandmothers who taught that if the sweetgrass was harvested (in a respectful manner detailed in the book) that the sweetgrass would thrive, but that this was not the case if it was not harvested.

Some members of the  committee set up to review the student’s  thesis proposal dismissed the wisdom of the grandmothers, and the value of the research project, saying that everyone knew that if you broke off part of a plant or pulled some of it up by the roots you would damage the plant. Meticulous research following a western research protocol was carried out for two years. The results were that both harvesting methods were equally efficacious  but the control group which was not harvested did very poorly as it became  overgrown. When the student defended her thesis, committee members acknowledged the error of their thinking and the validity of Indigenous knowledge based on centuries of observation and learning from plant life.

When I was  growing up we spent summers on a small property on Cross Lake. The approach to the lake led through a swath of marvellous cattails. They stand out vividly in my memories of childhood. Little did I know how many gifts are offered by cattails. Kimmerer relates these through a retelling of taking a class of students out to live by a marsh. They spent time in the water harvesting cattails and learning how to separate the layers of leaves making up the stem and using these to create thread and twine,  and the mats which are used for sitting, and sleeping and to cover the walls of a round house made from maple saplings. At the centre of the leaves is a long pith and at the base, a rhizome, both of which are starchy food sources and the pollen and  seeds provide protein. The plant also contains  a gel that is used as an ointment for insect bites. The  inside of the brown tails can be used to stuff mats etc.

For me this chapter fully illustrated the gifts that are offered to us by nature and why a key part of Indigenous cultures is the expression of gratitude for these gifts.

Kimmerer has spent a lot of time building relations with members of the Onondaga Nation, learning not only about their relationship with plants but also the animals around them. She shares a wonderful expression of gratitude that is used to open meetings, ceremonies and other activities It’s called the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. I will end with an excerpt from the Address. You can google the Thanksgiving Address for the rest. It is Kimmerer’s hope that if we all learn to understand the natural world through an Indigenous lens of knowing, we will take better care of this world for the sake of generations to come and of the world itself.

“The People 

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. 

Now our minds are one. 

The Earth Mother

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks. 

Now our minds are one. “

The Waters 

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. 

Now our minds are one.…….

This book is a Settlers’ Book Club selection in June 2022.

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by Rosemary Brown

 Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: The Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi is a must read for those of us who want to develop a better relationship  with and understanding  of the people on whose land we now live, work and play.

The author, Dr. Betty Bastien, is Blackfoot (a member of the Piikani Nation),  a University of Calgary Social  Work Professor Emeritus and currently the Director of the Indigenous  Bachelor of Social Work degree programme at Red Crow Community college in Lethbridge.

Bastien has written this book for other Blackfoot . At the same time the book offers insights into a worldview that contains lessons for all of us  in regards to how we conduct our own lives and how we interact with the natural world around us.

The book is a challenging and enlightening one. It is with humility that I write this review, recognizing that as a settler, I most likely  do not totally grasp the scope of the ideas that Bastien presents and discusses.

Bastien begins with a presentation of key concepts and a brief historical overview of pre and post contact Blackfoot society and the consequences of colonization.

In the two middle sections of the book, Bastien paints a multilayered portrait of what it meant and means to be Blackfoot and how this meaning is taught and learned. According to Bastien the worldview of the Blackfoot encompasses  a cosmos of spiritual energies where  everything in the natural world  including humans, is infused with spirit and everything exists in relationship with each other. The Blackfoot recognized the natural world as a generous one which provided many gifts. Therefore, respect and gratitude were the basis upon which the  Blackfoot  developed and  maintained  reciprocal alliances with these different relations. This  was essential to creating balance, the key to harmony and survival.

This understanding of the universe was based on thousands of years of observation and this understanding has been transmitted from generation to generation through ceremonies with their associated medicine pipes and bundles, prayers, stories and songs. In the process Blackfoot individuals learn what their roles and responsibilities are in building and maintaining alliances. This learning is an experiential and evolving process led by “grandparents” and ceremonialists. The stories were not prescriptive but were offered for individuals to reflect upon and apply to their own lives and situations. Bastien shares several of these stories, as well as statements by grandparents” throughout her discussion.

Bastien comments that it is difficult to use the English language to adequately explain these concepts. This is due to the fact that the Blackfoot language embodies these sacred and spiritual understandings of the natural world, while English is a language of a culture that became increasingly disassociated from nature over the centuries.

