Canadian Book Challenge (10th Edition): Indigenous Writers

Even though the challenge officially begins on July 1 — and ends on the last day of the following June — it’s not too late to join The Book Mine Set’s Canadian Books Challenge.

This year is the tenth event, and John has calculated thousands of books reviewed for past challenges he’s hosted. This time, my challenge will be to read 13 books by indigenous authors.

Rather than share my reading list, which will change throughout the coming months anyway, I’m going to share 13 books by indigenous authors that I would recommend if someone else was undertaking this specific challenge.

These would be my choices for that imagined reader’s challenge:

Beatrice Culleton Mosionier’s The Search for April Raintree (1983)
Perhaps teachers in Canadian schools look to this novel about two Métis sisters as American teachers look to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The prose is spare and accessible and the story is told in the simplest terms, but resonates deeply. (This was the first book I read by an indigenous writer.)

Fur Queen HighwayThomas King’s Green Grass Running Water (1993)
Athough now it is commonly used in classrooms, too, I read this one (my second by an indigenous writer) before it caught the attention of prize-list juries and scholars, so I wasn’t intimidated by the string of accolades. That was lucky, because I just thought it was wickedly smart and funny, and all the acclaim didn’t get in the way of my pulling it off the shelf. Just try it: it’s terrific! (Truth and Bright Water is great too and The Inconvenient Indian is page-turning non-fiction.)

Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach (2000)
Lisamarie’s voice is incredible: you just can’t stop reading, even when things get ugly. I’ve lost track of the number of people to whom I’ve recommended this novel. Sixteen years later, the only element I remember clearly is that she seemed to leap off the page. Such a vibrant character! I remember also being struck by this sense of the ethereal being a part of reality in a way which seemed both wondrous and strange to me, as it did in Banana Yoshimoto’s fiction. It’s time for a reread obviously! (She is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations.)

Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998)
It opens with a breathtaking scene. Such a rush! But there is so much quiet and deliberate beauty which follows in this novel. It was one of my favourites in that reading year, and it is one of those books which I wanted to reread as soon as I had finished.

Leanne Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love (2013)
These short pieces are striking and beautiful. You will be inclined to gobble, because they are accessible and inviting. But they are also powerful and are best enjoyed in a number of sittings rather than all-in-a-gulp. She landed in my stack because I was listening to an interview with Shelagh Rogers and Thomas King on “The Next Chapter”, and he praised her work highly. (She is of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry and is a member of Alderville First Nation.)

Lee Maracle’s Bent Box (2000)
One of the first aboriginal writers to be published in Canada in the 1970s and, since, one of the most prolific aboriginal writers (according to Theytus Press), Lee Maracle’s poetry serves as an excellent introduction to her work. The longest, most dense works are in the second section, which includes poems to/about Mister Mandela, Sojourner Truth, Leonard Peltier and considering injustice in Palestine, Nicaragua, El Salvedor and Chile. (Maracle is of Salish and Cree ancestry, and she is a member of the Sto:loh Nation.)

David A. Groulx’s Under God’s Pale Bones (2010)
When I heard him read at an evening event at the International Festival of Authors, I knew this book was a must-read. These are seering and vital verses which dig deeply beneath the skin to those pale bones. Even though at times the rage is palpable, the same intensity is accorded to beauty. There is much to marvel at here, on the page. So many reminders of what’s worth marvelling at, off the page.

Under Gods Pale Bones GroulxRichard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk (2014)
Although his Indian Horse is a common starting point (it’s shorter and there’s hockey), this is my favourite. It is a reconciliation story on a personal plane (between a father and a son) but one which is so layered and complex that it has much to offer on the matter of reconciliation in a broader sense as well. Although quietly told, it becomes something of a page-turner as the tale unfolds.

Richard van Camp’s Godless but Loyal to Heaven (2012)
This collection landed the author on my MustReadEverything list. The first story still keeps me up at night on occasion, when it flits back into my mind during those dark and lonely hours between three and four in the morning. But as overwhelming as that tale’s power is (based on a traditonal tale, but brought into contemporary times), it’s the stories about ordinary people rather than mythic powers which draw me back to his work.

Edmund Metatawabin’s Up Ghost River (with Alexandra Shimo, 2014)
The language in Up Ghost River is succinct and unsentimental. And, yet, the content is highly emotive. What bridges the gap between these contrary states is a scenic style, as the authors describe Number 15’s experiences in residential school (as Edmund was renamed, to obliterate his family identity).

Jordan Abel’s the place of scraps (2014)
When I was a little girl, I marvelled at the beautiful totem poles in the foyer at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. They were the first things I visited (but, to be fair, not out of true recognition of their beauty or significance, but because they stood between me and the dinosaur gallery, which I both loved and feared, as I got closer and closer to the T-Rex). Jordan Abel’s volume of poetry changed the view for me lastingly and profoundly. His work also made me less afraid of poetry. (I dealt with the T-Rex on my own.)

Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce (2008)
I came to this novel after reading The Orenda, which I did not love as much as many other readers did. And, at first, neither of the alternating voices in Through Black Spruce engaged me either. But, then I began to recognize connections that I missed in the shorter segments. Will is telling his story to his niece from the “dreaming world” and Annie is telling her story to her uncle from the “waking world”, and the process of telling pulls each of the storytellers closer to another dimension (suiting their different needs and positions). It’s quite remarkable.

TenthCanadianBookChallengeDavid Alexander Robertson’s Seven Generations comic series (Stones/Scars/Ends-Begins/The Pact)
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, this series is a great option for classroom-use, but also serves as a solid introduction for many of themes explored in greater detail in the longer works listed above. Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story draws specific attention to the Canadian government’s attempts to formalize the process of devastating the core identifty of native children by removing them from their families and traditions.

