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The Debwe Series

Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada

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Delgamuukw. Sixties Scoop. Bill C-31. Blood quantum. Appropriation. Two-Spirit. Tsilhqot’in. Status. TRC. RCAP. FNPOA. Pass and permit. Numbered Treaties. Terra nullius. The Great Peace…

Are you familiar with the terms listed above? In Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowel, legal scholar, teacher, and intellectual, opens an important dialogue about these (and more) concepts and the wider social beliefs associated with the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. In 31 essays, Chelsea explores the Indigenous experience from the time of contact to the present, through five categories – Terminology of Relationships; Culture and Identity; Myth-Busting; State Violence; and Land, Learning, Law, and Treaties. She answers the questions that many people have on these topics to spark further conversations at home, in the classroom, and in the larger community.

Indigenous Writes is one title in The Debwe Series.

290 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2016

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About the author

Chelsea Vowel

5 books63 followers
Chelsea Vowel is Métis from manitow-sâkahikan (Lac Ste. Anne) Alberta where she and her family currently reside. She has a BEd and LLB and is mother to three girls, step-mother of two more.

Chelsea is a public intellectual, writer and educator whose work intersects language, gender, Métis self-determination and resurgence. She has worked directly with First Nations researching self-government, participating in constitutional drafting and engaging in specific land claim negotiation settlements and valuation of claims over a 200 year period. She is passionate about creating programs and materials that enable Indigenous languages to thrive, not merely survive.

Most recently an educator in Québec, she developed and delivered programs to Inuit youth in a restorative justice program. She is a heavily cited and internationally respected commentator on Indigenous-State relations and dedicates much of her time to mentoring other young activists.

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Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,949 reviews1,294 followers
September 2, 2016
Sometimes you see a book and you just know that it’s the book you’ve been waiting for. That was my reaction when Chelsea Vowel, who blogs and tweets as âpihtawikosisân, announced Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada. You really should read her blog and follow her, because she her writing is clear and informative, and she is excellent at providing further resources. This continues in her book. I was extremely excited to get my hands on a copy, because it seemed like exactly what I wanted: a series of connected but self-contained essays that explain and highlight some of the diverse issues that Indigenous peoples face in Canada. I wanted a way to continue educating myself as well as a potential classroom resource, and lndigenous Writes lives up in every respect.

Funny story: I pre-ordered a hard copy of this when it was announced, and then last month when I joined NetGalley, I saw that it was available. I requested and received an electronic copy from NetGalley, but by the time I was going to read it, my hard copy had shown up a little early in the mail. So I thank Portage & Main Press and NetGalley for the review copy, but there is nothing like a physical book. It’s beautifully designed and laid out, and I’ve already taken it around and shown it off to friends and colleagues. (Nerrrrrrd.)

Indigenous Writes is an attempt to start these conversations in an honest, heartfelt way that is rigorous in its resources and research yet also accessible rather than academic. Vowel doesn’t assume any prior knowledge; she starts right off with a few chapters on terminology, like the differences between Indigenous, Aboriginal, Indian, First Nations, etc. From there, each essay addresses one of the numerous questions, concerns, or myths that tend to crop up over and over about Indigenous peoples, including: what “status” is and who gets it; what defines whether someone belongs to an Indigenous people, as well as more specifically what makes someone Métis; the fact that we tend to be uncomfortable, as a society, with Indigenous practices spilling over into what we perceive as “non-Indigenous” spaces, and how that becomes a transgression; as well as myths about taxes, progress, alcoholism, authenticity, etc. I wish I could just list all 31 chapter titles here! I cracked the book open to the table of contents when I first received it, and I just smiled at how much stuff Vowel manages to talk about. This is not a thick book, and the chapters themselves are seldom very long, but it is still so broadly informative.

Why do we need this book? Vowel herself eloquently provides the reason. Speaking about how settlers often deride Indigenous people from rural areas for not being familiar with urban life, she says:

On the other side, there is no expectation within Canadian (non-Indigenous) culture that Indigenous cultures must be accounted for, learned about, or even really accommodated. Knowing nothing about the Inuit, for example, is not considered a fault. Yet when Nunavummiut (Inuit of Nunavut) or Nunavimmiut (Inuit of Nunavik) go south, their lack of knowledge about city culture/living is considered to stem from small-mindedness, a lack of education, or ignorance.

Part of having (in my case) white privilege is being able to ignore not just the problems that Indigenous peoples face but, you know, their actual existence and culture entirely. Yet we expect—no, demand—that Indigenous people are familiar with settler culture, customs, and laws. That’s a little thing called colonialism, son, and it isn’t over just because we broke away from Britain.

I see this expectation manifest almost every day. I teach adults who come from remote communities in Northern Ontario to Thunder Bay on the invitation of Matawa First Nations in order to take the classes they need to finish their high school diploma and then get training for the workforce. Very often my students come from reserves with poor access to clean drinking water, poor housing conditions, little or no Internet and cell phone access, etc. Yet we expect them to somehow adjust to relocating to a city, often with young children in tow, and get used to attending classes all day for months at a time. And this is a group of students who have the support of each other, as well as Indigenous social workers, elders, etc. If they find it tough, imagine how daunting it can be for someone who does this on their own.

