National Indigenous History Month: Languages, Cultures, and Arts

National Indigenous History Month

“Language is central to our identity, community, and culture. Language is essential in how we share our stories and our history, and how we connect with one another.” -- The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage

This week’s theme is focused on Languages, cultures, and arts.

2022 marked the beginning of International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) – with a goal of drawing attention to the loss and risks to Indigenous languages, and to provide resources to help preserve, revitalize, and promote Indigenous languages.  

Languages are traditionally passed down orally from Elders to young people, but they are at increasing risk of being lost. During the time in our history when children were placed in residential schools, they were forbidden to speak their home language and if they did, they were often subjected to abusive punishments. In addition, parents who went through residential schools may have chosen not to teach their children their home language for their own personal reasons. Based on 2021 census data, there has been an increase in Indigenous people learning an Indigenous language as a second language. 

Memoirs and autobiographies are a great way to learn about different cultures and experiences. Additionally, Art plays an important role in preserving culture while also acting as a storytelling tool.

The following lists highlight resources in RDPL's collection that can help you learn a new language, learn about other cultures and experiences, and learn the history and skills behind artforms such as beadwork. 

Learn a New Language

100 Days of Cree by Neal McLeod

Available as a Book or eBook.

""As an Elder once said, "Learn one Cree word a day for 100 days, and emerge a different person." In 100 Days of Cree Neal McLeod offers a portal into another way of understanding the universe--and our place within it--while demonstrating why this funny, vibrant, and sometimes salacious language is "the sexiest" of them all (according to Tomson Highway)."

Mâci-nêhiyawêwin by Solomon Ratt

""Tânisi! With the help of this book, you can learn to speak Cree! Designed as an introduction for Cree language learners, mâci-nêhiyawêwin: Beginning Cree acts as a self-study aid--a much-needed resource in today's world where few can speak Cree fluently."

Mācī-anihšināpēmowin by Lynn and Margaret Cote

"Anihsināpēmowin / Beginning Saulteaux is an introductory look at one of the most widely spoken of all North American Indigenous languages, regionally known as Saulteaux, Ojibway, Ottawa (Odawa), Chippewa, and Algonquian. In an easy-to-use and easy-to-read series of lessons, both designed for self-study or for use in the classroom, Beginning Saulteaux will guide beginners through the language's grammatical structures and spelling systems, as well as everyday terms and phrases."

La Lawng

"An easy-to-follow guide to Michif" edited by Lawrence Barkwell

Learn by Reading Indigenous Memoirs

From Bear Rock Mountain by Antoine Mountain (Dene)

"In this poetic, poignant memoir, Dene artist and social activist Antoine Mountain paints an unforgettable picture of his journey from residential school to art school—and his path to healing.

In 1949, Antoine Mountain was born on the land near Radelie Koe, Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories. At the tender age of seven, he was stolen away from his home and sent to a residential school—run by the Roman Catholic Church in collusion with the Government of Canada—three hundred kilometres away. Over the next twelve years, the three residential schools Mountain was forced to attend systematically worked to erase his language and culture, the very roots of his identity.

While reconnecting to that which had been taken from him, he had a disturbing and painful revelation of the bitter depths of colonialism and its legacy of cultural genocide. Canada has its own holocaust, Mountain argues.

As a celebrated artist and social activist today, Mountain shares this moving, personal story of healing and the reclamation of his Dene identity."

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle (Métis-Cree)

"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, but their tough-love attitudes meant conflicts became commonplace. And the ghost of Jesse's drug-addicted father haunted the halls of the house and the memories of every family member. Struggling, 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. One day, he finally realized he would die unless he turned his life around. In this heartwarming and heartbreaking memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful experiences with abuse, uncovering the truth about his parents, and how he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family through education. An eloquent exploration of what it means to live in a world surrounded by prejudice and racism and to be cast adrift, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help one find happiness despite the odds."

