An #IdleNoMore Reading List (sort of)


One Shelf Full

Some time ago Lise Frigault suggested to me on Twitter that I put together an #IdleNoMore reading list.  What follows I think is decidedly not exactly what she suggested. Rather, the following is a sparsely annotated bibliography of some of the things I’ve read over the years which have shaped my thinking on Aboriginal/Newcomer relations, on Canadian Constitutional and political matters and on the necessary way forward for all of us.

First, some online documents

The Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763

The Durham Report, 1839

The Gradual Civilization Act, 1857 

The British North America Act, 1867

The Indian Act

Some Excerpts from the Bryce Report on conditions in Residential Schools, 1907

The White Paper, 1969

Citizens Plus (The Red Paper), 1970

Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996

Bill C-45, 2012

The Interim Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (pdf)

They Came for the Children narratives from the Residential School Experience (pdf)

Books on my shelf

I’m a bit of a book-hoarder. I keep my books. I don’t have much interest in e-books.  I always have a real book in my pocket. I have a lot of books.  Many of them bear directly on Canadian History and on First Nations issues.  As I grow older and read more, however, I find that everything is tied together.  This list could have been very long — I can see justification in including James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, for example, but I won’t. I’ve tried to winnow the list down severely.

User-friendly volumes

An interesting introduction is the Chronicles of Canada Series, which was published a century ago. I’m fortunate to have a nice first edition of the thirty-two volume set, but all volumes seem to be available online at various places.   The first volume, The Dawn of Canadian History: A Chronicle of Aboriginal Canada is by Stephen Leacock, and is far more sensitive than one might expect of the time.  A number of other volumes are also devoted to First Nations leaders and their roles in our shared history.  The series was written for young readers: they are brief but densly packed with information. Definitely worth a look both for stong information and as a window into historical attitudes a hundred years ago.

A modern version of something similar to the Chronicles of Canada is John Ralston Saul’s fascinating collection of biographies, Extraordinary Canadians. The biographies of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden and that of Big Bear by Rudy Wiebe are of particular relevence to the current subject, but making one’s way through the entire collection would not be a wasted effort.  The volumes are very readable.  I would wish a set were in every High School library in the country.

A Big Influence

The American Empire and the Fourth World by Anthony J. Hall is a sweeping analysis of the legal/constitutional history of European/First Nations relations.  Professor Hall’s analysis has been a big influence on my thinking.

The Northwest Rebellion

One of the most user-friendly volumes on this list has to be Chester Brown’s Louis Riel, a massive graphic-novel biography of the Métis leader and Father of Confederation.

Loyal to Death: Indians and the Northwest Rebellion by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser makes very clear that the First Nations never had any desire to be involved in the Metis Northwest Rebellion and indeed, desperately remained loyal to their treaties and the Crown.

Hugh Dempsey’s Crowfoot, a biography of the great Blackfoot leader, is one of so many of Dempsey’s vast output of Western Canadian history volumes directed at a popular audience.

Two fundamental works

The Fourth World by George Manuel and Michael Posluns
The Unjust Society by Harold Cardinal

Two interesting companion volumes about the Stoney Nation in Southern Alberta

These Mountains are our Sacred Places by Chief John Snow of the Stoney Nation
Bad Medicine by Judge John Reilly.


Contrasting takes on Canada, it’s nature, and it’s future

Lament for a Nation George Grant
The Truth About Canada Mel Hurtig
Unlikely Utopia Michael Adams
Becoming Canada Ken Dryden
A Fair Country John Ralston Saul
Navigating a New World Lloyd Axworthy
Polar Imperative Shelagh D. Grant
Unfinished Business: Aboriginal Peoples and the 1983 Constitutional Conference  Norman K. Zlotkin
How Canadians Govern Themselves Eugene A. Forsey
The Inconvenient Indian Thomas King
Hidden in Plain Sight Ed. David R. Newhouse, cora J. Voyageur, etc. is a handy tonic to the tired racist suggestion that aboriginal people are lazy do-nothings and letters to the editor of newspapers in Nanaimo.