When the most recent (I hate having to write that, hate that there has been more than one) news cycle about the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat erupted, letters to the editor in The Chronicle Journal suggested “closing” these northern communities and relocating their inhabitants closer to urban centres like Thunder Bay. (Insert Picard facepalm here.) Aside from the incredible tone-deafness and irony of the idea that settlers should be relocating Indigenous peoples because we’ve decided what’s best for them, I was just so amazed by the lack of empathy coming from the people who had written those letters. They acted as if the people and the culture are the problem, rather than the fact we still tacitly expect assimilation even if we claim otherwise. I’m a mellow person, and I was getting angry about it—and again, I’m a settler and have all the privileges that entails, so I can’t even begin to imagine how people more connected and involved with these issues are feeling. It’s unconscionable, the state of things, yet we let it go on.

Clearly, education is an important and pressing matter, both in terms of educating wider Canadian society about Indigenous peoples and making sure that Indigenous people receive the education they need to succeed. The big buzzword these days is reconciliation. That’s a big word for me to define comprehensively, but I think part of reconciliation must entail better knowledge of Indigenous cultures and history. Yet Vowel points out in her chapter on residential schools that most provinces’ curricula do not live up to promises to teach more thoroughly about these things. When these subjects come up, they tend to be discussed in the past tense, locating the problems and the people in history.

The wider problem that Vowel also touches on in the final chapter of Indigenous Writes is that schooling in Canada is still very Westernized and therefore assimilationist. I get what she means. Although I am proud that my job involves helping Indigenous adults get their high school diplomas, I also often reflect on the extent to which I am complicit in perpetuating colonial curriculum and approaches to education. I do what I can to bring Indigenous content into the classroom: we talk about the treaties, about systemic discrimination, about residential schools. I try to listen to my students and get help from my Indigenous colleagues. At the end of the day, though, I am still evaluating these students against expectations grounded more in Western ideas of industrialized, rationalist education than anything else. That bothers me, a lot.

Indigenous Writes is going to make an excellent resource for classroom teachers like myself. It will help us educate ourselves so we can understand these issues better, and we can even use some of these essays, or the resources that Vowel references, in our classes. But I don’t think that goes far enough. We really need to change the entire system of education. Or, as Vowel puts it at the end of this chapter:

Indigenous communities as a whole simply do not have the internal resources to create an entire system of private schooling to rectify the horrendous gap that has always existed between Indigenous and non-Indigenous student outcomes. If you can judge a society by its system of education, then Canada stands clearly guilty of discriminating against Indigenous peoples by allowing this situation to continue.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the last chapter, and because there is no afterword or epilogue, this is Vowel’s closing statement for the entire book. It is a challenge to the idea that Canada does not discriminate, and a challenge to us to do something to make the system better.

I know what you’re thinking, though: OK, Ben, so you love this book as a teacher, but I’m not a teacher, so what would I get out of it? I’m glad you asked, invisible straw person voice.

It comes down to this, really: I keep having to remind myself is that the Canada I see—the Canada I grew up believing in—is not the Canada that many Indigenous people see. Growing up in a reserve, or growing up in a city but being exposed constantly to racist remarks or the threat of violence or being treated with suspicion and stereotyping … that necessarily brings about a different perspective. That’s what Vowel is trying to show us with Indigenous Writes. We Canadians pride ourselves on diversity and multiculturalism, yet some of us then turn around and leave racist comments on articles about missing and murdered Indigenous women, or we talk about how Indigenous people already have it too good in this country. It is a cognitive dissonance that is tragic, because it is quite literally killing people. If our country is as good and strong as we like to claim it is, we should be able to have a conversation about racism and actually act to end it.

It’s very easy to homogenize and lump all Indigenous peoples together when discussing “Indigenous issues”, and Vowel very deftly avoids generalizations. She discusses issues that tend to be common across the land, such as land claims, access to drinking water, stereotypes and myths and racism; she also discusses issues specific to the Inuit, Métis, and even particular nations. When she does this, lets her sense of humour come through, occasionally unleashing some well-deserved sarcasm as she dismantles an argument she has clearly dealt with too many times before. Like me, Vowel loves science fiction, and I greatly enjoyed how she references, analyzes, and deconstructs some authors’ portrayals of Indigenous peoples in their writing. Indigenous Writes is basically the rigour you’d expect from an academic textbook (the amount of endnotes alone could maim you if you dropped them on your toes) without the typically dry writing. It is the best of both world, academic and activist.

