Orange Shirt Day: Guiding Conversations about Residential Schools in the Classroom

September 30th is Orange Shirt Day—a nationally-recognized event to acknowledge the harm inflicted by residential schools. For educators, this day represents a special opportunity to engage young people in important discussions about residential schools and other structures of systemic racism. 

There’s no way around it; these conversations are hard. They’re painful, delicate—and necessary. So, where are we to begin?

We spoke to three prominent Indigenous authors to get their take on the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day, and how educators can participate in creating a more equitable future for residential school survivors and their families.


David A. Robertson on the Origin and Importance of Orange Shirt Day

David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and the author of several award-winning books for children and young adults, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for When We Were Alone, coming later this month in a bilingual Swampy Cree and English edition. His work focuses on creating captivating works that reflect the cultures, histories, and contemporary issues affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada.

PMP/HWP: Where does Orange Shirt Day come from?

DAR: Orange Shirt Day originates from an experience of one residential school survivor that is common to many, that is the attempted elimination of cultural identity. 

A student, Phyllis Webstad, on her first day at residential school had her new orange shirt taken from her by school administration. We know today that Phyllis’s story is representative of the experiences many Indigenous children had while attending residential school, and we recognize it to both remember what happened, and honour survivors, but also to ensure we do not repeat history. 

I think, as well, we should use it as a day to keep our eyes and hearts open, because it is a history that is still happening, through systems like child welfare. Ultimately, Orange Shirt Day is a day of reflection and awareness.

PMP/HWP: You’ve written several books that address the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples. Your children’s book, When We Were Alone, also frames loss of identity through the school’s control over Nokóm’s clothing. Why do you think clothing is such an effective touchpoint for talking to young kids about residential schools?

DAR: You have to find ways for children to relate to Indigenous children who attended residential schools. If children can relate, they can empathize. And empathy is powerful. 

Any child can understand the expression of identity through the way that somebody dresses, or how they wear their hair. Any child, as well, can understand the impact of what it means to not be able to express identity. If I tell a child, in a safe environment, to imagine that the shirt they are wearing, perhaps a team shirt, is not welcome in the room, because in the room, only the shirt for one certain team is allowed, that child can understand the concept of assimilation. 

If I tell a child the same thing about their hair, they can likewise understand the concept of assimilation. It allows me to have a conversation with students about their individuality, the importance of their uniqueness, and how it might have affected children to not be able to express who they are. To have to be the same as everybody else. 

Kids can understand sophisticated concepts if we are able to meet them at their level, in an age-appropriate way.

PMP/HWP: Why do you think Orange Shirt Day is important?

DAR: I think it’s important because it is an entry point to have an important conversation. More than that, it brings people together to have that conversation. That coming together is an important step in the path to reconciliation. We cannot heal a broken relationship in a vacuum. We need to do it together, and we need to do it through listening, and sharing. 

What I don’t want to happen is for this conversation to happen on just one day, so a vital piece of this is to build on this day, by making each day one where we discuss reconciliation, in one form or another. Because that conversation will shape where we go tomorrow. 


Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse on Leading and Enriching Classroom Conversations on Orange Shirt Day

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse is an Anishinabekwe (Ojibwe/Odawa woman) from Sagamok First Nation and a full professor in the Faculty of Education at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Over the past 25 years, she has taught at all levels from elementary to post-secondary and published over 50 educator resources. Dr. Toulouse is a 3M National Teaching Excellence Fellow.

PMP/HWP: Do you have any suggestions for classroom activities teachers can try with their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day that support the message behind the event?

PRT: There are so many classroom activities that can happen on that day, such as KAIROS blanket exercises, Project of Heart events, and learning from local Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and getting out on the land. 

The key is to reach out to the Indigenous community and form a relationship that goes beyond the one day. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to fulfill our truthful relationships and responsibilities as caring two-leggeds. 

One of the primary activities is to engage in truth and reconciliation by finding out “who you are.” Being Canadian will be so much more meaningful when you can connect to your own ancestral stories of challenge and hope. This exploration of the past from a personal stance will give students and educators a greater appreciation for “why” Indigenous peoples are so connected to traditions, ceremonies, and the land.

PMP/HWP: You suggest inviting an Elder or Knowledge Keeper from a local Indigenous community to visit the classroom as an extension of learning. If an educator wished to do this but isn’t acquainted with an Indigenous Elder, what can educators do to respectfully make contact with a community?

PRT: Nearly every school board in Canada has an Indigenous Lead who has been entrusted with many roles in K to 12. These Indigenous Leads are the connection between educators and Elders, Metis Senators, and other Knowledge Keepers. 

