National Indigenous History Month: Children and Youth

National Indigenous History Month

"… I know that youth are inherently better positioned than anybody to create the sort of change we need to see, and so we need to focus on them. Stories reveal the world to kids – the world that was, the world that is and the world that can be. What kind of future do you want to have?" -- David A. Robertson (Swampy Cree)

This week’s theme for National Indigenous History Month is focused on Children and Youth. It has been lovely to see the growing number of Indigenous stories being put out into the world aimed at young readers. This includes books, but there is also a growing number of digital resources available to help young people learn about Indigenous history and cultures, or to help educators teach our young people about Indigenous history and cultures. Some of those online resources can be found here.

We Need Diverse Books, a United States based nonprofit that aims to "create a world where every reader can find themselves in the pages of a book," released their Indigenous Reads Rising site in 2023. While this site was created with teachers and librarians in mind, all readers are welcome to explore their resources and book lists. The book lists are separated into Young Adult, Chapter Books/Middle Grade, and Picture Books. Topics range from a series of young adult books about life on reservations to a series of picture books on grandparents and multigenerational life. 

In addition, IBBY Canada has curated a collection called From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books, with catalogues released in 2018, 2021, and 2023. The books included in this catalogue aim to collect Indigenous stories "free of stereotypes, authentically reflecting and upholding the dignity of Indigenous peoples and their responsibilities to their communities and families."

We'll explore some of the books in our collection aimed at young readers, but feel free to check out the resources mentioned above if you'd like to find more.

The World That Was

"Stories have been, and always will be, the best way to educate ourselves about the truth" -- David A. Robertson (Swampy Cree)

By seeking out stories and learning the full history of how our country was created, we can move towards reconciliation together. The history of our country is dark -- involving violence, abuse, oppression, and colonization towards Indigenous people. But it is important for everyone to know about the world that was. And there are a growing number of resources available meant to share this information with young people in an age-appropriate way. 

Check out these books to learn more about the world that was:

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Inuvialuit), illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

Children's Nonfiction

"This book was inspired by the true story of Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton's experience at residential school. As a young girl living in the High Arctic, Margaret was determined to learn to read even though it meant leaving her home and everything she knew behind. Despite her father's warning about the horrors of residential schools, Margaret makes the long journey south where she encounters the Raven — a hook-nosed nun who immediately dislikes Margaret. In a show of cruelty, the Raven gives Margaret red stockings instead of the grey ones the other girls receive, making her the laughingstock of the school. Margaret gets rid of the stockings and must teach the Raven a lesson about human dignity."

Additional resources, including teaching guides, can be found here  (Empowering the Spirit) and here (Annick Press guide).

I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Anishinaabeg) and Kathy Kacer ; illustrated by Gillian Newland

Children's Fiction

"Follows the story of eight-year-old Irene as she gets removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school — confused, frightened and terribly homesick. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene's parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis' grandmother, the book brings a terrible part of Canada's history to light in a way that educates the children."

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad (Secwepemc), illustrated by Brock Nicol

Picture Book

"When Phyllis Webstad (nee Jack) turned six, she went to the residential school for the first time. On her first day at school, she wore a shiny orange shirt that her Granny had bought for her, but when she got to the school, it was taken away from her and never returned. This is the true story of Phyllis and her orange shirt. It is also the story of Orange Shirt Day (an important day of remembrance for First Nations and non First Nations Canadians)."

Additional resources, including teaching guides, can be found here (Orange Shirt Society).

Speaking Our Truth by Monique Gray Smith (Cree/Lakota)

Children's Nonfiction

"Canada's relationship with its Indigenous people has suffered as a result of both the residential school system and the lack of understanding of the historical and current impact of those schools. Healing and repairing that relationship requires education, awareness and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt by Survivors and their families. Guided by acclaimed Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith, readers will learn about the lives of Survivors and listen to allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action."

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson (Swampy Cree); illustrated by Julie Flett (Métis)

Picture Book

"A girl asks her grandmother about why she wears her hair in a long braid and why she speaks in another language. Her grandmother responds by describing her childhood, growing up in a residential school."

Additional resources, including a teaching guide, can be found here (Portage & Main Press guide).

The World That Is and the World That Can Be

As previously mentioned, there is a growing number of Indigenous stories being shared with the world, many aimed at young readers. More books are being released on contemporary topics, exploring life on reservations and exploring the ways in which we relate to one another. And there are those that focus on our hopes and intentions for the future, and how we hope to learn and grow together. 

Check out these stories about the world that is and the world that can be:

The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson (Swampy Cree)

Children's Fiction

Book 1 of the Misewa saga

"Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home--until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything -- including them"

Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young (Navajo)

Children's Fiction

"When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he's in for a pretty uneventful summer, with no electricity or cell service. Still, he loves spending time with Nali and with his uncle Jet, though it's clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him.

One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds someone extraordinary: a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story--a Water Monster--in need of help.

Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to support Uncle Jet in healing from his own pain."

Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers (Wichita) ; illustrated by Julie Flett (Métis)

Picture Book

"Becca watches her grandma create, play, and dance—and she knows that she wants to be just like Grandma."

Mortified by Kristy Jackson (Cree) ; illustrated by Rhael McGregor (Métis)

Children's Fiction

"It’s nothing short of a catastrophe when someone secretly signs up Belinda Houle, the school’s shyest kid, to audition for a play.

Belinda turns to Sally—her unflappable best friend and resident witch—for help. Belinda doesn’t believe in magic, but if Sally says she has a spell for confidence...well, it couldn’t hurt to try it. Could it?

What follows the spell is a series of disasters so disastrous they would have been funny—if only they weren’t happening to Belinda! From eating dog food, to losing her hair in a straightening mishap, to wrecking a mural and ending up with globs of paint on her head, things get worse and worse for Belinda until she must face the facts: One piece of bad luck can be explained away, but this? This is a straight-up curse!

Can she break the curse before the dreamy Ricky Daniels takes notice of her crooked wig?

More importantly, can Belinda battle the very thing she hoped the spell would take away: her embarrassment?"

Phoenix Gets Greater by Marty Wilson-Trudeau (Anishinaabeg) and Phoenix Wilson (Anishinaabeg) ; illustrated by Megan Kyak-Monteith (Inuit)

Picture Book

"Phoenix loves to play with dolls and marvel at pretty fabrics. Most of all, he loves to dance—ballet, Pow Wow dancing, or just swirling and twirling around his house. Sometimes Phoenix gets picked on and he struggles with feeling different, but his mom and brother are proud of him. With their help, Phoenix learns about Two Spirit/Niizh Manidoowag people in Anishinaabe culture and just how special he is.

Based on the childhood experiences of her son, Phoenix, Marty Wilson-Trudeau demonstrates the difference that a loving and supportive family can make."

Want to Find Even More? Check out RDPL's Book Lists

National Indigenous History Month - Kid's Resources

List created by RDPL_CTLG

June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada, an opportunity to learn about the cultures, traditions and experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. It's a time to honour the stories, achievements and resilience of Indigenous Peoples, who have lived on this land since time immemorial and whose presence continues to impact the evolving Canada. Here you will find fiction and non-fiction resources for Kids.

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National Indigenous History Month - Adult & Young Adult Non-fiction

List created by RDPL_CTLG

June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada, an opportunity to learn about the cultures, traditions and experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. It's a time to honour the stories, achievements and resilience of Indigenous Peoples, who have lived on this land since time immemorial and whose presence continues to impact the evolving Canada. Here you will find non-fiction resources for Adults and Teens.

View Full List