This is not always an easy book to read. There were times I had to take a break. Reading the essays back to back, it can feel very overwhelming, all of it, and unlike Indigenous people, I haven’t even lived it. Vowel recognizes the potential for succumbing to hopelessness, and she is quick to point out alternatives. She points to the staggering amount of research already presented on how to start the process of reconciliation: there’s the Neegan Burnside report on how to fix the urgent issue of drinking water on reserves; there is the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples with its complex, comprehensive twenty-year plan that fell by the wayside; there is, of course, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the legacy of residential schools. There are indeed thorny issues here, but we have the ingredients for beginning to solve them. We just need to actually, you know, acknowledge the problem and start doing something about it instead of locating the problems in the past or twiddling our thumbs and agreeing that it’s awful but, hey, what can you do? We need to stop blaming Indigenous people for existing, for still being here after centuries of us trying to wipe them out, and stop blaming them or their cultures for the problems that currently beset their communities.

You or I, on our own, of course cannot end or undo centuries of colonization, discrimination, and assimilation. But we can start, as individuals, by filling the gaps in our knowledge, challenging our own internalized racism, and checking our privilege. We need to have conversations about this—but remember that any given Indigenous person is under no obligation to educate settlers about these issues: that is on us! So when someone like Chelsea Vowel deigns not just to speak up, but to provide us with an invaluable, detailed collection of essays and endnotes, we need to pay attention.

On that note, I don’t usually do this, but I really want people to read this book, so here’s where you can order it directly from the publisher.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Rachel Hartman.
Author 14 books3,838 followers
September 30, 2017
THE book for getting started understanding Indigenous issues in Canada. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,380 reviews405 followers
August 31, 2022
Once again I'm DNFing a book on the ground that I need to read the physical version. Hopefully I can borrow a copy on my library system or it gets available as an ebook on my book app
Profile Image for Laura.
2,764 reviews82 followers
September 9, 2016
What is an "American Indian"? Seems like an easy enough question. And I am sure we all have an idea in our mind.

And we are probably all wrong.

This book. This book should be read by everyone. It should be read by Canadians. It should be read by Americans. The rest of the world can read it too, if they want. The point is, this book breaks down and explains to the "settlers", to the children of colonialists, to the non-indigenous what Indigenous peoples are. And as Chelsea says:
The Canadian government basically takes the position that "you're an Indian if we say you're an Indian"

You would think that you might not need a whole book about First Nation people. How could Chelsea have that much to say, but she does, and there is that much. Because we aren't educated in Indigenous history. If we are taught about Indians at all, at least in American schools, it is as a part of history, as though they were all removed from modern times. As one Native American told me, it makes him feel invisible, as though he is not standing there.

Chelsea has a wry sense of humor and although she is educating, she is also entertaining. Her main sections are Terminology of Relationship (about who are Indians), Culture and Identity (what it says on the tin), Myth Busting (all the things you thought you knew about Indians, such as that they got free housing, that they are more susceptible to being drunk and that they don't have to pay taxes, to name a few), State Violence (where she discusses Residency School, and forced fostering out of Native children to non Native families), and Land, Learning, Law and Treaties.

And if you are this point, rolling your eyes, and saying, oh, that sounds boring, it isn't.

The author likes to pull out interesting facts such as:
...from 1941 to 1978, Inuit were forced to weare"Eskimo" identification discs similar to dog tags. This was for ease of colonial administration, as the bureaucrats had difficulty pronousing Inuit names, and the Inuit, at this time, did not have surnames. For a while, Inuit were officially defined as "one to whom an identification disc has been issued.

She also has some comments on how Indians are defined by their blood.
The idea that Indian blood has some sort of magic quality that imbues one with legitimate Indigenous culture is as ridiculous a notion as I can think of, and so is the idea that "outside" blood can dilute or destroy Indigenous culture.

This is such an important book. I do hope that others read it, and perhaps get some idea of what the Indigenous peoples have gone through. There has been and still is so much prejudice against them, and such unfairness. It is important that they speak out, are published, and well read. We could all stand to have a little education.

Thanks to Netgalley, and Highwater Press for making this book available for an honest review.
Profile Image for Laura Frey (Reading in Bed).
309 reviews118 followers
September 29, 2017
Essential if you're going to write about, read about, or live in Canada :) The tone was just right. The footnotes are a treasure. I need to buy a copy to have on hand.
Profile Image for Robyn.
386 reviews16 followers
July 30, 2020
I would definitely recommend this book. There is so much information here, which is why it took me a while to get through it and process everything. I'll probably come back to it again when I need to recall the information. For someone who has mainly been immersed my whole life in the Western/colonial worldview there is definitely some retraining of my brain that needs to happen - more than once I would find myself reading and thinking "I don't really get why that's so bad" and then coming back to the recognition that just because __, in the culture I have been a part of my whole life, is okay within my worldview, perhaps it is not for someone who is not the same as me. Am I making any sense?

That said, OVERALL the book is mostly very straightforward and easy to comprehend, not such a brain breaker as I describe above. I think anyone living in Canada would benefit from reading this book!