Bastien’s  discussion of the Blackfoot language and how integral it is to the transfer of Blackfoot ways of knowing makes abundantly clear to the reader how devastating the stripping of language from Indigenous children in residential schools was. Residential schools were but one aspect of   colonization which Bastien  defines as a system of policies and practices which have resulted in cultural genocide-a  concerted disruption of what it meant to be Blackfoot. She also argues that cultural genocide is genocide, and after reading this book I agree.

Bastien also makes the point that not all knowledge was lost as there were  Indigenous peoples who resisted the impact of colonization by continuing to live by and engage in ceremonial practice.

Bastien believes strongly that the capacity to resist the genocidal consequences of colonization is to be found in reclaiming. Blackfoot ways of knowing and relating to the world around us.She refers to these ways of knowing as sacred science and compares and contrasts it to western science, while at the same time pointing out that many aspects of this sacred science resonate with many understandings  and discoveries of modern physicists.

Therefore, If we as non-Indigenous peoples can begin to see the world in holistic rather than binary terms; if we can grasp how we are part of a web of continually interactive relationships that require  reciprocity to remain in  balance,  and if we accept our roles and responsibilities in maintaining this balance, we might see our way forward to addressing the severe imbalances we are experiencing in the natural world today.

To sum up I will conclude with  the response made by Indigenous author Lee Miracle in an Orange Shirt Day webinar  She was asked about whether or not it was appropriate for non-Indigenous people to embrace  the spiritual  practices of Indigenous peoples  to support  themselves  on their  spiritual journey. Lee replied, “Don’t be a pretend Indian. Fall in love with the land and the land will teach you.

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The Indigenous Book Discussion Group (formerly Chapters and Chat) last  read Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq is a world  renowned and award winning Inuit throat singer, as well as an artist, activist and now author.  She was born and raised in Cambridge Bay in the far north. Split Tooth is her first novel and it resonates with the same power and sensibilities  of her album Animism which won the Polaris Prize in 2014.

For over 20 years, Tagaq, who is now in her 40s, jotted down snippets of prose and poetry inspired by her memories  and dreams. Split Tooth, both memoir and  fiction, incorporates these along with black and white illustrations  by  Jaime Fernandez. In some ways to distinguish between prose and poetry feels like a false dichotomy as Tagaq’s prose is very poetic.  She also  has a compelling reading voice and I would strongly suggest that one access the audio version of her book.

Against alternating cycles of 6 months of daylight and 6 months of night, Tagaq relates anecdotes from childhood, especially her friendships and adventures with other children.

Running through these fictional and real memories are  strong allusions to unseen spirits and to sexual abuse committed by the adults in her world

For me some of the most powerful passages focused on Inuit folklore and the main character’s sensual relationship with the animals and other natural phenomenon around her. Some of these encounters, with fox and with the northern lights are almost erotic in nature.  It is in these stories and accounts that her concerns about the future of Inuit culture and the natural world upon which it is based are expressed.

If you look up “Tanya Tagaq and Split Tooth” on You Tube you can hear her read excerpts from her book, as well as some throat singing and her views on the environmental crisis the North is experiencing.

NB: Chapters and Chat has continued under the auspices of the Calgary Public Library and the Indigenous  Book Discussion Group. These discussions are still led by Michelle Robinson and can be joined at the following link:

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Many of us  may have heard of Indian Horse,  the novel by Richard Wagamese that was later turned into a film. However we will be less familiar with the fact that Wagamese drew inspiration from the true life story of Fred Sasakamoose whose memoir was published posthumously in May 2021.

 Entitled Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player, this first hand account packs a powerful punch. And so did the words of Fred’s son Neil whom we were privileged to hear from in  the last Calgary Public Library discussion group.

Fred  born in 1933, was torn at the age of 7 from his loving and safe home and family on the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation (formerly Sandy Lake Reserve)  in Saskatchewan, to attend residential school. Here he experienced not only physical and sexual abuse but the demeaning of his culture and the loss of his language.He recounts how the school “destroyed parts of us.  We were taught  shame at who we were.”

Although Fred’s grandfather taught him to skate at the age of 5 it was not until he turned 12 that he learned to play hockey at the school.

In 1950  he began playing for  the Moose Jaw Junior A team and by 1953 he signed with the Chicago Black Hawks for whom he played 11 games in the 53-54 season. Thereafter he played in the Minors in Western Canada until 1960-61 when he left professional hockey altogether in order to be home in his community with his wife Loretta whom he married in 1955 and their growing family. He farmed, trapped and hunted and volunteered many hours to creating and supporting sports programs and opportunities for youth.

