National Indigenous History Month Reading List

June might be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean your Indigenous History Month reading should. Here are some suggestions for your reading list.

If poetry’s your jam, check these out:

North End Love Songs by Katherena Vermette

For Katherena Vermette, Winnipeg’s North End is a neighbourhood of colourful birds, stately elms, and always wily rivers. It is where a brother’s disappearance is trivialized by local media and police because he is young and aboriginal. It is also where young girls share secrets, movies, cigarettes, Big Gulps and stories of love—where a young mother full of both maternal trepidation and joy watches her small daughters as they play in the park. Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.

This Is a Small Northern Town by Rosanna Deerchild

Winner of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. This is a small northern town is Rosanna Deerchild’s first full-length collection of poems. These are poems about what it means to be from the north; a town divided along colour lines; and a family dealing with its history of secrets. At its core, this collection is about the life of a Cree girl and the places she finds comfort and escape. “What this northern girl pulls to the surface, kicking and screaming, is nothing less than magic. Like the mining town of her childhood, these poems blast away our innermost vulnerability, making way for love and light. But there is nothing shattered here—there is simply a dangerous girl the colour of gold. Stunning!” —Gregory Scofield.

If you want some drama in your life, try these:

Children of God by Corey Payette

Children of God is a powerful musical about an Oji-Cree family whose children are taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario. Julia and Tommy struggle to survive in the harsh environment of a religious school that is determined to rob them of their identities while their mother, Rita, never stops trying to get them back. The impact of this experience on the lives of all of them is profound and devastating, yet the story moves toward redemption. Children of God offers a thrilling blend of ancient traditions and contemporary realities, celebrating resilience and the power of the Indigenous cultural spirit.

Honour Beat by Tara Beagan

Two grown sisters face off over their mother’s deathbed. Together they confront one another, their own identities, and what will remain when their mom leaves this world. A contemporary look at the significance of faith and family, Honour Beat explores the stories this Indigenous family has told itself through the years, as their mother’s youthful spirit leads them toward forgiveness. Winner of the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama.

fareWel by Ian Ross 

Life is tense on the Partridge Crop Reserve. The Chief is in Las Vegas (again), the band is in receivership, and there’s a move on to unilaterally declare self-government. And now that the welfare cheques have gone missing, the people of this fictional First Nation are forced to take control of their lives. fareWel is a raw and funny look at a group of ordinary people tackling some extraordinarily big issues. Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama.

Café Daughter by Kenneth T. Williams

Café Daughter is a one-woman drama inspired by a true story about a Chinese-Cree girl growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1950s and 60s. The story begins in 1957, as nine-year-old Yvette Wong helps out in her parents’ café in Alistair, Saskatchewan. She’s incredibly bright but has been placed in the slow learners’ class because of her skin colour. Her mother Katherine, who was forced to attend a residential school, is conflicted about her identity and has charged Yvette with a secret—to never tell anyone she’s part Cree. Yvette has dreams that her mother nourishes, but when Katherine dies and Yvette and her father move to Saskatoon, Yvette must try to pursue her dreams alone, carving a path uniquely her own.

Popcorn Elder by Curtis Peeteetuce

As a condition of his parole, Darren has been ordered by the court to live with his father, Wally, on the rez. The two have always had a contentious relationship: Wally is a problem drinker, and Darren’s got a short fuse. But Wally tells his son that he’s stopped drinking and started going to ceremony, and urges Darren to do the same. As old family secrets start to be revealed, the father and son grapple with complex issues. Through flashbacks, a combination of Cree and English, and an unforgettable cast of characters, Popcorn Elder tells the story of one family’s journey toward hope.

Salt Baby by Falen Johnson

Growing up on the Six Nations native reserve, Salt Baby never quite fit in as a “white” looking “Indian” – fair skin and curly hair made her more of a Shirley Temple type than a Pocahontas type. Salt Baby navigates the native reserve and the city while explaining herself, as well as her blood quantrum, to the world and to “Alligator”: “It’s always different for Indians.”

Reckoning by Tara Beagan and Andy Moro, Article 11 Theatre 

Reckoning is a triptych of three short plays: Witness is a dance-movement piece featuring a Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner who unravels as he confronts the brutal testimony of residential school survivors. In Daughter, the daughter of a teacher who was accused of rape seduces her father’s accuser. And Survivor is a virtuoso solo piece about a man preparing to commit suicide as a protest against the insufficiencies of the reconciliation process.

