The best books about First Nations in Canada

1 authors have picked their favorite books about First Nations and why they recommend each book.

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Almighty Voice and His Wife

By Daniel David Moses,

Book cover of Almighty Voice and His Wife

A historical play that tells the story of a single Cree warrior doing battle with the Canadian military. Each of the two acts approaches the story differently. The first is more linear and poetic, the second more lyrical and surreal. Many have said they loved the first act and hated the second. And vice versa. Whatever you may feel, an excellent exploration of colonization as seen through the eyes of a poet.


Who am I?

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright, novelist, journalist, and filmmaker. Born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario (Anishnawbe), Drew has had over a hundred productions of his plays and enjoys spreading the gospel of Indigenous literature across the world. 


I wrote...

The Night Wanderer

By Drew Hayden Taylor,

Book cover of The Night Wanderer

What is my book about?

Nothing ever happens on the Otter Lake reservation. But when 16-year-old Tiffany discovers her father is renting out her room, she’s deeply upset. Sure, their guest is polite and keeps to himself, but he’s also a little creepy. 

The mysterious Pierre L’Errant is actually a vampire, returning to his tribal home after centuries spent in Europe. But Tiffany has other things on her mind: her new boyfriend is acting weird, disputes with her father are escalating, and her estranged mother is starting a new life with somebody else. Tiffany threatens drastic measures and flees into the bush. There, in the midnight woods, a chilling encounter with L’Errant changes everything... A mesmerizing blend of Gothic thriller and modern coming-of-age novel, The Night Wanderer is unlike any other vampire story.

The Rez Sisters

By Tomson Highway,

Book cover of The Rez Sisters

Perhaps one of the most seminal plays to come out of the First Nations community, if not the Canadian theatre community in general. It starts off with the simplest of plots, seven Indigenous women plan to leave their community on Manitoulin Island to participate in the world's largest bingo game in Toronto. It’s funny, tragic, and a wonderful introduction to the colourful world which we come from. 


Who am I?

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright, novelist, journalist, and filmmaker. Born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario (Anishnawbe), Drew has had over a hundred productions of his plays and enjoys spreading the gospel of Indigenous literature across the world. 


I wrote...

The Night Wanderer

By Drew Hayden Taylor,

Book cover of The Night Wanderer

What is my book about?

Nothing ever happens on the Otter Lake reservation. But when 16-year-old Tiffany discovers her father is renting out her room, she’s deeply upset. Sure, their guest is polite and keeps to himself, but he’s also a little creepy. 

The mysterious Pierre L’Errant is actually a vampire, returning to his tribal home after centuries spent in Europe. But Tiffany has other things on her mind: her new boyfriend is acting weird, disputes with her father are escalating, and her estranged mother is starting a new life with somebody else. Tiffany threatens drastic measures and flees into the bush. There, in the midnight woods, a chilling encounter with L’Errant changes everything... A mesmerizing blend of Gothic thriller and modern coming-of-age novel, The Night Wanderer is unlike any other vampire story.

The Berlin Blues

By Drew Hayden Taylor,

Book cover of The Berlin Blues

Many of the plays written by Indigenous playwrights are usually dark and critical. This play is a little different. It’s an unabashed comedy celebrating the Indigenous sense of humour. Essentially, the play is about two German entrepreneurs who travel to a First Nations community planning to build the world’s largest Native theme park, called Ojibway world. The play deals with stereotypes and the global marketing of culture. 


Who am I?

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright, novelist, journalist, and filmmaker. Born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario (Anishnawbe), Drew has had over a hundred productions of his plays and enjoys spreading the gospel of Indigenous literature across the world. 


I wrote...

The Night Wanderer

By Drew Hayden Taylor,

Book cover of The Night Wanderer

What is my book about?

Nothing ever happens on the Otter Lake reservation. But when 16-year-old Tiffany discovers her father is renting out her room, she’s deeply upset. Sure, their guest is polite and keeps to himself, but he’s also a little creepy. 

The mysterious Pierre L’Errant is actually a vampire, returning to his tribal home after centuries spent in Europe. But Tiffany has other things on her mind: her new boyfriend is acting weird, disputes with her father are escalating, and her estranged mother is starting a new life with somebody else. Tiffany threatens drastic measures and flees into the bush. There, in the midnight woods, a chilling encounter with L’Errant changes everything... A mesmerizing blend of Gothic thriller and modern coming-of-age novel, The Night Wanderer is unlike any other vampire story.

Where the Blood Mixes

By Kevin Loring,

Book cover of Where the Blood Mixes

An amazing play that explores the repercussions of Residential schools on the Indigenous population, and how its effects are frequently intergenerational. Winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Best Drama, this play spares no one as it sheds light on the damage and healing happening in Indigenous communities across the country. 