A critical theme detailed by Sasakamoose was the ever present racism experienced while playing hockey from the time he was at residential school, playing teams from white schools, through his career as a professional. There were the racist taunts and jokes, the playing of ‘warpath’ music in the stadiums, the reluctance of white players to pass the puck and the ways in which even the honours he received were “tainted by publicity stunts”.

Another thread is the impact that his experiences at residential school, reinforced by the racism he encountered, had on his psyche. Despite his success at hockey he began abusing  alcohol to numb the pain and anger. He struggle with his addiction from 1953 until 1980 and unfortunately he often took his anger out on his children whom he mistreated. Neil’s  accounting of this was very painful to hear.

The turning point came in 1980 when Fred was elected to the position of Chief. He served until 1984. This is when he stopped drinking, and began reconnecting with his culture and learning Cree. He went on to serve as a band councillor for 35 years and then as a Senator on the Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations. Among his many other contributions was the time spent on the NHL Ethnic Diversity Task force.

Fred died  from Covid 19 in November 2020. His legacy is  a powerful one. Not only did his brief time in the NHL  motivate younger Indigenous  hockey players, but his ongoing contributions to community and his capacity for self transformation and healing provide inspiration for all of us.

It was hard to put down, Tilly and the Crazy Eights, which was December’s read for the Settlers’ Book Club. The author, Monique Gray  Smith, of Cree, Lakota and Scots ancestry, takes us on a road trip with eight Indigenous Elders from Kamloops, and Tilly, their younger driver.

They travel by van to Albuquerque, New Mexico in order to fulfill the bucket list wish of Sarah, who has always dreamed of dancing at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. Travelling with Sarah are her sister Anne from Toronto, four other members of her sewing or “stitch and bitch” circle: Rose, Bea, Lucy, Mable as well two men, Rose’s husband Poncho and Bea’s ex-husband Chuck. All have their own bucket wishes which the trip incorporates, whether it’s a stop in Las Vegas, a visit to the red rocks of Sedona to spread a sister’s ashes, seeing the Grand Canyon, or hugging a tree in the Redwood Forest .

At first the group does not believe that they will be able to take the trip but after months of hard work raising the necessary funds,  arranging for travel documents and permission to use one of the Band Council’s large vans, they are finally ready to go.

What follows is not only a recounting of their trip but an exploration into their diverse personalities: from irrepressible Lucy to curmudgeonly Rose, as well as the stories of what has made these elders who they are. These stories are often poignant and many deal with healing  from residential school experiences to losing a daughter on the Highway of Tears, marital discord and break ups, loss of culture and struggling with alcohol addiction. The interplay among the elders is often humorous and sometimes very sweet as relationships heal and strengthen and journeys of self discovery are made. All in all this was a very enjoyable, heartwarming and worthwhile read.

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By Rosemary Brown

For a change of pace our last read in the Settlers Book club as Me Funny, edited by Drew Hayden Taylor.   Drew is Ojibway, from the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario and over the years has produced a phenomenal body of work:  fiction and non-fiction books, numerous newspaper columns, award winning plays, and documentaries and feature films. He has also performed as a stand up comic,  and humour laces his work.

For Me Funny, Drew brought together a range of authors, educators, graduate students and comics to write  about “native humour” . In his introduction Drew states that while different cultures often laugh at the same things there are nuanced differences. The twelve contributors include Thomson Highway, the author of The Rez Sisters, Thomas King the creator of the CBC radio series The Dead  Dog Café and Drew himself.

I will summarize a few of the themes raised.

Allan  J. Ryan opens with a discussion of how Mohawk artist Bill Powless employs humour in his painting to disrupt common misconceptions and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and to  satirize notions of the “noble warrior”.

Ph.D  student Karen Froman discusses  how some of her Native Studies professors use    humour in the classroom to diffuse tensions raised by difficult  topics. She also employs humour in interactions with others who feel that she does not look “Indian enough”. It’s a tool to mediate the divide between lighter and darker skinned Indigenous  folk.

Thomson Highway offers insights into how native humour is embedded in the Cree language, stating that Cree is a language of the flesh of the groin, as compared to English as a language of the head and French a language of the heart and emotions. This in turn launches him into a comparative discussion  of creation stories and gender relations.

In the last essay, Drew Hayden Taylor discusses how academia has  defined  “native humour” as about survival,”that the only way native people have been able to survive the array of oppressions visited on them is through humour; and it’s about community”. Drew then goes on to reject this as a definition unique to Indigenous peoples,  arguing that this definition is  applicable  to other oppressed groups in society. He concludes that it’s probably better not to try and define native humour and says “I suspect that what makes native people laugh is what makes all people laugh…” and “We are at out best when we laugh at ourselves”.