The Gap by Ian Ross

Governor General Award-winning playwright (fareWel) Ian Ross is back with an engaging drama that breaks new ground in his ever-expanding exploration of relationships. Evan and Dawn are getting to know each other; as a young Native man, Evan is unsure of how to approach dating a “middle-class” white woman. The “gap” he perceives, real or otherwise, between his culture, his politics, and his lifestyle, and Dawn’s, continues to widen, preventing them both from moving forward. The two young lovers struggle not so much to keep the balance as to find it.

In Care by Kenneth T. Williams

In Care is about a mother’s quest to get her children out of foster care. Janice Fisher has not had an easy life. She worked the streets as a teenager, was addicted to cocaine, and had her first daughter taken from her when she was just 15. But she’s since turned her life around, and is a good mother to three happy girls — until a false accusation gets them apprehended by foster care. Now, Janice is trapped in the system like a butterfly in a spider’s web: the more she struggles to get out the more stuck she gets.

In Care is both an indictment of the racism that’s inherent in our system and a tribute to the strength people as disadvantaged as Janice must have in order to survive.

 Les Filles du Roi by Corey Payette and Julie McIsaac

Les Filles du Roi (The King’s Daughters), a gorgeous new trilingual musical written in English, French, and Kanien´kéha (Mohawk), is the powerful story of Kateri, a young Kanien´kehá:ka girl, and her brother Jean-Baptiste, whose lives are disrupted upon the arrival of les filles due roi in 1665. They forge an unlikely relationship with young fille Marie-Jeanne Lespérance, whose dreams of a new life are more complicated than she could have imagined. Over the course of a year, Kanien´kehá:ka, French and English journeys collide, setting the stage for the Canada we know today. Payette’s music connects the heartbeat of the drum and the soaring voices of our female ancestors in a thrilling contemporary score, weaving three languages and rivalling the beauty of Canada’s most stunning landscapes.

Nicimos by Curtis Peeteetuce

This Christmas season, things have gone awry for the kohkoms of Kiwetinohk. Clare Bear is engaged to be married, Zula Merasty is moving off-reserve and Sihkos Sinclare is in jail. It all comes to fruition at Clare’s stagette.

Stretching Hide by Dale Lakevold and Darrell Racine

The Willows, Saskatchewan: Frank, a young Métis lawyer, introduces his fiancé to the idyllic life of his community one July long weekend. That weekend his law practice and his personal life are threatened when the provincial game wardens accuse him of poaching a deer. Stretching Hide heads to the country to present a portrait of a community not often seen on Canadian stages or written into the official histories of Canada—the Métis Nation.

Bannock Republic by Kenneth T. Williams

Find out what yoga, residential schools and the missing thirteenth floors have in common in the new comedy by Kenneth T. Williams. Bannock Republic reunites the cousins Jacob and Isaac Thunderchild 10 years after the mayhem of Thunderstick. This time, a beautiful and vengeful third-party manager will wreak havoc with their lives. Jacob is working as a video journalist and barely clinging to his sobriety. Isaac is now chief of their reserve and trying to get the band out of debt. Destiny Charles, appointed to take over the band’s finances, will make Jacob and Isaac realize that some secrets are better left buried.

Thunderstick by Kenneth T. Williams

Jacob is an alcoholic reporter, his estranged cousin Isaac is a worldly photojournalist just recently returned to Canada—and their editor pairs them up to cover a story on Parliament Hill. The problems start when Jacob vomits onto the Prime Minister, an act which is mistaken for an assassination attempt. While in jail, the cousins get information which sends them on a madcap romp to try to track down what might be the story of their lives, involving a government coverup, an international fugitive and a lesbian love nest in the Northern Ontario woods.

When their car breaks down, stranding them in the woods in the middle of the night, Jacob and Isaac finally face up to their painful shared past, and come to terms with what has divided them for all these years.

Bereav’d of Light by Ian Ross

Wagoosh has a vision and follows the signs south. Absalom, an escaped house slave, is running north on a strange and desperate flight from Abraham, the plantation owner. When the two meet, the inevitable clash of cultures leads us into little explored historical territory. Red, black, and white, eventually the men must come to grips with the things that unite them as well as those that divide them. With humour, music, and poetry, Governor General’s Award-winner Ian Ross paints a compelling picture of the complex nature of race relations in 19th-century America.

Bug by Yolanda Bonell

bug is a solo performance and artistic ceremony that highlights the ongoing effects of colonialism and intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous women. It is also a testimony to the women’s resilience and strength. The Girl traces her life from surviving the foster care system to her struggles with addictions. She fights, hoping to break the cycle in order to give her daughter a different life than the one she had. The Mother sits in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, recounting memories of the daughter that was taken from her, and the struggles of living on the streets in Northern Ontario. They are both followed by Manidoons, a physical manifestation of the trauma and addictions that crawl across generations. bug reveals the hard truths that many Indigenous women face as they carve out a space to survive in contemporary Canada, while holding on to so much hope.

Or try these non-fiction titles:

Joe from Winnipeg by Ian Ross

Joe from Winnipeg is an acclaimed series of weekly commentaries penned and performed by Ian Ross (winner of the 1997 Governor General’s Award for Drama) on CBC Radio One. Phenomenally successful since they began to air, these humorous commentaries reflect a compassionate and curious Everyman. In his third collection of the Joe from Winnipeg stories, Ross picks over 80 of his faves from the series. He delves into such pressing social issues as moose on the road, immunization, peekaboo, little dogs wearing nail polish, springrolls, and odometer checks.

Off the Ropes by Roland Vandal 

Having been sexually abused by a boxing coach as a teen, and not knowing who to trust or tell, Roland Vandal found solace in drugs and alcohol. His battle with addiction, and his unwillingness to speak of his demons, led to failed relationships, bad choices, crime, trouble with the law, and PTSD. After a night of partying with friends in 2001, Roland found himself alone in a Winnipeg hotel and attempted suicide. When he woke plagued by guilt and shame at what he had done, he knew he had hit bottom. He dialled the phone and sought help. Clean and sober for over a decade, Roland is now living a life he never dreamed possible. Filled with moments of humour, sorrow, despair, and triumph over adversity, Off the Ropes tells his story in the raw, from the abuse, to his addictions, to his successes in business and as a motivational speaker and advocate.

Black Canadian Voices Reading List

In recent weeks, titles by Black authors have dominated bestseller lists worldwide. If you’re interested in discovering some powerful, dramatic Black Canadian voices, here is a list of plays for your reading pleasure:

Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears

A rhapsodic blues tragedy, Harlem Duet could be the prelude to Shakespeare’s Othello and recounts the tale of Othello and his first wife Billie (yes, before Desdemona). Set in contemporary Harlem at the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X boulevards, the play explores the space where race and sex intersect. Harlem Duet is Billie’s story. Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama.

Riot by Andrew Moodie

A dramatic and often humorous look at six black Canadians of diverse backgrounds who share a Toronto house. Their lives unfold against the backdrop of the civil unrest which erupted when the Los Angeles police officers on trial for the beating of Rodney King are acquitted. The fracas outside keeps intruding as characters clash, collide, and swap jokes about everything from racism to the status of Quebec as a distinct society, from Malcolm X to The Road to Avonlea.

A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women by Andrew Moodie

Just as the stag party is about to begin, the bride cancels the wedding. Chris, the jilted fiancé, is a walking wounded, but as his three buddies attempt consolation, we discover that they, too, are relationship-challenged. Jocular and playful, these men can also be frank in revealing their vulnerability and profound desire for love and understanding.

Better Angels: A Parable and Eating Pomegranates Naked by Andrea Scott

In Better Angels: A Parable, Akosua Mansa leaves Ghana to work for Greg and Leila Tate in the tony suburbs of a metropolitan city. But she soon finds herself in an impossible situation: like more than forty million people, she’s become trapped in modern-day slavery. Taking cues from the spider god, Anansi, Akosua will take her destiny into her own hands.

Eating Pomegranates Naked examines two couples and their single frenemy as they scratch the surface of their relationships over too much wine. What do infertility, religion, toxoplasmosis, and ice cream have to do with Tulipmania? Maybe more than you think.

Keeper by Tanisha Taitt

Keeper is a powerful, intriguing story about a connection between two women—the memory of which carries such weight from each of their pasts that the only means of self-preservation has been to try to shut it down. We witness an evening in the lives of Avalon and Constance—the former in her early 20s, the latter 16 years older—who have been bonded and blistered by death, doubt and distance. As the details of their shared history emerge, long-buried feelings and hidden truths rise to the surface. Stirring, humorous and resonant, Keeper is one part cat-and-mouse, and one part long-lost love.