I am knocking off a star because a few chapters/passages had a hard to follow writing style (mainly in an attempt at proving a point through satire but just ended up being more confusing than necessary) and I wished there was a closing chapter instead of just abruptly ending on a random topic. Still, you should read it!
Profile Image for Alexis.
Author 7 books134 followers
March 9, 2017
This was an excellent book written by a well-versed blogger and Tweeter. She is a Metis woman who has studied both law and education. She's lived in both Edmonton and Montreal. The book is written in a series of short chapters that are about the same length as blog posts. It's written in a plain speak, blog-like manner. Vowel debunks a lot of the myths about Indigenous Canada. If someone around you has ever made derogatory comments about indigenous people, and you want to counteract them with hard facts, you need this book. Chapters include a debunking of the myths about indigenous people and taxes, Inuit and Metis identity, land rights, and other popular myths about indigenous people. Vowel's book is well researched, and there are copious link and footnotes included. I learned a lot from reading this book and I will refer to it often.

My only nitpicks- occasionally her sarcasm gets in the way, and I wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic or truthful. Sometimes I found all the legal concepts hard to follow, but that was my problem, and not the author's.

This book should be required reading for all settler Canadians.
Profile Image for S.A..
Author 18 books110 followers
August 13, 2016
This book was a real eye-opener. I, like so many non-Canadians, have this rose-tinted view of Canada as a beacon of hope, sanity and humanity and I think it's too easy to forget that Canada's colonial history has left plenty of scars and heartache behind, especially for indigenous Canadians.
The author has an engaging, accessible style of writing with deft touches of humour thrown in for good measure. The book covers a broad range of topics well, but it doesn't read as if the major subjects are skimmed over or given only sketchy regard. Vowel provides plenty of references at the end of each chapter for further reading, investigation. It's an absorbing overview.
This is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in the issues faced by indigenous Canadians today and a good starting point for those who want to read more.
Profile Image for Saba Houmani.
106 reviews
August 31, 2023
Three or four of these chapters I will directly show to my (hs physics and math) students
Profile Image for Kaeli Wood.
91 reviews16 followers
April 20, 2020
Absolutely amazing book. It was incredibly helpful, informational, broad in the scope and number of issues it tackled but not overwhelmingly so. And extremely accessible! It really is, as it says, a "guide." Perfect for academics and just regular joes who want to read some quality nonfiction and understand the world a little better. After reading this, I learned about a lot of things I had never heard of before, and also got to understand things I HAD heard of but had always been kind of fuzzy and confusing.
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,221 reviews86 followers
August 28, 2017
Witty, ultra-readable, and informative primer that does what it says on the tin (provides a guide to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit issues in Canada), but is so much more. I read a library copy but will buy my own and urge others to do the same, because it's incredibly helpful in providing necessary background to many important ongoing challenges. I also want to chase down many of the sources referenced in the thorough and helpful endnotes. I realize the foregoing doesn't make it sound very exciting, but it is, really and truly.
Profile Image for kaelan.
261 reviews309 followers
December 27, 2020
An essential read for any Canadian: direct, engaging, nuanced, rigourous, persuasive, damning. And since nothing much has changed in Canada's policies toward Indigenous persons in the last 5 years (although legislative developments such as Bill C-92 could be a step in the right in direction), the key issues raised in this book, from housing to education, remain completely and dishearteningly relevant.
Profile Image for Meg.
1,347 reviews14 followers
March 4, 2017
I feel like everyone needs to read this. or at least all us settler Canadians. I thought I knew stuff of indigenous issues because I knew about Residential Schools and the "Sixties Scoop" and the Highway of Tears but I knew so little! I know a tiny bit more, and hopefully after a get to some of the resources Vowel points to at the end of each chapter I'll be a little more knowledgeable about stuff.
5 reviews
September 21, 2021
This is such an amazing and educational book. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Kristine Morris.
561 reviews15 followers
November 13, 2016
You should read this book. When you first get it, it looks a bit like a, dare I say it, boring academic textbook, but looks can be deceiving. The chapters range from 5-8 pages each. Perhaps author Chelsea Vowel recognizes that, nowadays, our attention span and desire to read anything longer than it takes to drink a latte is seriously compromised. Thank you for being succinct! The author often frames the discussion as if she is having a conversation with you directly; she gives you facts, why the topic is important and how to reframe your thinking on it.

One could quickly read through these essays, yet I found many of the resources listed at the end of the chapters hugely beneficial as supplemental material to the points that Vowel makes. The resource links run the gambit of news articles, research papers, governmental reports and stats, videos, films, and Instagram accounts. They are all timely and relevant – further reinforcing that her points are not academic – they are playing out in our everyday conversations. Case in point, a day after reading Chapter 10 Finding Authentic Indigenous Stories, where Vowel explains that the ubiquitous Cherokee parable of two wolves was actually written by evangelical Christian Billy Graham, the video of said parable appeared in my Facebook feed – and I was able to set the record straight.

Chelsea Vowel brings an attitude to her writing that certainly helps break up the seriousness of the topics discussed. She, at times, expresses her frustration at how dense some people (i.e., white people) can be. As I read certain sections, I could imagine Chelsea Vowel looking around a room and exclaiming “C’mon, man!”