From the other non-U.S. part of the Western Hemisphere

The Labyrinth of Solitude Octavio Paz
Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano
Do the Americas Have a Common History? ed. Lewis Hanke
Our Word is our Weapon Subcommandante Marcos

White people going native in Canada and Namibia

The Sheltering Desert Henno Martin
Maps and Dreams Hugh Brody
The Other Side of Eden Hugh Brody

Microcosm reflecting Macrocosm where the Thomson meets the Fraser

The Western Avernus by Morley Roberts
Archdeacon on Horseback by Cyril E. H. Williams & Pixie McGeachie
Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring

Poetry and near-poetry

Tobacco Wars by Paul Seesequasis
Assiniboia by Tim Lilburn A disturbing poetic alternative vision of Canada.
kiyâm by Naomi McIlwraith A fascinating bilingual collection of meditative poems.
Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield

Contact and post-contact history, ethnology, etc.

The Conquest of Paradise Kirkpatrick Sale The classic revisionist study of Columbus’ legacy.
Time Among the Maya Ronald Wright
Stolen Continents Ronald Wright
The History of the Conquest of Mexico William H. Prescott  Prescott’s history first gave me the realization that, contrary to many conceptions, the Aztecs and the Spaniards were technologically almost an even match and that the Spanish Conquest was only successful by the skin of Spanish teeth and with the vital and massive aid of military alliances with other native nations.
The History of the Conquest of Peru William H. Prescott
The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico Miguel Leon-Portilla
The Conquest of Mexico Hugh Thomas
La Capital Jonathan Kandell An epic history of Mexico City
Time Among the Highland Maya Barbara Tedlock
Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala W. George Lovell
All of Linda Schele’s books about the Maya
The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca An amazing narrative of first contact.
The Defeat of John Hawkins Rayner Unwin A modern telling of early British contact with the New World.
The Relation of David Ingram Richard Hakluyt Another amazing narrative of first contact.
Any of Chomsky’s political pieces (he just keeps hammering at the same ideas)


Midnight Sweatlodge by Waubgeshig Rice
Indian Horse Richard Wagamese
Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King
Three Day Road Joseph Boyden
Porcupines and China Dolls by Robert Arthur Alexie
Beautiful Losers Leonard Cohen
Elle Douglas Glover
Volkswagen Blues Jacques Poulin
Wacousta Major John Richardson

Local History Alberta and Edmonton

Walking in the Woods: A Métis Journey by Herb Belcourt
Castles to Forts: A True History of Edmonton Philip R. coutu
Fort de Prairies Brock Silversides
The Place of Bows and The Battle for Banff E. J. Hart
Stoney History Notes Chief John Chiniki
Head-Smashed-In: 5500 Years of Bison Jumping in the Alberta Plains Brian O. K. Reeves
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Gordon Reid
Aboriginal Cultures in Alberta Five Hundred Generations  Susan Berry and Jack Brink
Medicine Wheels on the Northern Plains John H. Brumley

Some Classic pieces of European literature which are relevant

The Tempest William Shakespeare Later interpretations of Caliban have been important in discussions of colonialism.
The Aeneid Virgil perhaps Western Literature’s earliest poetic description of colonialism in action.
Candide Voltaire some fanciful descriptions of New World societies
Gargantua and Pantagruel Rabelais more fanciful descriptions of New World societies.
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift yet more fanciful descriptions of New World societies.
Some of Montaigne’s Essays more thoughtful consideration of the New World.
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad The Dark Heart of colonialism in Central Africa.

Still to read:

Ikonze: the Stones of Traditional Knowledge Philip Coutu and Lorraine Hoffman-Mercredi
Earth into Property Anthony J. Hall

I expect that’s enough for a start.


The Chronicles of Canada (minus the volume I’m reading)

One comment on “An #IdleNoMore Reading List (sort of)

  1. […] watch 8th Fire.  Listen to a few aboriginal people. Read the novels, poetry, non-fiction written by aboriginal authors.  Watch their films. Listen to their […]

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