Resources for Reconciliation

Resources for Reconciliation

In preparing to mark the inaugural National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, the team at Leith Wheeler has compiled some resources intended to help us better understand Canada's colonial history. We thought to share them, as there are some excellent books, films, and podcasts below which can help bridge the gap of understanding. For those of us who are not Indigenous, it is not possible to fully grasp the toll that centuries of injustice have exacted on families and entire communities. But by listening to the voices of those who were there, we can gain perspective, insight, and  better comprehend our responsibility for reconciliation - and how we can achieve it. 

10 books focused on residential schools and/or written by an Indigenous author*:

1. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows. With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. 

2. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga

The groundbreaking and multiple award-winning national bestseller work about systemic racism, education, the failure of the policing and justice systems, and Indigenous rights by Tanya Talaga. Over the span of eleven years, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They were hundreds of kilometres away from their families, forced to leave home because there was no adequate high school on their reserves. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning author Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities. 

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

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, The Inconvenient Indian distills the insights gleaned from Thomas King's critical and personal meditation on what it means to be "Indian" in North America, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands. This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope--a sometimes inconvenient but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future. 

4. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert). Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth and learn to give our own gifts in return. 

5. Grey Eyes by Frank Christopher Busch

In a world without time and steeped in ceremony and magic, walks a chosen few who hold an ancient power: the Grey Eyes. True stewards of the land, the Grey Eyes use their magic to maintain harmony and keep evil at bay. With only one elderly Grey-Eye left in the village of the Nehiyawak, the birth of a new Grey-Eyed boy promises a renewed line of defence against their only foe: the menacing Red-Eyes, whose name is rarely spoken but whose presence is ever felt. While the birth of the Grey-Eyed boy offers the clan much-needed protection, it also initiates a struggle for power that threatens to rip the clan apart, leaving them defenceless against their sworn enemy. The responsibility of restoring balance and harmony, the only way to keep the Nehiyawak safe, is thrust upon a boy’s slender shoulders. What powers will he have, and can he protect the clan from the evil of the Red Eyes? 

6. Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL's First Treaty Indigenous Player by Fred Sasakamoose

At age 7, Saskamoose was taken from his family to spend the next ten years in residential school. He went on to be the first Indigenous player with Treaty status in the NHL. But his journey to being an elite hockey player is only part of the story. This memoir talks about his reasons for leaving the NHL and how his time at residential school affected that. This is a story of his abuse at residential school, his journey back to his culture and community, and how hockey threaded through all of it. 

7. Five Little Indians: A Novel by Michelle Good

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie  are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention. Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission. Fuelled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can’t stop running and moves restlessly from job to job— through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps—trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew. With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward.

8. From the Ashes: My Story of Being Metis, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle

In this extraordinary and inspiring debut memoir, Jesse Thistle, once a high school dropout and now a rising Indigenous scholar, chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is. If I can just make it to the next minute...then I might have a chance to live; I might have a chance to be something more than just a struggling crackhead. From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up. Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle briefly found himself in the foster-care system with his two brothers, cut off from all they had known. Eventually the children landed in the home of their paternal grandparents, whose tough-love attitudes quickly resulted in conflicts. Throughout it all, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling with all that had happened, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, spending more than a decade on and off the streets, often homeless. Finally, he realized he would die unless he turned his life around. In this heartwarming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured, and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education—and newfound love—he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family. An eloquent exploration of the impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help us find happiness despite the odds.

9. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph

Based on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer. Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph's book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance - and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act's cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.


10. Resources aimed specifically at teachers which teach about residential schools, including their continuing legacy:

* Source for descriptions: the books' publishers.


Podcasts with a focus on residential schools:

Matriarch Movement Podcast: Caitlyn Kasper: we are all treaty people with Host Shayla Oulette Stonechild
Host Shayla Stonechild is joined by Caitlyn Kasper, an Anishinaabek attorney from the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation who has argued constitutional law cases as high as the Supreme Court of Canada, always advocating for recognition of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspective and representation on issues that most impact Indigenous people in Canadian law. In this episode, Caitlyn and Shayla discuss the importance of non-Indigenous people/settlers' need to hold up their end of the treaties, and how we are all "treaty people" in this country. Caitlyn also discusses why she thinks the Catholic Church refuses to apologize to Indigenous communities about Residential Schools.

Historica Canada Podcast: Residential Schools
A series of five podcasts, The Residential Schools podcast series is part of a larger awareness campaign created by Historica Canada and funded by the Government of Canada. Along with the podcast series, Historica Canada also offers a video series, an education guide, and several new entries on The Canadian Encyclopedia about the history and legacy of residential schools. 

Additional podcasts to consider: 


Films that explore Indigenous history: 

There are various films on the NFB website, all of which are free:

Indian Horse

Though more of a Hollywood film, you could also consider this movie based on Richard Wagamese's 2012 book of the same name (described above). The film is currently available on CBC Gem, Netflix, & Prime.


Ways to help: 

If you are considering purchasing an orange shirt, we would suggest organizations such as Make Vancouver where 100% of the proceeds of their Orange Shirt sales go to Urban Native Youth Association.

Donations are also accepted at: