In 2009, June was declared National Aboriginal History Month. The month-long celebration of the cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples culminates in National Aboriginal Day, which has been celebrated across Canada on the summer solstice of June 21 since 1996.
This year, as we celebrate 150 years since Confederation, we all know that we need to do more to better understand the history and culture of the First Peoples of this land. The disastrous consequences of colonization are still being felt today. As Gord Downie has said, “We have 150 years behind us that we need to learn from and we’ve got 150 years ahead, and we’d better just get to work.”
For non-Indigenous Canadians, this work begins with education. One of the most inspiring and effective ways of filling in the gaps in our knowledge and understanding is diving into the amazing wealth of Indigenous literature. Last year we designated June “Indigenous Book Club Month” and soon #IndigenousReads was popping up on social media from coast to coast to coast. We suggested every book club in Canada could choose an Indigenous author for their June reading and then discuss it with each other. We hoped that readers would develop a thirst for more and more Indigenous authors, just in time for their summer reading.
Every day last June, we tweeted out a suggestion for #IndigenousReads (we’ve got more ready for this month!). Then in December, with the help of Eleanor LeFave from Mabel’s Fables Bookstore on Mount Pleasant, we tweeted out suggestions of children’s books by Indigenous authors for our #GiftingReconciliation initiative—just in time for holiday shopping!
It’s not enough for us to educate ourselves; we can also help to ensure that the next generation of Canadians is also enriched with a deep knowledge of First Nations, Inuit and Metis history and culture.
The progress is inspiring.Libraries and bookstores are showcasing more and more Indigenous authors. Last June, I was proud to invite author Lee Maracle (Ravensong, I am Woman, Celia’s Song) to a gathering at Christie Gardens to discuss the importance of reading Indigenous authors as part of the journey of reconciliation for non-Indigenous Canadians. I thank her for reminding me it is equally important for Indigenous Canadians to read these authors too. Research is clear—strong personal cultural identity and sense of belonging are critical to better health, education, and economic outcomes.
This year we have lost the brilliant Richard Wagamese. His truly important book Indian Horse was a finalist in CBC’s Canada Reads in 2013. His other books—such as For Joshua, Medicine Walk, and Runway Dreams—provide a powerful window into the devastating effects of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
The humour in Thomas King’s Inconvenient Indian, or Darryl Dexter’s Peace Pipe Dreams or Chelsea Vowell’s Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada provide a wonderful and effective form of truth-telling. Indigenous books and films shine a light into the darker parts of our country’s history, and instill in all of us the hope that we can, and will, do better.
This summer, please let us know which Indigenous authors you are reading, and share your suggestions using #IndigenousReads!
I also look forward to seeing you all at the Annual Na-Me-Res Pow Wow at Fort York on Saturday, June 24th! And then, on July 1st, I hope you will join me for a traditional Sunrise Ceremony at Wells Hill Park, as we ‘get to work’ on the next 150 years on our journey of reconciliation.
For more information on these upcoming events please visit carolynbennett.ca or contact my constituency office.