Who am I?

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright, novelist, journalist, and filmmaker. Born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario (Anishnawbe), Drew has had over a hundred productions of his plays and enjoys spreading the gospel of Indigenous literature across the world. 


I wrote...

The Night Wanderer

By Drew Hayden Taylor,

Book cover of The Night Wanderer

What is my book about?

Nothing ever happens on the Otter Lake reservation. But when 16-year-old Tiffany discovers her father is renting out her room, she’s deeply upset. Sure, their guest is polite and keeps to himself, but he’s also a little creepy. 

The mysterious Pierre L’Errant is actually a vampire, returning to his tribal home after centuries spent in Europe. But Tiffany has other things on her mind: her new boyfriend is acting weird, disputes with her father are escalating, and her estranged mother is starting a new life with somebody else. Tiffany threatens drastic measures and flees into the bush. There, in the midnight woods, a chilling encounter with L’Errant changes everything... A mesmerizing blend of Gothic thriller and modern coming-of-age novel, The Night Wanderer is unlike any other vampire story.

Jack Charles

By Jack Charles,

Book cover of Jack Charles: Born-Again Blakfella

Homophobia appears to have been the least of Jack Charles’ worries. If it ever bothered him, he barely lets it register in this memoir of a creative life lived both on the fringes and in the spotlight. Perhaps that’s the point, that his eloquent, good-humoured approach always seemed to scotch the haters right from the get-go. In an unbendingly honest self-reflection, Charles also pulls off describing himself as a “poof”, a very Australian term of derision that has been reclaimed by many. His ‘born again’ tale similarly relates how he survived in the face of terrible prejudices endured by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islandersthe First Nations people of Australiaand their vibrant, resilient spirit. An uplifting gem.


Who am I?

A century of prejudice is laid bare in these books, but within their pages are countless subtle and overt ways that gay Australian men have given homophobes the big middle finger. We may not always have thrived, but through resistance, migration, verbal agility, notoriety, and sheer resilience, collectively we have conquered. I stand on enormous shoulders at a time when queer writing is proliferating on an inevitable tide of equality that has risen across my lifetime in this country. My selections encompass first nations and migrant stories, some of the pioneers of our gay literature, and ‘outside’ voices bravely looking in to discern us with dignity.


I wrote...

Tank Water

By Michael Burge,

Book cover of Tank Water

What is my book about?

James Brandt didn’t look back when he got away from his rural hometown as a teenager. Now, he’s returned to Kippen because his cousin Tony has been found dead under the local bridge. The event triggers James’s journalistic curiosity—and his anxiety—both of which cropped up during his turbulent journey to adulthood. 

But it is the unexpected homophobic attack he survives that draws James into a hunt for the reasons one lonely Kippen farm boy in every generation kills himself. Standing in the way is James’s father, the town’s recently retired top cop, who is not prepared to investigate crimes no one reckons have taken place. James must use every newshound’s trick he ever learned in order to uncover the brutal truth.

Tallgrass Prairie

By John Madson, Frank Oberle (photographer),

Book cover of Tallgrass Prairie

A beautiful and lyrical book, this sumptuous display of wonderful photographs by Frank Oberle is supplemented by text by John Madson. Madson describes in lyrical prose the reactions of early French explorers when they encountered prairie for the first time, and then recounts the subsequent settlement and plowing of the prairie. It is not really possible to get a true sense of what an open prairie must have been like 300 years ago, but this book will give readers a bit of its flavor.


Who are we?

The short answer is, a retired university professor (Fred) and the coordinator of Natural Areas for the University of Illinois (James). That answer, however, doesn’t give a clue as to how we came to write our book. Fred and his wife established a small three-acre prairie on their land in 2003. They then enlisted James and Grand Prairie Friends, the local conservation organization he headed at the time, to help manage the prairie. Eventually, Fred, who had photographically documented the growth of the prairie and the beauty to be found therein, proposed that he and James describe the prairie with photos so that others could also learn to enjoy it. The rest, as they say, is history.


We wrote...

A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers

By Fred Delcomyn, James L. Ellis,

Book cover of A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers

What is our book about?

“Anybody can love the mountains, but it takes a soul to love the prairie.” This pithy quote, attributed to the writer Willa Cather, encapsulates the challenge of getting people to appreciate the wide-open native grasslands that for thousands of years covered the land from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains. Prairie is beautiful. Prairie is wondrous. Prairie is unique. Prairie is also mostly gone now and the few remnants are vanishing at an alarming rate; further, it is underappreciated to an equal degree. 

In this book, we celebrate the beauty and wonders of a small tallgrass prairie recreated from agricultural land.