At the beginning, she writes that some of what is presented may not sit well with non-Indigenous readers. I didn’t find this to be so. Her presentation of the facts and her justifiable expressions of incredulity were exactly right. Some of what she had to say was not new to me. But I still had tons to learn and even more to unlearn, particularly how Indigenous peoples are portrayed in the news and how arguments are made to protect non-Indigenous peoples from feeling exposed and culpable.

In case you are reluctant to read about the real unpleasant aspects of our government and churches’ systematic suppression of Indigenous culture and peoples, don’t let this stop you from reading this book. Vowel writes that when it comes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), she rather focus on moving forward. She does not get into the hurtful and shameful details of stories that come out of the TRC; instead, she explains how it came about, why one should read, at a minimum, the executive summary, and why the history of Indigenous experience needs to be included in all Canadian educational curriculums.

That sounds a little namby-pamby protectionist for the reader, so I will say this: If you are getting tired of hearing survivor stories, don’t be. Vowel reminds us that the TRC and “the outpouring of survivor testimonies is a very recent phenomenon. For so long, survivors often did not discuss their experiences.” Think about that. For decades, they remained silent. Give them their chance to be heard. We don’t need to turn it into how we might feel about it.

if you don’t want to read the whole book, I’m hard pressed to recommend a section of the book; read the whole book! But maybe the section on Myths – the myth of taxation, the myth of free housing, the myth of authenticity and the myth of progress, among others. This will help you counter any of the generalizations made about Indigenous peoples that you instinctively know are not true (well…maybe you do think they are true), but aren’t quite sure why or how best to express a counter argument.

No one wants to perpetuate false narratives that harm a group of people. Like sexism, the overt and sly digs can be extremely subtle and rooted so far back in our culture that we accept them without question. Reading Indigenous Writes is like medicine, curing you of your obliviousness, miseducation, misunderstanding or indifference. You should read this book.
Profile Image for Matt Herman.
97 reviews3 followers
April 5, 2021
This book is exactly on the mark for someone who does not know enough about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and issues in Canada. And that 'someone' is pretty much any Canadian. The more I digest it, the more I appreciate that the book was written in a way that allowed for an incredible breadth of knowledge without ever coming close to overloading my little brain. That's on top of the fact that Chelsea's writing is light and engaging even when it's chocked full of numbers and ideas.

The only thing I wished was that there was more detail on certain points, and that is pretty obviously solved by the myriad resources Chelsea currates throughout each and every chapter. This book is not just effective as a collection of knowledge, it is also an exceptional jumping point to learn more.
Profile Image for Friederike Knabe.
400 reviews156 followers
October 29, 2017
Chelsea Vowel's book is, as the subtitle suggests, a study into First Nations, Metis and Inuit issues in Canada. It is a well presented tool for interested Canadians (and others) into indigenous languages, definitions of concepts, cultural traditions and wider political context. It is not a book you read from a-to-z in one go. Rather you select a chapter at the time and absorb its important substance. You will want to refer to it from time to time again and again. It is very well written and maintains a kind of ongoing dialog with the reader. While I initially bought it as an e-book, the printed version will be a good addition.
Profile Image for Loretta.
986 reviews8 followers
October 6, 2017
Essential reading. Clear, compelling, profoundly informative, with lots and lots of "read more" endnotes in every chapter. Also funny and just generally easy and fun to read.

Seriously - essential reading for any settler Canadian who wants to know what they can do to advance reconciliation. Education and deep understanding is a critical first step. This book is hugely helpful in getting there and getting past surface understanding, stereotypes, and myths about First Nations in Canada.

Recommended for everyone. HIGHLY recommended.
38 reviews1 follower
April 19, 2020
This book is incredible and so easy to get through for such heavy topics. Thank you Chelsea vowel for this gift of a book. Everyone should read it.
Profile Image for MargaretDH.
1,048 reviews17 followers
January 13, 2019
If you’re looking for a primer on the issues that face Canadian Indigenous peoples, this is a great place to start. Using a conversational style, Vowel unpacks a lot of what’s going on in Canada right now. In the introduction, she tells her readers that a lot of this book comes from conversations that she had with white friends while she was in law school. To that end, she addresses a lot of myths and misconceptions that range from the benign to the actively harmful.

This is easy to read, and easy to dip into. Vowel is, however, a lawyer, and has detailed many of the important legal statutes, acts and decisions that have guided Canadian policy. She also refers to and summarizes many of the reports and investigations that have been done over the years.

Vowel also makes excellent use of endnotes, partially to cite her sources, but also to direct readers to more information on certain topics.