Controlled Damage by Andrea Scott

Controlled Damage explores the life of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond and how her act of bravery in a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946 started a ripple effect that is still felt today. An ordinary woman forced to be extraordinary by an unyielding and racist world, Desmond never gave up—despite the personal cost to her and those who loved her. Andrea Scott’s highly theatrical examination of Desmond and her legacy traces the impact she has had on our culture, but also casts light on the slow progress of the fight for social justice and civil rights in Canada.

Serving Elizabeth by Marcia Johnson

Serving Elizabeth begins in Kenya in 1952, during the fateful royal visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. Mercy, a restaurant owner, is approached to cook for the royal couple. Although she is a staunch anti-monarchist, she agrees to take the job. Decades later, Tia, a Kenyan-Canadian intern working on a series about Queen Elizabeth, discovers that there may be more to the story of the Princess’s visit than we have been led to believe. Serving Elizabeth is a funny, fresh, and topical play about colonialism, monarchy, and who is serving whom—or what.

Spring 2020 Book Preview

Coming Spring 2020:

The Runner
by Christopher Morris
Scirocco Drama
available now

Z.A.K.A is an Orthodox Jewish volunteer force in Israel that collects the remains of Jews killed in accidents. When Jacob, a Z.A.K.A volunteer, makes the split-second decision to treat a young Palestinian woman instead of the soldier she may have killed, his world is changed forever. The Runner is a powerful thriller that explores the beleaguered psyche of a noble man charged with attending to the remains of harrowing acts of savagery.

Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells)
by Rose Napoli
Scirocco Drama
available now

Ten years ago, Laura was a student in Alan Wells’ English class. She was uncharacteristically smart for a fifteen-year-old – perceptive and vulnerable – a dream for a flailing teacher. Now, at twenty-five, Laura has written her first novel. She’s called it Dear Mr. Wells, and Alan is the first person she wants to read it. Weaving seamlessly from present to past, Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells) burrows in the grey areas of consent. A coming-of-age story, a love story, a vindication, Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells) examines a formative relationship that both corrupts and liberates.

Some Blow Flutes
by Mary Vingoe
Scirocco Drama
available now

Inspired by a quote from the I Ching about how we respond to tragedy – “Some weep, some blow upon flutes” – Mary Vingoe’s play is the story of Costas, an elderly Greek shoe repairman whose wife Elena suffers from dementia and whose marriage has been eroded by a family secret. Costas is in denial of his wife’s illness, but Lia, their teenage granddaughter who cares for her grandmother, is not. Costas’ life is altered when Sandra, a professional organizer who cannot begin to organize her own life, enters his shop. An unlikely, at times humorous friendship develops between the two – until we discover that Sandra’s estranged daughter Marijke is fourteen and pregnant. A chance meeting between Elena and Marijke leads to an unravelling of past lives and buried grievances which play out with unexpected results. Some Blow Flutes brings the issue of dementia into the open and explores the possibility of compassion and redemption in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Orchard (After Chekhov)
by Sarena Parmar
Scirocco Drama
available now

Sarena Parmar’s The Orchard (After Chekhov) is an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, told through the lens of a Punjabi-Sikh family in the Okanagan Valley. With the bank calling and money low, will the Basrans be able to save their beloved orchard? The Orchard challenges our idea of what rural Canada looked and sounded like in the 1970s, offering a fresh perspective on our history, and a subversive look at ethnicity within the classical western canon. Inspired by the playwright’s own childhood, this fresh adaptation confronts life, loss, and the Canadian immigrant experience with humour and beauty. The Orchard (After Chekhov) premiered at the Shaw Festival.

by Lara Rae
Scirocco Drama
available now

In this original and poetic new work, Lara Rae tells the raw and heartfelt story of her half-century long (and counting) gender odyssey. Dragonfly presents us with two actors, one male, one female, who illuminate the inner life of a trans woman from her Scottish childhood in the 1960s to the present day. Matching our inside to our outside is always hard, but for trans people it’s often a matter of life and death. Stripping away the visual cues that both define and imprison transgender people, Dragonfly is a call to all of us to forge creativity from chaos. So often, it is the external changes in trans lives that the world is exposed to and confronts. Here, as Lara says, is the “inside voice” of a trans child, ever present, ever demanding to be heard, ever rising upward, to growth, peace, security and love.