In case this all sounds too serious I want to reassure you that humour runs through many of the essays, and in between some of the essays Drew intersperses a range of jokes and other humourous  selections. And for those who might want to go further Drew directed an NFB documentary entitled “Red Skins, Tricksters and Puppy Stew. Have fun!

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By Rosemary Brown

In the past, whenever I thought of Indigenous children in residential schools, and regardless of the fact that the term Indigenous is a general one, I assumed that the residential school experience was the same for all Indigenous children.  Now after reading Canada’s Residential Schools: The Métis Experience, I realize how mistaken my assumption was.

Only 94 pages long, this book by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission documents the commonalities and differences in residential school experiences. . Like other Indigenous children, those who were Metis often experienced the same physical and sexual abuse, poor diets,  the disease, the physical labour and the suppression  of their culture and language (Michif).

However, not all Métis children attended residential schools as these were intended for First Nations children on reserves. In general the Métis often fell through jurisdictional gaps between the federal and provincial governments. Many Metis children ended up attending provincially run day schools, although they also attended church run residential schools at the discretion of priests depending on whether or not parents could pay or work for the school. Alternatively funding for the schools depended upon attendance with the result that attendance records were not always accurate.

In general the Metis were seen as “rebels and squatters ” and when it came to residential schools they were seen as “outsiders” by school administrators and other students . As a result  Metis students were often discriminated against.

This sense of not being included extended to the residential school settlement agreement which focused on federally funded students and even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. However, many Metis residential school survivors did testify and their stories are incorporated into this book.  Also day school survivors, many of whom were Metis, sued  the Federal government for compensation and won.

Much of this history was captured in a 2014 art exhibition called Legacy: the Metis Residential  School Experience. Also if one wants to gain a better understanding of the Metis experience in Alberta one could read Metis Memories of Residential  Schools,  based on interviews with survivors.

Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun: Portraits of Everyday Life in Eight Indigenous  Communities Across Canada is aptly named.

The blanket toss  originated in Alaska as a technique used by hunters to elevate an individual high enough to spot game. It is now enjoyed as an event at many gatherings in the north of Canada and Alaska.

Paul Seesequasis the writer and journalist who wrote Blanket Toss takes us on an extensive and interesting  journey.  The areas visited include Cape Dorset(Nunavut), Nunavik,  James Bay, Hudson Bay Watershed, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Montana, the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory. Using archival photos, stories  and historical notes he brings us into the life  of  various Indigenous  communities  from the 1920’s  through the 1970’s.

The book emerged from an online project in which Seesequasis displayed archival photos many of which had not been published and none of which had been previously seen in  the communities involved.  People wrote to Seesequasis identifying individuals in the photos and sharing  the  stories  connected to them.

The photos were taken by both Indigenous and

 Non-Indigenous photographers. The former often came from the communities involved. The latter had usually  spent extensive time in the communities where they took their photos and in many cases developed relationships with community members.

The photos are usually  unposed and capture people as they go about their daily routines. While some focus on traditional hunting , trapping and fishing activities there is no attempt to preserve an imagined past. These communities  were usually in transition from a traditional way of life and this is what we see.

There is a lot to be learned from the historical notes, from the RCMP dog sled slaughter in Nunavik) , to what happened here on the Prairies regarding the loss of the buffalo herds, starvation policies, and  reserves . The stories  range from the  music tour by canoe,  made by the James Bay Rockers,  to the creation of a bear paw purse by Ema Alfred and her mother.The purse went missing shortly after a photo was taken of Emma with the purse. I  was quite moved when I learned that in 2015 Emma Alfred discovered the purse in  the Canadian Museum of History.

This combination of photos, stories and historical notes make Blanket Toss a very worthwhile read.

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By Rosemary Brown

An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women led to some deep conversation in the last gathering of the Indigenous Book Discussion Group. It’s one of the few books we have read  by a non-Indigenous author, but like James Daschuk’s  Clearing the Plains it is an extremely well documented indictment of  Canadian colonial policies and practices that  had such a detrimental impact on Indigenous peoples  and communities, and in this case especially on Indigenous women.  The author is Karen  Stote, Associate Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Program at  Sir Wilfred Laurier University.