I wish a lot of Canadians would read this book - Vowel approaches a lot of the topic with grace and humour, and though she doesn’t have much patience for the actively racist, she works to meet the ignorant or confused more than half way.
Profile Image for Lexie.
12 reviews
July 31, 2023
If you want to learn more about Indigenous issues in so-called Canada and don't know where to start, I'd highly recommend this book. Each chapter succinctly summarizes a major issue leaving room for further study, but enough to get you started.
If you're more well versed in Indigenous issues in Canada, I'd still recommend it due to its immense scope.
For me some chapters were refreshers for topics I had studied beyond what Vowel wrote, others illuminated topics for which I was foggy on or didn't have all the facts in order, and others provided new information or perspective on a topic I needed to know more about. However, all the chapters are written in a conversational, honest, and self-aware tone, giving the upsetting nature of the topics weight without being punishing.
Profile Image for Sarah King.
113 reviews
February 24, 2019
5 stars - I know I’m reading a good book when I get itchy for highlighters and sticky notes so I can mark all the passages I want to come back to. But, then again, if I did that with this book, I’d mark every single passage. Every settler Canadian should read this book and keep it on hand to help respond to every bigoted, racist, ignorant comment about Indigenous folks we encounter. This is a real manual for true allyship, with digestible and tangible information about the colonial past and present of the Canadian state. I will be making this a course reading in every class I teach from now on.
Profile Image for Anita.
8 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2021
The Canadian curriculum failed to teach me Indigenous issues. Everything written here about the Inuit was 100% new to me. I learned so much. Thanks to introductory native studies and Metis studies from university, I kept up with those topic chapters. I still learned a lot about how I might maintain a stable, assertive, conversation with a...racist?
The satire was a bit much in some chapters but I understand how exasperating it can be to explain human rights as something Indigenous peoples deserve.
A very good book if you're looking for (easy) entryways to Indigenous issues.
Profile Image for Sandra.
204 reviews6 followers
January 12, 2019
There's a lot of information packed in here, but Vowel writes in a style that's conversational and easy to read. I can't recommend this highly enough. I grew up in Southern Manitoba (Treaty 1 territory) and I like to think I've been paying attention, but I was saddened by how much of this book was new to me.
Profile Image for Jenna (Falling Letters).
658 reviews58 followers
December 20, 2017
Review originally published 19 December 2017 at Falling Letters.

I followed Vowel on Twitter for some time before I picked up her book. If you’re new to learning about Indigenous experiences, her Twitter feed may seem overwhelming. Not so her book Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nation, Inuit, and Métis Issues in Canada. Vowel writes in a casual, conversational tone and doesn’t assume the reader to be familiar with the topics she explores.  Although the cover looks somewhat textbook-y, this book is highly accessible even to the uninformed reader. Of course, this would be an excellent text for classroom use, but I read it on my own and had no trouble digesting the content.

Indigenous Writes is divided into 31 chapters covering five topics: 1) The terminology of relationships, 2) culture and identity, 3) myth-busting, 4) state violence, and 5) land, learning, law and treaties. Throughout the book, Vowel tackles many widely held yet completely inaccurate beliefs about Indigenous peoples in Canada. I learnt about stereotypes I didn’t even know existed, such as the idea that Indigenous people receive free housing or education. Something else I was keen to learn more about was Métis identity (see Chapter 4: “You’re Métis? Which of Your Parents Is an Indian?: Métis Identity”). When I was travelling in New Zealand, I found myself on more than one occasion trying to explain Métis identity, something I really didn’t know much about despite having grown up in Manitoba. I wish I had had this book to recommend back then!

Finally, I often find myself thinking, “I know X idea/belief/concept is wrong, but why is that?” (A basic example: I know wearing clothing that has significance to a culture you don’t belong to is wrong, but how do I explain why?). Even though I considered myself a relatively educated person when it came to the challenges Indigenous people face in this country, I still lacked particular knowledge that allows for a greater understanding of the complex and often fraught history and relationship between Indigenous people and settlers like myself. For me, Vowel addresses that question at the top of the paragraph multiple times over. Here are just a handful of excerpts that helped me understand particular issues and concepts in a clearer light than I had ever before. Vowel offers numerous clear considerations of many issues that people misunderstand, misinterpret, or  misrepresent, out of intentional or unintentional ignorance. Indigenous Writes filled many gaps in my knowledge, making me very grateful for Vowel’s work.
On defining who is Indigenous:
Blood-quantum rules have been called a ‘slow genocide’, and I think this is an apt description. Not mass murder, but extinction via definition. Every time a non-Indigenous person enters the ‘Indian gene pool’, fewer people in the next generation are counted as Indians. I’m sorry, but what are we? A breed? Or peoples with distinct languages, customs and beliefs? (77)
On restricted vs. unrestricted symbols:
If someone unfamiliar with Canadian culture were to decorate herself with a string of fake Victoria Crosses, the reaction would be different than if the same person draped a Canadian flag over her non-Canadian shoulders. (83)
On respectful access:
What access do you think you are owed? Why? How have you earned it? Who could appropriately give it to you? And, most important, what would further access do for the people you claim to admire so much?  (87)
On colonialism and racism:
In other words, there is no history of colonialism and systemic racism that informs the modern view of Indigenous peoples, because that problem was supposedly solved at some point in the past. The ‘real’ racism is in conflating ‘legitimate’ dislike for Indigenous peoples (based not on race or ethnicity, but rather on the ‘bad choices we make’) with historical colonialism/racism ‘which is over.’ In continuing to discuss colonialism and racism as present-day concerns, Indigenous peoples are engaging in so-called ‘reverse-racism and oppressing blameless settlers’. (120)

