Celebrating Indigenous Peoples


June is a significant month for the celebration of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. June is the federal government’s designated National Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a time when the history, diversity, and cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples are recognized in all regions of Canada.

The richness of Indigenous cultures is reflected in a growing collection of new books from Canadian publishers. These books are wonderful vehicles through which your Indigenous students will see their culture recognized and celebrated, and your non-Indigenous students will learn more about Indigenous Peoples. Here are a few titles for your consideration.

Walking Together

by Elder Albert D. Marshall and Louise Zimanyi
illustrated by Emily Kewageshig
Annick Press, 2023
ISBN 978-1-77321-776-5
$18.99, 36 pp, ages 4 – 7

Walking Together is a collaboration of an Anishnaabe artist, a Mi’kmaq Elder, and a person of French Canadian and Hungarian descent who share a belief in respectful relationships and ecological sustainability. The book is a gentle and beautiful exploration of how Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can see the world through two eyes—from two perspectives—which leads to an understanding that we are all connected and that we need each other to be strong. People living now are also connected to their ancestors and their descendants and can find inspiration and strength from those connections. The gifts of plants and animals are also explored, with a message about the value of nature and the need to conserve resources for future generations.

Ben the Sea Lion

by Roy Henry Vickers
Harbour Publishing, 2022
ISBN 978-1-55017-973-6
$22.95, 32 pp, ages 4 – 7

In this delightful picture book, Tsimshian artist and storyteller Roy Henry Vickers shares a personal story from his childhood growing up in the village of Kitkatla on the north coast of British Columbia. One day, his Uncle Johnny caught a baby sea lion in his fishing net. The baby was thin and nearly dead, but the crew talked their skipper into taking it back to the village to try to save it. Seven-year-old Roy, his cousin, and his brother convinced Uncle Johnny to let them keep the sea lion until it was strong enough to survive on its own. The boys decided on “Ben” as a name for the sea lion, shortened from “teeben,” the Tsimshian word for sea lion. It was hard work feeding Ben and cleaning up after him, but the boys persevered until the inevitable day came. They took Ben away from the village to a place where sea lions congregate, and he was soon happily joining the group.

nipakoseyimon I Hope

by Monique Gray Smith
illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
translated into Plains Cree by Dolores Greyeyes Sand
Orca Book Publishers, 2022
ISBN 978-1-4598-3325-8
32 pp, $21.95, ages 5 – 7

This heartfelt prayer for all children everywhere expresses hope for what life will deliver to a child and also how a child will behave in the world. Joy, laughter, sympathy, love, and safety are among the author’s hopes for what every child will encounter; kindness, courage, and respect are among the qualities wished for in the child. Beautiful illustrations depict how those hopes might come about in a child’s life. Your students will enjoy interpreting the illustrations to explain the reasons for the emotions children may feel and the ways that children can be a positive force in the world. This is a great title for bringing social-emotional learning into your classroom too.

Andy’s Tribal Canoe Journey

by Seabacola Beaton, Jorja Johnson, and Cadence Manson
illustrated by Natalie Laurin
Strong Nations Publishing, 2022
ISBN 978-1-77174-600-7
$21.95, 72 pp, ages 8 – 13

In this graphic novel, Andy gains insight into his own heritage and identity when he joins a group of youth who are participating in a Tribal Canoe Journey. People from different communities paddle to a host Nation for cultural celebrations in this annual West Coast event. The paddlers must train and prepare for the journey, which takes several days through variable conditions. The experience is physically demanding, but Andy learns much about his people’s culture, and he gains a sense of belonging as part of a canoe family.

A Blanket of Butterflies
The Spirit of Denendeh, Volume I

by Richard Van Camp
illustrated by Scott. B. Henderson
colours by Donovan Yaciuk
Highwater Press, 2022
ISBN 978-1-77492-040-4
$21.95, 56 pp, young adult

The setting for this graphic novel is Fort Smith, NWT, and was inspired by the author’s fascination with a suit of samurai armour housed at the Northern Lights Museum. The fictional story is told, through pictures and dialogue, of a Japanese man who arrives in Fort Smith to take possession of the armour to re-establish his family’s honour. But the sword is missing, and the man is determined to find it. He is helped by Sonny, a Dene youth, who leads him to the place where the sword is held by dangerous people. When the man is attacked and severely wounded, Sonny takes him to his grandmother for healing. Grandmother not only helps the man heal, she also finds a way to convince the people holding the sword to return it to its rightful owner.

Back matter provides information about how the armour may have ended up in the Fort Smith museum, and some history about the Dene peoples’ role in uranium mining in the north during World War II.


by Theresa Meuse
illustrated by Jessica Jerome
Nimbus Publishing, 2022
ISBN 978-1-77108-933-3
$12.95, 32 pp, ages 4 – 7

Sweetgrass tells the story of two Mi’kmaw boys who go to the shoreline with their Auntie to pick wild sweetgrass early in July. Auntie talks to the boys about the importance of sweetgrass to their people and how to take only what they need, leaving some to grow for the next year and future generations. They leave offerings of sacred medicines and give thanks before going home to clean and braid the sweetgrass.

The Raven Mother

by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)
illustrated by Natasha Donovan
Highwater Press, 2022
ISBN 978-1-77492-003-9
$24.95, 32 pp, ages 8 – 12

This book introduces the raven as a cooperative player in a healthy ecosystem and a bird with significant importance to the Gitxsan Nation in northern British Columbia. Indigenous knowledge and beliefs are skillfully interwoven with scientific information in the text, and dramatic illustrations support the narrative. Back matter provides additional information about the Gitxsan Nation.

Minnow The Girl Who Became Part Fish

by Winnie Poll
illustrated by bailey macabre
Medicine Wheel Publishing, 2023
ISBN 978-177854-008-0
$22.99, 44 pp, ages 7 – 10

This story, told in rhyming verse, is an adventure of a young girl named Minnow, who lived near the sea. Minnow picked up trash whenever she walked the beaches near her home, and she longed to live in the ocean. One stormy day, she found her wishes coming true when her hands turned to fins and her legs became a fishtail. When she began swimming with the fish, though, they avoided her, and one shouted at her angrily, saying that she was half-fish and half-girl and she must choose a side. This fish took her on a tour, showing her the harm that humans cause in the oceans. With all her new-found knowledge, Minnow decided that she must return to the land and her people to help defend the ocean. Back matter provides information about some of the creatures that live in the ocean and ways to become a water protector.

Oolichan Moon

by Samantha Beynon
illustrated by Lucy Trimble
Harbour Publishing, 2022
ISBN 978-1-55017-992-7
$24.95, 32 pp, ages 6 – 10

When two young sisters visit their grandparents, who are respected Nisga’a Elders, they are excited to learn more about oolichan, a favourite treat they remember from previous visits. Their grandmother is happy to tell the girls about the “saviour fish” so named because of the many benefits the fish bring to the people. Grandmother talks about how the fish arrive in early spring— the Oolichan Moon—and how the people caught and dried the fish for lean winter months in the old days before there were grocery stores. She explains that oolichan oil is rich in vitamins, so it was used as medicine as well as food. The oolichan harvest brought another benefit to the people who traded the rich oil with other Nations, bringing wealth to the Nisga’a people. The girls also learn about how oolichan oil was prepared and stored in the old days, and how people still benefit from oolichan today. This beautiful picture book shares historical and contemporary cultural information in a narrative that young people will relate to, and colourful, full-page illustrations add to the book’s appeal.

This review is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2023 issue.

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