Drawing on archival research Stote begins with an overview of the eugenics movement in Canada during the early 20th century.  Medical professionals and to a lesser extent  social workers, and leading women’s rights activists including those in Alberta,    promoted the idea of “social” purity and the need to curtail the reproduction of those deemed to be subnormal. This outlook was infused with class and racial bias. Individuals were blamed for their situations and any resulting social unrest , rather than systemic issues like poverty or colonial practices.

This overview of the eugenics movement is followed by a discussion of colonial policies and practices that on the one hand led to the dispossession of Indigenous lands and on the other the reduction in number of those to whom the government owed obligations.

Stote places the sterilization of Indigenous women within this context. She presents data and information from across the country but focuses on British Columbia and Alberta, the only provinces to pass legislation allowing for compulsory sterilization. The Sexual Sterilization Act existed in Alberta from 1928 until 1972.  In theory women needed to give their informed consent to the procedure but in practice it was often circumvented. This legislation was applied to Indigenous women disproportionately to their representation in the population as a whole. In 1969 when a campaign was launched to overturn this legislation, the rate at which the socially  marginalized, especially Indigenous women were sterilized increased dramatically.

Stote also examined policy and practices around compulsory abortions,  and the provision of birth control to Indigenous women before it was legal to do so and without concern for the overall health of the women involved.  She also details the many roadblocks set in the way of women in general who sought compensation for being sterilized without their consent or knowledge.

Then follows an extensive review of the deliberations that led up to the development  and passage in 1948 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Canada and other nations argued against the inclusion of cultural genocide within the Convention because they did not want to risk “ opening the government up to criticism on legal and political  grounds”.

The Convention was further weakened by the inclusion of  the necessity of proving “intent to destroy  a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Therefore while Compulsory sterilization of Indigenous  women definitely fall under Article 2 d of the Convention, the  inclusion of the requirement of proving intent provides governments with a legal  escape route. Regardless of the weaknesses in the definition of genocide in the convention,  Stote and many others make a convincing case that the accumulated impact of government policies in Canada, including the sterilization of  Indigenous women,  does constitute genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Stote concludes by arguing  that while sterilization policies are no longer promoted, colonization continues to negatively impact Indigenous communities. I would argue that recognizing this is a starting point for Reconciliation.

As I write the review of the book we read in the Settler’s Book club, I am mindful of the difficulties Black international students are having in crossing the borders out of Ukraine and into neighbouring countries.

This issue of borders and how historically and in the present Blacks have been forced across some  borders and refused passage across others is one of the themes  addressed  in the  anthology Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada. The editors are Rodney Diverlus, Sandra Hudson and Syrus Marcus Ware. This collection of essays conversations and poetry began and ended with fictional excerpts about our planet in the future. Once I started I found it hard to put the book down. I was always drawn in  by the many different stories and insights into  how BLM was organized. In the process I found many insights that any movement for progressive change needs to take into account.  I  also believe that anyone interested in moving beyond the false stereotypes created about Black Lives Matter  should read this book.

The contributors to the anthology, including  the editors who are leaders in the Black Lives Matter in Toronto and Canada,  range from scholars and educators,  writers and poets,  community organizers, dancers, performance and installation artists, and  documentary film makers.

There’s a recounting of the origins of Black Lives Matter in Canada, as well as descriptions and analyses of the various direct actions in which Black Lives Matter engaged.

Chapters include critiques of the justice and incarceration systems in Canada, reflections on the nature of mothering, on the love for the community and its members  that infused the movement, and on the importance and rationale of solidarity with Indigenous  activists and communities.

The relationship of BLM Canada to BLM in America is discussed, including misperceptions among Blacks in the US about racism in Canada. This led in turn to a discussion of the importance of developing a global solidarity among Blacks. There’s a discussion of how in Canada, Black history , including slavery and discrimination, has been erased, while in the US the history is acknowledged but is seen as just that- history, with the accompanying resistance to addressing systemic racism in the present.

Another theme which arose was the need to be able to bring one’s whole self into the movement and for movement, issues , and analyses to be interconnected. A Black disability activist describes what it is like to not totally fit in, either in the disability movement or the black movement. Other Black contributors described the same feelings when it came to the LBGTQ2S+ community, and  the sidelining of Black groups and their issues in the Toronto Pride organization and marches. A Black Muslim woman talked about not feeling accepted in certain Muslim communities; and also the discomfort that came from bringing her faith into her activism. She points out that the basis of Martin Luther King’s activism was to be found in Christianity while that of Malcolm X was  found in Islam. This need to bring “Spirit” into activism was also expressed by one of the Indigenous contributors.