On treaties:
What bothers me is this: a treaty is an ongoing relationship. That’s how it is in every other situation that does not involved Indigenous peoples. Treaties are nation-to-nation agreements that mediate relationships, and they can and should be revisited as a relationship progresses. Indigenous people know this; this is how we approach treaties and agreements with Canada. However, Canada does not seem to understand this. they want to settle everything and never look back. Patch up the holes in their supposed Crown titles and put the whole thing to bed. (258)
The Bottom Line:A well-written book that should squash any excuses for not educating one’s self about First Nation, Inuit and Métis issues in Canada, Indigenous Writes is a much-needed resource that all settlers can learn from
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339 reviews10 followers
October 5, 2017
1) "For the most part, when I do need to refer specifically to 'the non-Indigenous peoples living in Canada who form the European-descended sociopolitical majority,' I've decided on the term settler. I feel it is the most accurate relational term and helps to keep the conversation more focused than the term White.
[...] I pointed out that I feel settler is a relational term, rather than a racial category, which is another way in which it is more useful. Since I have chosen this term, I suppose I do need to explain what it means, or at least what I am using it to mean. For me, it is a shortened version of settler colonials. Settler colonialism is a concept that has recently begun to be explored in-depth, and it essentially refers to the deliberate physical occupation of land as a method of asserting ownership over land and resources. The original settlers were of various European origins, and they brought with them their laws and customs, which they then applied to Indigenous peoples and later to all peoples who have come to Canada from non-settler backgrounds. This does not refer only to those European people with sociopolitical power, but also to those of lower classes who settled here to seek economic opportunity."

2) "To sum up, status is held only by Indians who are defined as such under the Indian Act. Inuit and Métis do not have status, nor do non-status Indians.
Status Indians account for less than half of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Status Indians can be Indigenous or not, have band membership or not, can live on-reserve or not, and can be treaty Indians or not. What you should take away from this is to not make assumptions about status, what status entails, and what rights and benefits are associated with status."

3) "[...] In acknowledging the past but cutting it off from the present, there is a strong implication that, at some point, Canada got itself sorted out and began dealing fairly with Indigenous peoples. [...] What this part of the argument always relies upon is the implicit notion that any remaining problems faced by Indigenous peoples stem from an inability for people living in Canada to commit to a standard of 'equal citizenship and equality before the law.' This charge will be levied at First Nations leadership and Canadian politicians both. There is little need then to understand how historical injustice has moulded and shaped conditions today, and continues to find structural expression within the Canadian context. There is even less need to deconstruct how ongoing injustices are inextricably rooted in that history. Instead, a bright line is drawn between the past and the present we could all be living in if only everyone embraced liberal democracy wholeheartedly."

4) In Canada, the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 (which later became consolidated into the Indian Act) gave the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs the power to determine who was of 'good moral character,' and the consumption of alcohol figured greatly into this determination. This had immediate impact on Indigenous peoples, as this determination was directly linked to certain benefits. Widowed Indian women could even have their children taken away if they were found lacking 'good moral character.'
This is what I mean when I say that alcohol has been weaponized against Indigenous peoples."

5) "Numbers; I deal best with numbers:
* 150 years of operation
* 150 000 children who attended
* 6000 children (at least) who died while in the system
* 67 percent of schools run by the Roman Catholic Church, 20 percent by the Anglicans, 10 percent by the United Church, 3 percent by the Presbyterian Church
* 1996 -- the year the last school closed
* 7000 interviews with survivors
* 6 volumes in the final Truth and Reconciliation report
This is as dispassionate as I can get, but even broken down into numbers, this hurts.
Of all the topics I have covered in this book, none is more difficult for me to give voice to than this one. In fact, although I have tried to write about the residential-school system, I have never been able to bring myself to do more than skirt around the topic; I need to focus on what we can do to change things. I feel like someone who, after long exposure, has become so raw that the barest whisper feels like acid on my spirit. Rather than developing calluses, I am a flayed nerve."