There is so much diversity across the country in terms of the protocols in how to approach Indigenous resource peoples— the Indigenous Lead can assist educators with this. In the absence of an Indigenous Lead, contacting a local Friendship Centre or a local First Nation or a Métis organization is the best approach.

The gifts and the experiences shared by Indigenous Elders and Metis Senators with classrooms will leave a head to heart impact on the students—and this is something that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

PMP/HWP: How can educators continue to help young people understand the scope of residential schools beyond September 30th?

PRT: Orange Shirt Day is acknowledged once per year, but residential school survivors and their families live with the effects daily. This is why it is so critical to continue to implement the Calls to Action from the TRC and do so in relationships with Indigenous communities.

For me, Call to Action #63, “Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect” is foundational here. It’s one thing to offer classroom lessons on the history and effects of residential schools and quite another to truly feel the depth of these impacts.

The most respectful outcome is for school communities to take that additional step and do something about it. There needs to be action beyond acknowledgments.


Christine M’Lot on Making Progress Through Discussion on Orange Shirt Day and Beyond

Chistine M’Lot is an Anishinaabe educator and curriculum developer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Christine is the co-founder of Red Rising Education, and works to create Indigenous education resources for teachers. She has an extensive background working with young people in multiple capacities, including child welfare, children’s disability services, and Indigenous family planning. Christine currently teaches high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

PMP/HWP: In many Canadian schools, there are kids in the classroom who have been directly impacted by the intergenerational harms of residential schools. They might be sitting right next to kids who have no knowledge at all about this painful time in history. How can educators gently guide conversations about residential schools in a way that is constructive for everyone, and not harmful? 

CM: This is a very real scenario that most educators face while teaching about Indigenous topics. One thing that I’d like to remind teachers is that it’s important not to make any assumptions about the level of knowledge that Indigenous students may have about their histories or culture. I’ve definitely made the assumption that because a student is Indigenous, they must already know about residential schools or the direct impact that they had on their families and communities, but this has not always been the case.

   In my classroom, I try to ensure that our conversations around Indigenous topics are not always focused on the negative aspects of history. While learning about residential schools is hardly positive, I always make time to recognize the resilience and beauty in our communities. I think it’s important to show students examples of Indigenous resistance and political action that our communities partake in. It’s important to be mindful of not inadvertently showing Indigenous people as victims all the time but rather as people who continue to fight for equal rights in Canada. 

PMP/HWP: What are some discussion questions early years educators and middle/high school educators might ask their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day to keep the focus on healing?

CM: Some questions I like to ask my students include: 

  • How can we honour residential school survivors as a school and community? 
  • How can we ensure that the legacy of residential schools is never forgotten? 
  • What are some Indigenous theories and practices around wellness and wellbeing that we can utilize in our own lives?
  • How can we ensure that First Nations children get the same level of education and healthcare as the rest of Canadians?

PMP/HWP: Which resources would you recommend to educators to help them facilitate meaningful conversations about residential schools in their classrooms?

 CM: I would recommend the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Canada website as a great resource for teachers to learn about residential schools and gather teaching resources appropriate to their students’ grade level. You can visit their website here. 

I also recommend Red Rising Education for our authentic Indigenous educational resources. We created a special-edition magazine and accompanying unit plans to teach educators how to include Indigenous topics into their curricula. Our unit plans are centred around the themes of identity, community, land and water, and resistance. You can reach us by email.

HighWater Press Titles to Use on Orange Shirt Day

When We Were Alone
for ages 4–8

Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett

An empowering story of resistance that gently introduces children to the history of residential schools in Canada.
In When We Were Alone, a young girl notices things about her grandmother that make her curious. As she asks questions, her grandmother tells her about her experiences in a residential school. Coming later this month in a bilingual edition featuring Swampy Cree syllabics and Roman orthography alongside the original English.

Amik Loves School
for ages 4–8

Written by Katherena Vermette
Illustrated by Irene Kuziw

Amik tells Moshoom about his wonderful school. Then his grandfather tells him about the residential school he went to, much different from Amik’s school. Amik Loves School: A Story of Wisdom is one book in The Seven Teachings Stories series.

Sugar Falls
A Residential School Story
for Grades 9-12

Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

A school assignment to interview a residential-school survivor leads Daniel to Betsy, his friend’s grandmother, who tells him her story. Abandoned as a young child, Betsy was soon adopted into a loving family. A few short years later, at the age of 8, everything changed. Betsy was taken away to a residential school. There she was forced to endure abuse and indignity, but Betsy recalled the words her father spoke to her at Sugar Falls — words that gave her the resilience, strength, and determination to survive.

Sugar Falls is based on the true story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation.

7 Generations
A Plains Cree Saga
for Grades 9-12

Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

Edwin is facing an uncertain future. Only by learning about his family’s past—as warriors, survivors of a smallpox epidemic, casualties of a residential school—will he be able to face the present and embrace the future.