So many other topics and issues were touched on in this book that I can’t mention them all. For me, some of the most exciting contributions were by the artists involved in the movement and how they brought and bring their art forms, from performance to dance, to writing to visual art into activism. They are able to delve into history, move people emotionally and physically  and engage the imagination towards a better future-one in which we are “all free”.

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By Rosemary Brown

A previous review discussed the similarities and differences experienced by Métis children as compared to other Indigenous children within the residential school system. This time I will be reviewing the Indigenous Book Discussion Groups’s reading of  Canada’s Residential  Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience.published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Although missionaries and fur traders were present in the North  during the 19 century, their impact on Inuit and other northern Indigenous  communities including the Dene and the Metis was minimal compared to the impact of oil and gas resource exploration in the MacKenzie Region in the 20th century. The latter led to more settlers present in the North, and in 1921 the Federal government  negotiated Treaty  11. The area  covered included the North West Territory, parts of the Yukon and Nunavut.

The government did not establish “modern schools”” in the North until the 1950’s. Before that missionaries set up schools for reading and writing and promoting Christianity. These started in the 1850’s. Sometimes these were day schools offered occasionally to fit into the hunting, trapping and gathering way of life. Few children were actually “institutionalized” as families wanted to keep children near. Until 1899 the schools were funded solely by the churches but after that time the federal government contributed funds

In the 1950’s the federal government became more involved in regulating existing schools, and establishing many new schools to be run by the churches.   They increased the number of residential schools with the intent of removing children from their families so that they could be “civilized” and prepared for the workforce. Formal education was offered only through Grade  4 and many teachers were not certified. Most of the time children were engaged in the hard labour  that kept the schools running: hunting, gardening,  chopping wood, cooking and cleaning.  The upshot was that while experiences varied from school to school, in general children were not prepared to work in the modern economy. At the same time they were stripped of their traditional cultures and languages.

In the worst  schools the children were punished for speaking their languages, and subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Poor ventilation and diet were common.  Children committed suicide and as elsewhere in Canada they tried to run away to their homes, an impossibility in the vastness of the North.

Many of the new schools built  by the government and which children were required to attend were far removed from the communities Inuit began settling in as a result of rapid social and economic changes in the north. As a result children were kept from their families and communities for extremely long periods of time. The emotional an cultural devastation caused by the residential school system  was captured in the stories of eight Inuit survivors featured in an art exhibition poignantly  entitled “We Were So Far Away”.

The organization  Inuit Women of Canada argues that the concentration of the residential school experience between the 1950’s and 1997 when the last school was closed in the North, intensified the resulting inter- generational trauma with all of its associated social problems.They point out that   3977 Inuit children were in residential schools in 1963 and as of the next year, 75% of Inuit children and youth were in attendance.  3000 of the survivors are still alive and a large percentage of Inuit today have at least one close relative who attended these schools.

Today, the Nunavut government and organizations like Inuit Women of Canada work to  repair the damage caused by the residential school system and other aspects of rapid social change present in the North. Many programmes are focused on the youth and reconnecting them with the land, and their Indigenous  culture and language and on leadership training. The latter is crucial as the North faces the devastating impact of climate change addressed in The Right To Be Cold, reviewed during this past year. And thankfully for all of us, the youth are taking up the challenge.

The Settlers’ Book Club read and discussed Richard Wagamese’s posthumous work, One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for A Planet, with a foreword by Drew Hayden Taylor.  Like Blackfoot Ways of Knowing and Braiding Sweetgrass,  One Drum is rooted  in traditional Indigenous understandings and knowledge of the natural world within which we co-exist. Wagamese  intended the book for all of us regardless of our cultural and spiritual backgrounds and within he shares many stories from  his own journey and yearning to reconnect with his Ojibway culture. He was disconnected from his culture when, as a very small boy,  he was removed from his family and community during the 60’s Scoop  by child welfare workers.

As is usual with Wagamese’s  work, this book is beautifully written. The only drawback is that he was not able to finish the book before his death. He grounds the book in the Seven Grandfather  Teachings of the Ojibway. These Teachings, also referred to as the Seven Sacred Teachings have been adopted  by many other but not all Indigenous Nations.  They provide a guide for all of us in how we relate to other people and the rest of the natural world around us.

In One Drum Wagamese relates stories connected with three of these teachings. From rabbit we learn humility, from mouse we learn courage and from raven we learn respect. Interwoven with these stories and Wagamese’s reflections on these, are the presentation of his version of four ceremonies. They are the ceremonies of  Sacred Breath, Gratitude , Vision Quest and Acting Outward. The ceremonies can be done by oneself or with others and he encourages us to share these with others.

