Indigenous History Month – Suggested Reading

To mark Indigenous History Month, Kathleen Powell, Supervisor of Historical Service and Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre shares her suggested reading list to give you a start on how you can move your mindset towards Truth and Reconciliation.

This book list is not exhaustive and probably isn’t even likely to be the best book list out there, but these happen to be the ones that she has recently read that have helped to inform her knowledge of Canadian history and Indigenous relations.

1 – As a start, every person should take the time to read the Reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  They can be found at this link: http://www.trc.ca/assets/pdf/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf

I warn you now, this is a lengthy document!  Even considering its length, it is important to understand the context of the Commission, the history of residential schools, and the Indian Act in Canada.  While it is impossible for non-Indigenous people to 100% understand the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada, it is important to make an effort to inform ourselves of its realities, as best we can.

2 – Additionally, another important document that I would recommend you to read is the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  You can find that here:  https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/

Again, it is not a short read but it is an important document in understanding the Indigenous experience in Canada.

3 – 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Bob Joseph

This small volume packs a big punch in helping the lay person understand the how the Indian Act in Canada has controlled the lives of Indigenous people in our country.  This legislation created in 1876 was designed to create a system that would treat Indigenous people as wards of the state, strip them of their basic rights and that would eventually see the complete extinction of Indigenous people.  This was done through very restrictive and frequently arbitrary rules and regulations, the manipulation of band governance, withholding funding, and so much more. 

While this book takes the reader through some of the most egregious and for many non-Indigenous people, probably surprising, treatment of Indigenous nations; it is also a call to action and to understanding and reconciliation.  The author, Chief Robert Joseph is hopeful “for a Canada where there can be reconciliation.”  He sees it as an important first step in the reconciliation process to understand the contextual framework that has gotten us to today.

4 – The Queen at the Council Fire:  The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada – Nathan Tidridge

This book provides the reader with a really great understanding of the treaty system in Niagara and early Indigenous relation from a local perspective.  Tidridge speaks to the earliest Indigenous – colonial relationship and relationship building since 1764.  This book does an excellent job summarizing the Covenant Chain and the concept of the “Dignified Crown”.  Understanding the unique relationship that Indigenous people have directly to the British Crown and the history of that relationship is important in understanding many facets of government/Indigenous relations in modern day.  For Niagarans, we hear a lot about the numbered treaties across Western Canada but this book helps to situate Niagara and southern Ontario in that story.

5 – Clearing the Plains:  Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the loss of Aboriginal life – James Daschuk

This book by James Daschuk explores the Indigenous experience of disease in Canada from prior to European contact until the turn of the 20th Century. 

Many people will recognize that there has been systematic and legislated support of the elimination of Indigenous rights in the history of British North America.  But many might not be familiar with the terrible connection that policies and legislation had on the health and well-being of Indigenous nations had throughout our history.  Where epidemic diseases may have had significant impacts on colonists to North America, these diseases devastated the Indigenous people to almost extinction in some cases.  Daschuk takes a deep dive into the topic of disease, government public health legislation as it related to Indigenous people and the overall impact that these decisions had on the people most affected.

This book will make you cry with despair over the loss felt by Indigenous nations through disease and forced starvation.

6 – No Surrender:  The Land Remains Indigenous – Sheldon Krasowski

Sheldon Krasowski has written a very comprehensive look at the negotiation of seven of the numbered treaties in western Canada.  To understand Indigenous – Canadian Government relations, it is important to have a background in understanding the 11 numbered treaties that were negotiated by representatives of the Monarch / Government of Canada and Indigenous nations in each of those treaty areas.  This book, similar to Tidridge’s book above, explores the unique relationship that was understood between the Monarch and the Indigenous people.  This distinction, he argues, is key to understanding the treaty making process at that time. 

Krasowski also enumerates the countless instances of broken treaty promises and languages changes by those taking down the official record.

While a fairly academic book, his topic is covered very thoroughly and makes a strong argument for re-thinking and re-considering these treaties and their legacy.

7 – A National Crime:  The Canadian Government and the Residential School System – 1879 to 1986 – John S. Milloy

While the best source to understanding the impact of the Residential School system in Canada and its impact is easily the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this book also takes a stab at providing a look at the system, the main proponents and victims and the long term impacts of the system for the Indigenous people.

This book also relates the number of instances that Indigenous communities and parents made formal complaints to the Department of Indian Affairs and how those were ignored or in some cases, the Department doubled down on what they were already doing.  Complaints about the deadliness of the Residential Schools had been brought forward almost immediately as soon as these schools were established but the schools continued to be supported by the Government of Canada for nearly 100 years before real action was taken.

As noted in the introduction to this post, this list is not exhaustive and probably not even the best list out there, but we hope it provides a few options for readers looking to increase their knowledge and to understanding the context of things happening in Canada today.

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