As for my own reading choices for the challenge reading, those 13 choices?

There are some gaps in my reading, including other works by writers whose previous works I’ve enjoyed (like David A. Groulx’s poems and Lee Maracle’s writing).

And I’ve got two MustReadEverything authors on this list, but I haven’t actually read everything yet (Thonas King and Richard van Camp).

And there are even some non-fiction volumes on my TBR which would fit this challenge (as well as my continued reading of/listening to the summary report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

To begin, however: talk, tomorrow, of Robert Arthur Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls. And, then, the challenge will officially be underway!

Have you been reading any indigenous authors? Are you participating in the Canadian Books Challenge too?



  1. […] For last year’s Canadian book challenge, I chose to read on a theme: indigenous authors, inspired by some past favourites. […]

  2. […] I was musing on the possibilitites for a reading list of indigenous authors, almost all of my favourites were fiction (just one memoir and some poetry snuck in). It just […]

  3. […] four books are counted towards my reading for the 10th Canadian Book Challenge. My sign-up post is here (and you can still sign up, too!) and I’ve previously read these other works by indigenous […]

  4. Steven Buechler January 27, 2017 at 9:53 am - Reply

    I think you are on to something here. I know that indigenous writers have been a topic of conversation in several of my reading circles. I know when I did a Q&A with Frank Busch a couple of years ago about his book “Grey Eyes” it certainly got me wanting to read more from them. (And I recently read “The Break” by Katherena Vermette, which I hope to get up a review of soon.)

  5. […] Lindberg’s novel also counts towards the 13 works by indigenous writers I’m determined to read for the 10th annual Canadian Book Challenge hosted by The Book Mine Set. The others I’ve read […]

  6. Naomi August 23, 2016 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    P.S. Well, that explains it… I just looked her up in our library’s catalogue, and she is not there. I will have to do something about that…

    • Buried In Print August 25, 2016 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      I have Sun Dogs and Celia’s Song lined up, one very early and then her most recent (fiction, that is). I’ve heard good things about both, but Celia’s Song would be easier to find, I’m guessing.

      • Naomi August 25, 2016 at 4:50 pm - Reply

        I will be looking into it once the library opens. I think I even made a note to myself! I just have to try not to lose it…

  7. Naomi August 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Lee Maracle has been on my to-read list for SO long, I don’t know why I haven’t read one of her books yet. Maybe because I don’t own any? Maybe. I’d rush out to the library right now while I’m thinking of her, before I forget, except that it’s STILL NOT OPEN! 🙂
    Looking forward to hearing about the 13 books you’re going to read (even if it’s just one at a time)!

    • Buried In Print August 25, 2016 at 12:08 pm - Reply

      Most of her books are published by independent presses, so perhaps they just aren’t as easy for your library to order as stuff from the bigger publishers? Still, she’s the prominent aboriginal Canadian woman writer: how can they not have anything? Is it possible they’ve misspelled her name in the catalogue or something?!

  8. Anna August 21, 2016 at 11:43 am - Reply

    This was just what I needed! I’ve been thinking about the literature of indigenous people a lot, warming up to start reading some Inuit/Navajo/Aboriginal writers – this winter probably.
    Thank you for the list! Very helpful.

    • Buried In Print August 22, 2016 at 10:18 am - Reply

      Thanks: I look forward to hearing about your list, Anna. If I come across any others which I think might particularly suit your reading taste, I’ll let you know about those too!

  9. Kat August 19, 2016 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    You won’t be surprised I don’t know these authors! I swear, there is a completely different set of books sold in the U.S., and that’s a pity. I like all these titles, especially Kiss of the Fur Queen.

    • Buried In Print August 22, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Well, I did choose writers who current reside north of the Canada/Us border, which leaves out writers like Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich, whose works I’m sure you do know! Tomson Highway comes across in interview and on-screen as such an incredible exuberant personality; if you can find something to watch, I think you will be struck by his spirit and his love of life, contagious and inspiring, and that might encourage you to seek out Kiss of the Fur Queen after all!

  10. John August 17, 2016 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Excellent theme! Welcome aboard!

  11. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis August 17, 2016 at 10:29 am - Reply

    I’m so glad to see you officially take the leap and join John’s Canadian Reading Challenge!

    I am woefully – okay, the superlative of woefully – under read when it comes to Canadian Indigenous Writers. Joseph Boyden is the only author on this list I’ve read (Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce), and have only two others on my TBR list. 🙁 I’m going to investigate your list in more detail and see if I can’t add more!

    • Buried In Print August 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm - Reply

      Lee Maracle’s books would appeal to you for sure, Debbie. Such powerful woman-soaked storytelling. I just picked up a copy of her Sundogs today at the library, planning to spend some time with her backlist!

  12. Care August 17, 2016 at 7:26 am - Reply

    Oh yes! Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water is wonderful. I’ve read Through Black Spruce, too.

    • Buried In Print August 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      Green Grass Running Water is one of those books that I used to always pick up, when I found a copy second-hand, so that I could press it upon other readers: just so funny, so smart, so everything!

  13. Melwyk August 16, 2016 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I’m reading Sanaaq right now — haven’t read any Inuit lit before & I’m really enjoying her voice.

  14. JacquiWine August 16, 2016 at 7:25 am - Reply

    I don’t think I’m familiar with any of these books, but then again my knowledge of Canadian literature is very sketchy. (The Martha Baillie I read recently was probably my first in quite a while.) Some interesting food for thought here, thank you.

    • Buried In Print August 17, 2016 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      Bailie’s The Incident Report is terrific: I’m glad you were able to find it and enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my list!

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