6) "My purpose here was to introduce people to RCAP, both as a starting point for further investigation into the many issues faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada, and also as proof positive that practical solutions have been suggested. That latter part is important because peole need to stop believing there is no other way out besides just assimilating us once and for all. It might seem so much simpler to just legislate us out of existence -- make us all 'the same' to satisfy liberal notions of equality -- but it won't actually solve anything. RCAP is a good place to start if you want to know why such attempts are doomed to fail, and what alternatives have been proposed."
22 reviews1 follower
April 14, 2017
Chelsea Vowel writes with an engaging, lively, and authoritative voice that is easy and fun to read. Despite this dealing with some very dark and disturbing aspects of Canada's past and present treatment of Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples, this book is ultimately uplifting, as it truly works hard to create a safe space for the reader to interrogate their own misconceptions. Vowel anticipates reader criticisms and resolves them with compassion, generosity, and facts, taking care to provide readers with resources and case studies. This book is remarkable in that it unburdens the readers of their ignorance while never once punishing them for what they didn't know. Every Canadian has a moral obligation to read this book and unlearn what they hold to be true about the history of Canada and what came before it. Read this book!!!
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610 reviews43 followers
October 18, 2022
It is extremely important readers of this book remind themselves we probably do not know one another in real life – what I am saying, dismissing, or getting a little snarky about is not something personal to you, the reader. Instead, I am reacting to wider social beliefs. Basically, this is not about you as a person. It can’t be, because, as I pointed out, we are strangers. If you start to get the eerie feeling that I am peering out from these pages and fixing you with an accusatory stare, go back and see if I’ve actually named you. From time to time, I will name names, so if yours is not there, you can relax.

Can we just stop here and appreciate the kindness of this woman for a second? It might be just because I'm reading a lot of feminist non-fiction lately, but... I was expecting anger. Especially in the feminist books of women of colour, anger is one of the central themes (see White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot). It's understandable... and just overall anger can be a very transformative emotion and I believe we need to see it more positively. But this book is so f*cking kind it made me cry while she explained her terminology which kind of makes me question my sanity. There were places where I wanted to scream at her that she has every right to be angry and that the patience she exercised while explaining things was way too much. Don't get me wrong, she gets angry toward the end of the book, but it's not dominant emotion - that would be grief and sadness and that makes this book that much harder...
I want to be very clear that the term settler does not, and can never, refer to the descendants of Africans who were kidnapped and sold into chattel slavery. Black people, removed and cut off from their own indigenous lands – literally stripped of their humanity and redefined legally as property – could not be agents of settlement. The fact that slavery has been abolished does not change this history. Although Black people are not all indigenous to the Americas, the Americas are home to the descendants of enslaved African peoples.

The most valuable part of this books is without a doubt the vast number of other cited sources and recommendations. I already knew quite a lot, but even in the areas that were more familiar to me, she points the reader in direction of next possible paths and I loved that. Appart from academic/traditional non-fiction sources, she also recommends: movies, documentaries, critical reading sites, musical bands, videogame etc. She is great lively narrator and natural talent in explaining things. I would highly recommend her chapter on cultural appropriation to your attention, that was a theme to me that I wasn't completely certain about, but she explains it in a way that... just makes sense? I also discovered that my idea about what sixties scoops entailed was completely wrong (I thought it was more connected to the boarding school system, not realising it was the "next step in the system"). The Canadian context was also mostly new to me, so that was interesting as was the parts concerning Métis and Inuit, because those doesn't really seem to be the focus of "mainstream" discussions.
The killing of qimmiit has become a flash point in Inuit memories of the changes imposed on their lives by outsiders. In community after community that we visited, Inuit told me, often through tears, “I remember the day my dogs were shot,” or “I remember when my father’s dogs were killed.” The pain still felt from these memories is a testament to the symbiotic relationship between Inuit and qimmiit, and to the fact that the loss of qimmiit was a stark challenge to their independence, self-reliance, and identity as hunters and providers for their family.

One of the other themes that were shocking to me was the slaughters of qimmiit (sled dogs) and the extreme allocations Inuits were experiencing. In some aspects this seems to be comparable to forced cutting of hair of plain nations in boarding schools (you cut your hair when a member of your family dies). The allocations were always awful, but in this case they just seem really extreme...
Also, on a different note, I would have been interested how this goes together with the "import" of Sámi people and their reindeer. I don't actually know much about it, only that Sámi people (indigenous people of Skandinavia) were offered a way to "New World" for teaching Inuit their way of life, because it was thought that reindeer heards could solve some of the famine issues (which were caused by excessive industrialized fishing if I'm not mistaken). I'm just not sure how this would go together with the "dog-centric" culture... or the killings of the dogs... especially if the dog slaughters were to keep Inuit put, why give them reindeer who need nomadic life? (I think that the introduction of reindeer was before this, but...) As I said, I know nothing about this (Vowel doesn't mention reindeer at all), but it's definitely something I would be interested in.

I thought that in honor of this book, I'll finish this review with a list of resources I already went through and would recommend, but there actually isn't that many of them. And they aren't that much of resources...
First, I have to mention Tanya Tagaq, because I'm strangely fascinated by her music which has real inner strenght.
The second would be Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, it's the first fully Inuit movie that won some movie awards (I'm shit at movie snobbism, so I don't know which it were). It's a movie that requests dedication from non-Inuit/non-Indigenous people, because it's not easy to follow, but... it's important cultural piece and just overall really interesting.
But there are several other things she mentioned that really caught my attention, so I'll add them when I watch/read/etc. them.

The final point is, I would definitely recommend this book!
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