Wagamese also shares other lessons he learned from the Ojibway Elder to whom he turned for guidance in his own journey. He makes it clear that the journey is not always an easy one but that if one strays it is always possible to return to the path. His personal journey reminds us that as a result of the residential school experience and other aspects of colonization, there are far too many Indigenous people today struggling to  seek out the knowledge and teachings from which they were deprived.  One Drum is a book to which I will return again and again and it is a book I will be sharing with others. My only regret is that because Richard Wagamese did not live to complete the book, we will never  learn what else he could have shared with us about healing ourselves and building harmony with “all our relations”.

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By Rosemary Brown

Kieran Moore, author of Burnt Snow: My Years of Living and Working with the Dene of the Northwest Territories, participated in the last discussion of the Indigenous Book Discussion group along with his son Braden. Moore is a wonderful story teller and he related several in response to our questions and comments.

Moore immigrated to Canada from Ireland and grew up in Winnipeg where he worked in  construction. At the age of 20 looming layoffs and a desire to find himself led him to head North in his car  and only $20 in his pocket. He ended up in Ray Lakes, a Dene community, where he was asked to build a church. Thus began a long stay in the North during the 1970s and 80s, a time of great change, but also one in which many Dene continued to lead a traditional life on the land.

Moore went on to construct  cabins and other buildings, but more significantly he built relationships with the Dene and went with them on hunting and camping trips. Over camp fires he listened to many stories told by the Dene elders he travelled with. His book centres around these stories as well as stories related to his own experiences. Over time he developed a tremendous appreciation and respect for the Dene, their way of life and their relationship to the land.

When many years later Moore decided to write the book, he sought permission from the people whose stories  he told and whose pictures he took to use them in the book. He had kept a diary from the 70s and 80s and remembered many of the stories he had been told. Moore himself is a gifted  story teller. Members of the discussion group commented that they felt as if they were out on the land with him, portaging over long distances, carrying game back to camp from the hunt. And sitting around the campfires listening to Elders speak of harrowing experiences out on the ice and water or creation stories that cemented features of the natural world around them into a mental map of how to navigate the land.

There are so many stories that have not yet been told as his book was edited down to 350 pages from over 800. Many are encouraging Moore to write a sequel, as did many members of the book club.

NB: The  Indigenous Book Discussion group continues to meet online but not under the auspices of the Calgary Public Library. If you wish to attend please contact the podcast host at

The Settlers Book club read Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny  Appleseed,   2021 Winner of Canada Reads. While the book is not a memoir it is informed by Whitehead’s life. Currently an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary, Whitehead is  a two spirit Oji-Cree from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba.

Jonny is also two spirit and grew up on a reserve in Manitoba. The book is framed by his struggle to raise enough funds to return home from Winnipeg  to attend the funeral of his step-father. The narrative slides back and forth from his former life on the reserve to his experiences in Winnipeg where he makes ends meet as  a cyber sex worker.

There are aspects of the book that are difficult to read, reflections of harsh reality. Jonny leaves the reserve  to escape the impact of poverty, alcohol, meaningless sex,  and discrimination. There was no acceptance for him on the reserve as a Two-Spirit person.

In Winnipeg he also faced discrimination as an Indigenous person.  Jonny   found it easier to pass as white in gay bars rather than face the invasive questions he  encountered when he made it known he was Indigenous.  As a cybersex worker he was often asked to satisfy the fantasies of men who  asked  him to “play Indian” At  the same time  he experienced a form of power that came with being able to cover up and transform himself for his performances.

These harsh realities are mediated  by Whitehead’s poetic style, the use of humour and the strength Jonny found in his relationships with his mother, his grandmother, the  close circle of caring friends he had in Winnipeg,  as well as the stories  told over photo albums of family members who had passed on back on the reserve.

In reference to humour, Jonny says that “laughter is the fresh layer of ointment on a wound”. And regarding relationships he says that “to say I love you is to say that I am in pain with you”. Both of these statements capture the depth and complexity of Jonny Appleseed.

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By Rosemary Brown

In the Indigenous Book Discussion Group we are alternating the reading of books with reading  chapters from Reclaiming Power, Reclaiming  Place. This is the Final Report of the Enquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.

The preface to the report makes it clear that the purpose of the Enquiry was to “investigate all forms of violence” against Indigenous women. The goal was to listen to the stories of the families who had lost loved ones as well as those of survivors. There were “24 hearings across Canada , 750 statements by individuals, 8 visits to correctional facilities, 4 guided dialogues and eight validation meetings”.