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot (Nlaka'pamux)

"Guileless and refreshingly honest, Terese Mailhot's debut memoir chronicles her struggle to balance the beauty of her Native heritage with the often desperate and chaotic reality of life on the reservation. Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II; Terese Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father--an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist--who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot "trusts the reader to understand that memory isn't exact, but melded to imagination, pain and what we can bring ourselves to accept." Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people and to her place in the world."

Indian School Days by Basil H. Johnston (Anishinaabe)

"Indian School Days is the humourous, bitter-sweet autobiography by Ojibwe linguist and storyteller Basil Johnston who was taken from his family at age ten and placed in Jesuit boarding school in northern Ontario."

Permanent Astonishment by Tomson Highway (Cree)

"In 1990 Rene Highway, a world-renowned dancer, died of an AIDS-related illness. 'Permanent Astonishment' is Tomson Highway's extravagant embrace of his younger brother's final words: "Dont mourn me, be joyful." Infused with joy and outrageous humour, this book offers insights into the Cree experience of culture, conquest and survival." 

The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier (Inuit)

"The Right to Be Cold is a human story of resilience, commitment, and survival told from the unique vantage point of an Inuk woman who, in spite of many obstacles, rose from humble beginnings in the Arctic community of Kuujjuaq, Quebec--where she was raised by a single parent and grandmother and travelled by dog team in a traditional, ice-based Inuit hunting culture--to become one of the most influential and decorated environmental, cultural, and human rights advocates in the world.

The Right to Be Cold explores the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture--and ultimately the world--in the face of past, present, and future environmental degradation. Sheila Watt-Cloutier passionately argues that climate change is a human rights issue and one to which all of us on the planet are inextricably linked."

Learn From the Arts


"asowacikanisa: A Guide to Small Métis Bags will guide you in the step-by-step process on how to create two different bags, a tobacco pouch and a sash bag, which were traditional utilitarian items used by the Metis. These bags are used today to carry traditional medicines and other treasured items. Complete with historical information, easy to follow instructions, detailed photos and accompanying DVD, this resource provides everything you need to know to make your own traditional bags."

Early Days: Indigenous Art From the McMichael

"This collection gathers the insights of myriad Indigenous cultural stakeholders, informing us on everything from goose hunting techniques, to the history of Northwest Coast mask making, to the emergence of the Woodland style of painting and printmaking, to the challenges of art making in the Arctic, to the latest developments in contemporary art by Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island. This book also traces the emergence and increasing participation of many Indigenous artists in the contemporary art world."


"maskisina: A Guide to Northern-Style Métis Moccasins guides readers, step-by-step, on how to create their very own moccasins. It contains detailed photographs along with each step and also includes a DVD tutorial. It also includes a historic overview of moccasins by Sherry Farrell Racette. Patterns for cutting the correct sizes for the soles and vamps are included in the book."

Moving the Museum

"Moving the museum : Indigenous & Canadian Art at the AGO documents the reopening of the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous + Canadian Art with a renewed focus on the AGO's Indigenous art collection. The volume reflects the nation to nation treaty relationship that is the foundation of Canada, asking questions, discovering truths, and leading conversations that address the weight of history. Lavishly illustrated with more than 100 reproductions, Indigenous & Canadian Art at the AGO features the work of First Nations artists--including Carl Beam, Rebecca Belmore, and Kent Monkman--along with work by Inuit artists like Shuvinai Ashoona and Annie Pootoogook. Canadian artists include Lawren Harris, Kazuo Nakamura, Joyce Wieland, and many others. Drawing from stories about our origins and identities, the featured artists and essayists invite readers to engage with issues of land, water, transformation, and sovereignty and to contemplate the historic representation of Indigenous and Canadian art in museums. Contains a list of works at the back."


"wâpikwaniy: A Beginner's Guide to Métis Floral Beadwork is a step-by-step guide book and DVD video which provides information and instruction on Métis floral beadwork. The guide is intended for beginning beaders and includes an historical overview by Sherry Farrell Racette, followed by instructions on basic beading, supply lists and options, techniques and hints, and examples of traditional and contemporary beadwork. Patterns are included in the book."