National Aboriginal Day: Summer Reading List

June 20, 2013

Friday, June 21, is National Aboriginal Day. This is a day we celebrate the Inuit, Metis and First Nations in Canada. In honor of National Aboriginal Day, I thought I would put together my top five books on the subject of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. A self-professed nerd, I read a lot on a wide variety of topics, both fiction and non-fiction. As an Aboriginal Engagement advisor, topics around Aboriginal issues in B.C. and Canada garner a lot of my interest. These books are my own personal favorites and hopefully, one or two can find their way onto your own summer reading list.

Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse

I start my list with a great novel written by Richard Wagamese that explores the story of a young man who started life living a traditional lifestyle in the wilderness, attended a residential school and then left to navigate 1960s Canada on his own. Wagamese writes a powerful narrative that explores the personal impact on the residential school system and deals with raw, emotional, and compelling themes. As a 256 page paperback, this is the perfect travelling companion.

Harry Swain, Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy

As a recent graduate of Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy, I am fascinated by stories of the inner-workings of multiple levels of government, how bureaucracies clash and how overlapping jurisdictions often result in major political, social and cultural issues. Harry Swain, a former federal official, writes about his inside experiences during the Oka crisis in the summer of 1990 when Mohawk warriors barricaded a road near Oka, Quebec to stop golf course expansion into their traditional burial ground. This is a crucial read for anyone attempting to understand Crown-Aboriginal relationships and the history of Aboriginal protests and blockades.

Calvin Helin, Dances with Dependency: Out of Poverty Through Self-Reliance

This is a thought-provoking book that aims to help explain the current socio-economic situation of most First Nations in B.C. and also offers suggestions for how lessen those socio-economic gaps between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals across Canada. Helin boldly challenges the status quo of on-reserve governance and federal funding, using the impending demographic tsunami (a burgeoning, youthful Aboriginal population largely dependent on federal transfers combined with an aging non-Aboriginal population that will soon be retiring and accessing their own federal transfers) to call for reform on federal Aboriginal policies. While his ideas are hotly contested throughout the country, it is important to read Helin’s work for yourself and draw your own conclusions on Aboriginal economic advancement, the dependency trap and a shifting of social and cultural expectations.

Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road

Boyden’s enthralling historical fiction tells the story of two young Cree men who volunteer to fight for Canada during World War I. The two main characters symbolize both traditional and modern Aboriginal experiences, as one was raised by his family on the land has excellent hunting instincts and strong spiritual beliefs, while the other attended a residential school and fits in better within his anglicised military milieu. The novel also explores the issues of returning from the war and the struggles that Aboriginal war veterans faced reintegrating into their own culture and that of post-war Canada. Ever since I was assigned it in first-year English class, this is one of my most highly-recommended books to friends and family.

Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America


Thomas King’s account of Aboriginal people in North America does not claim to be a history grounded in fact. King is adamant that he is pulling together a narrative based on stories, facts, personal experiences and his own beliefs. This makes for a refreshing read from a wonderful storyteller. I especially liked how King used examples of media portrayals of Aboriginal people to examine relationships between settler society and the indigenous populations of North America. Without placing blame, he brings up past issues and tries to find new ways to develop a relationship moving forward. An insightful, humorous page-turner that scores on both the information and entertaining scales.

– Jessica Davies, Advisor, Aboriginal Engagement, Communica