The preface includes statements from  members of the Commission who oversaw the Enquiry. The Chair Marion Buller pulls no punches. She considers the violence directed towards Indigenous women to be a “national emergency” one of “race and gender based genocide”. She lays the blame for this violence squarely at the feet of the laws and institution’s of Canada which have violated the rights of Indigenous Peoples. She ends by stating that “we can not afford not to rebuild regardless of the cost, otherwise we as a nation will enable the continuation of genocide”.

Michele Audette points out that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to experience violence than Canadian women as a whole. Qajaq Robinson echoes Buller in saying the root causes of the violence lie in colonialism.

There are  many more statements from the Commissioners,  followed by messages from the Directors and then messages from the national family Advisory  Council. The members of this Council came from across Canada,  from families who had lost loved ones and  had played a role bringing attention to the systemic violence faced by Indigenous women. The  role of the council was to ensure  “that lived experiences were heard”, not just those of the expert witnesses.  Toni Blanchard stated that  she “wanted people to know that her sister, who was murdered in 2008 in Whitehorse in the Yukon, “had a face.She was a daughter, a mother, a sister, an auntie, and

Granddaughter who was very loved”.

The forward is entitled Our women and Girls are Sacred: Reflections from the National Enquiry’s  Elders and Grandmothers Circle.

Members of this Circle, who also came from different parts of the country,  participated in ceremony, specifically a sweat lodge , in order to envision what the Enquiry would look like and to continue to shape it through ongoing observations and reflections as it proceeded.  Each Elder brought a wealth of experience in leadership and varied  skills to the Circle which they used to ensure that ceremony, spirituality  and culture  permeated the Enquiry process. The goal was to “decolonize the hearing process as much as possible”.

The atmosphere  the Elders  created  as a result, led some families and others involved in the Enquiry to find healing. Members of the Council actively supported the families who testified and others who were impacted by what these testimonies revealed. They guided the Commissioners and also assisted those who played supporting roles.

The foreword also contained reflections of the Elders on what it means to be sacred, and what it means to “reclaim power and place”. The Elders end with a challenge to settlers to no  longer “turn a blind eye” . They point out that we have a choice: to “support the status quo or to resist it”.

If you want to learn more about the Métis Nation in Alberta and especially about the lives of Metis women, then the last book discussed in the Settlers’ Book Club is a good  start.  Stories of  Métis Women: Tales My Kookum Told Me was written by Bailey Oster and Marilyn Lizee.

The book is organized under different themes  that include  memories and stories from many different Métis women. It  begins with a foreword by Audrey Poitras , past president of the Metis Nation of Alberta. There is a short section on the building of the Métis Nation and the roles that women played in battle and in the buffalo hunts.  Families were matriarchal and women “were deeply entrenched in the social and political spheres”.

Then there is a Chapter on Culture that includes a discussion of the  Michif language. Michif has different dialects depending on how much Cree, French and or English was included. Unfortunately it is now an endangered language, spoken mainly  by Elders. However, some of the contributors to  the book are playing a key role in preserving and teaching Michif. The print version of this book incorporates sections in the Michif language.

Another aspect of culture was the beadwork created by Métis women and sold across the Prairies. An example adorns the cover of the book.

 Then there were the large family gatherings especially at the New Year. There were house parties with singing, fiddle music,  guitars and spoons,   dancing, lots of food. I looked up Métis jigging online to see what it looked like, and learned that it is a  distinctive Métis dance form drawing on Cree, Irish and Scots dance traditions.

Religion is discussed , with faith described as “complex and multifaceted”  with priests playing an important role in the community with  priests  “blessing the hunt”, and there are large family gatherings and pilgrimages to Lac Ste. Anne.

 There are also stories related to Employment Lodging and Travel,  Family Life, Food harvesting and Traditional Medicine,  and Pastimes and Games .

Also included is a chapter entitled Dark Times with its tales of residential schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’ and Girls, and the Sixties Scoop. The displacement of Métis from their lands and the breakup of communities  through the Scrip system and outright fraud are also discussed. Included is the story of what happened in the settlement of St. Paul des Métis, a story which is only now being recovered. For full details please read Restoring the History of St. Paul des Métis.

The book ends with a list of prominent Métis women in Alberta and their accomplishments, as well as short biographies of the women who enriched the book with their memories and stories.

If after reading Stories of Métis Women, you want to further your understanding of Métis history in Alberta,  you might take a road trip this summer to Métis Crossing, a Métis cultural centre near Smoky Lake.