Fall 2019 Book Preview

Coming Fall 2019:

Let the People Speak: Oppression in a Time of Reconciliation
by Sheilla Jones, with a foreward by Sheila North
J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing
available now

Over the past fifty years, Canada’s Indigenous Affairs department (now two departments with more than 30 federal co-delivery partners) has mushroomed into a “super-province” delivering birth-to-death programs and services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. This vast entity has jurisdictional reach over 90% of Canada’s landscape, and an annual budget of some $20 billion. Yet Indigenous people have no means to hold this “super-province” accountable to them. Not a single person in this entity has been elected by Indigenous people to represent their interests. Not one. When it comes to federal Indigenous policy, ordinary Indigenous people in Canada are voiceless and powerless.

In Let the People Speak, author and journalist Sheilla Jones raises an important question: are the well-documented social inequities in Indigenous communities—high levels of poverty, suicide, incarceration, children in care, family violence—the symptoms of this long-standing, institutionalized powerlessness? If so, the solution lies in empowerment. And the means of empowerment is already embedded in the historic treaties. Jones argues that there can be meaningful reconciliation only when ordinary Indigenous Canadians are finally empowered to make their voices heard, and ordinary non-Indigenous Canadians can join with them to advance a shared future.

Fierce: Five Plays for High Schools
Edited by Glenda MacFarlane
Scirocco Drama
available now

A teenager is dead after facing sexual assault and cyberbullying. Two friends go camping, and one reveals a secret. A conflict between two band students erupts into violence. A young woman about to leave for university tries to hide a disturbing secret. A bereaved teen joins her school basketball team. Five new plays from some of Canada’s best playwrights reveal the passion, pain, humour, and hopes of young people in this exciting anthology for high schools. Included: Who Killed Snow White? by Judith Thompson, Out in the Open by Dave Deveau, A Bear Awake in Winter by Ali Joy Richardson, Admissions by Tanisha Taitt, and The Team by Michael Kras.

by Sean Dixon
Scirocco Drama
available now

In the early fall of 1885, P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth toured southwestern Ontario, playing to sold-out crowds. On the bill, along with the snake charmer, the tightrope walkers, the contortionist, and the bearded lady, were 28 elephants, led by the world-renowned Jumbo. Between their stops in Guelph and London, the circus crews were packing up, and unscheduled freight train came hurtling down the track and ended the life of the most famous pachyderm in the world. A cast of larger-than-life characters brings the last performance of the legendary Jumbo to life.

Les Filles du Roi
by Corey Payette and Julie McIsaac
Scirocco Drama
available now

Les Filles du Roi (The King’s Daughters), a gorgeous new trilingual musical written in English, French, and Kanien´kéha (Mohawk), is the powerful story of Kateri, a young Kanien´kehá:ka girl, and her brother Jean-Baptiste, whose lives are disrupted upon the arrival of les filles due roi in 1665. They forge an unlikely relationship with young fille Marie-Jeanne Lespérance, whose dreams of a new life are more complicated than she could have imagined. Over the course of a year, Kanien´kehá:ka, French and English journeys collide, setting the stage for the Canada we know today. Payette’s music connects the heartbeat of the drum and the soaring voices of our female ancestors in a thrilling contemporary score, weaving three languages and rivalling the beauty of Canada’s most stunning landscapes.

The New Canadian Curling Club
by Mark Crawford
Scirocco Drama
available now

A Chinese medical student, a Jamaican Tim Horton’s manager, an Indian father of three, and a 17-year-old Syrian refugee walk into a curling club. It’s Monday night at a small-town rink and it’s the first-ever Learn to Curl class for new Canadians. Inspired by the local refugee resettlement program, community-minded Marlene organized this evening to welcome newcomers and “diversify the club.” But when she slips on the ice and breaks her hip, the club’s ice-maker, Stuart MacPhail—who also happens to be Marlene’s ex-husband—is forced to step in as head coach. Trouble is, Stuart has plenty of opinions about immigrants. What follows is the hilarious and inspiring story of a group of unlikely athletes who face off against the local prejudice and become a true team. Both laugh-out-loud funny and quietly moving, The New Canadian Curling Club is a new Canadian comedy with a heart as big as Canada itself!