Kindred

By Michael Earp (editor),

Book cover of Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories

I really enjoyed reading all the #OwnVoice short stories, several of which have intersectional representation, in Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories. The twelve authors demonstrate a wide range of writing styles, writing about different themes in a variety of genres from medieval to contemporary to dystopian. It’s a book you can return to again and again, choosing different stories to read depending on your mood and interests. 


Who am I?

I am an Australian author and an avid reader. Although I love reading books set in other countries, I particularly enjoy stories that take place in Australia, as I can really identify with them. I especially relate to those set in the Australian outback or small rural towns, as for several years I lived in remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. I understand how in small towns it is very difficult to keep secrets, as everybody knows everyone else’s business, and I now realise this is becoming an underlying theme in my writing. I have a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Tasmania.


I wrote...

Jilda's Ark

By Verity Croker,

Book cover of Jilda's Ark

What is my book about?

A sixteenth birthday celebration cruise for twins Jilda and Rosa quickly becomes a nightmare. While her family enjoys an excursion on a Fijian island, Jilda, who is unwell and remains onboard, finds their ship has sailed off, leaving most of its passengers stranded on shore.

An unknown group has overtaken the ship. After a few days, they collect thousands of new passengers from a distant archipelago, making conditions onboard overcrowded and uncomfortable. Nobody knows where they’re headed, so the mood on the ship rapidly deteriorates. Though Jilda is desperate to reunite with her family, she meets someone who comforts her and completely changes her world. But how will her new friend Jade feel when she learns Jilda has a boyfriend back home in Australia?

Son of a Trickster

By Eden Robinson,

Book cover of Son of a Trickster

I’m sneakily recommending a trilogy here, of which this is the first book. By turns funny, gritty, dark, difficult, and magical, this book by Eden Robinson, who is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations from the Pacific Northwest, is another coming-of-age novel that dives into the gritty realism of life on a reservation, as well as the deep, magical roots of Haisla mythology. 


Who am I?

Having grown up on S.E. Hinton, I love a good, gritty young adult novel that doesn’t pull any punches! In my book, Black Chuck, four misfit teens suddenly find themselves cast adrift after the very charismatic Shaun dies, leaving them to navigate their way to adulthood without their leader. All the books on this list are coming-of-age stories about kids growing up in tough circumstances, finding love, making mistakes, getting hurt, and ultimately finding joy in a world that at times seems set against them.


I wrote...

Black Chuck

By Regan McDonell,

Book cover of Black Chuck

What is my book about?

In this dark, gritty coming-of-age novel about small-town kids from the wrong side of the tracks, tough guy Réal and quiet loner Evie find strange comfort in each other in the aftermath of their closest friend’s death. 

Shaun was the king, the lynchpin that kept their small, close-knit group of friends together. He was the sun they’d all spun around. And in the days after his sudden, violent death, Réal looks to Evie to atone for his sins, and Evie looks to Ré to forget about her own. But each of them is keeping a secret—about Shaun, and the night he died—secrets that might just tear these friends apart forever.

Hidden Scholars

By Nancy J. Parezo,

Book cover of Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest

Out of the feminist movement in American archaeology came this thick testament to the number and importance of women archaeologists and ethnographers who worked in the American Southwest before the U.S. Civil Rights Act made discrimination illegal. As a woman who had been ignored and even brutally put down by men archaeologists, reading of these hardworking, persistent, and some of them brilliant women thrilled me. Over and above the revelations of great researchers who often collaborated with First Nations people, the book is a treasure of stories about pioneer conditions in the Southwest, discoveries of famous ruins, and early anthropologists breaking through into native communities.  


Who am I?

Observant of the world around me, and intellectual, I discovered my ideal way of life at age 16 when I read Kroeber's massive textbook Anthropology, 1948 edition. Anthropologists study everything human, everywhere and all time. Archaeology particularly appealed to me because it is outdoors, physical, plus its data are only the residue of human activities, challenging us to figure out what those people, that place and time, did and maybe thought. As a woman from before the Civil Rights Act, a career was discouraged; instead, I did fieldwork with my husband, and on my own, worked with First Nations communities on ethnohistorical research. Maverick, uppity, unstoppable, like in these books.


I wrote...

Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

By Alice Beck Kehoe,

Book cover of Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

What is my book about?

Girl Archaeologist recounts Alice Kehoe’s life, begun in an era very different from the twenty-first century in which she retired as an honored elder archaeologist. She persisted against entrenched patriarchy. A senior male professor attempted to quash Kehoe’s career by raping her. Her Harvard professors refused to allow her to write a dissertation in archaeology. Universities paid her less than her male counterparts. Her husband refused to participate in housework or childcare. Working in archaeology and in the histories of American First Nations, Kehoe published a series of groundbreaking books and articles. Although she was denied a conventional career, through her unconventional breadth of research and her empathy with First Nations people she gained a wide circle of collaborators and colleagues. 

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