7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga is an epic 4-part graphic novel.

For more information about Orange Shirt Day, including Phyllis’s story, upcoming events, and resources, visit the official website at


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What Does Two Spirit Mean?

This fall brings the new school year and new books. In Surviving the City, readers connected with Indigenous teens Dez and Miikwan in a story about kinship, resilience, cultural resurgence, and the anguish of a missing loved one.

This October, Dez and Miikwan return in From the Roots Up, Volume 2 in the Surviving the City series. Dez’s grandmother has passed away. Grieving, and with nowhere else to go, she’s living in a group home. On top of everything else, Dez is navigating a new relationship and coming into her identity as a Two-Spirit person. Miikwan also has a new love interest, but she is struggling to understand what Dez is going through. Elder Geraldine is doing her best to be supportive, but she doesn’t know how to respond when the gendered protocols she’s grown up with that are being thrown into question.

But what does “Two Spirit” mean?

Elder Albert McLeod answers this question for readers in the back of From the Roots Up. We have reproduced that text here, with his permission.

What Does Two Spirit Mean?

In Algonquian nations, humans are understood to possess the same beauty and mystery associated with other elements of the Natural World. Each child born into this world has a purpose and a destiny, and carries a divine gift. This belief is expressed in the Ojibwe term aawi, which literally means he/she is who he/she is supposed to be. Algonquian people who are gender fluid and/or sexually diverse (LGBTQI) are accepted as the part of the intentional design of the Spirit and Natural Worlds, and as such, it is a cultural taboo to critique or interfere with their identity, role, or life journey.

During the early colonial period, Canada and various church groups that ran Indian Residential and Day Schools disrupted this cultural imperative and introduced homophobic and transphobic attitudes across the nation. As Indigenous LGBTQI people recovered from generations of oppression and shaming, they began to gather and share their stories and experiences. At the third gathering of Native American Gays and Lesbians in Manitoba in 1990, Dr. Myra Laramee introduced the term Two-Spirit people, and it was quickly adopted by those in attendance.

Two-Spirit is an umbrella term that provides a window into the many Indigenous Nations and societies that honoured and respected their community members who were LGBTQI. There are over 150 words and terms in various Indigenous languages that describe this diversity. The name Two-Spirit reconnects Indigenous LGBTQI to the Spiritual and Natural Worlds.

Because of the shame that was introduced to our communities, many Two-Spirit youth experience teasing, bullying, shaming, and violence because people do not want to understand who they are or accept they have a respected place in their families and communities. This discrimination has increased the rate of suicide among Two-Spirit people and results in many Two-Spirit youth becoming homeless and living in poverty. However, as we begin to decolonize and reconcile from past harms, and as this story informs us, we must continue to provide the nurturance, love, and acceptance that Two-Spirit youth crave from their families and communities.

Albert McLeod
April 1, 2020

To learn more:

Surviving the City brought awareness to the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People, but From the Roots Up picks up the narrative in a conversation about gender, sexuality, and supportive allyship. These conversations are particularly relevant to today’s students—get the teacher guide for support in bringing Surviving the City (Volume 1) into your classroom! 

Pre-order From the Roots Up here.

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Six Tips for Distance Learning This Fall

by, Jennifer Lawson
Hands-On series creator

Like many teachers and university instructors across the country, the pandemic has forced me to teach my courses online for the first time. I am used to teaching in-person university classes with a lot of student participation, so this has been a challenge!

As the creator of the Hands-On series, this experience also has me thinking about the teachers, students, and parents who are navigating these unusual circumstances. As we move forward, distance, remote, or blended learning is likely to be the norm for many of us. How can we create engaging learning opportunities for students, even from a distance?

Below are some of the questions you might have, along with a few thoughts on how to successfully plan for distance learning.

  1. This is all very overwhelming! Where do I start?

No matter what subject you’re teaching, start with the curriculum, just like you would for any other lesson. Both in the classroom and online, create your lessons to address your specific curriculum.

Before you begin planning, review your curricular documents and use them as the foundation for your lessons. And as you plan your year, remember to give yourself credit for doing the best you can under these challenging circumstances!

  1. I don’t know what this school year will look like. Things might change partway through the year. How do I decide what to teach when?

Remember: curricular topics do not need to be taught in a particular order.

With that in mind, try to choose topics based on the season or time of year. This is especially true for science, but is a consideration for all subjects that encourage nature-based, land-based, or place-based learning.

For example, in science, lessons on plants and animals are best when students can observe and explore living things in their natural environment, such as spring and fall. On the other hand, learning about magnets can occur at any time, since it is likely to be done indoors.

Develop a year-long plan to help you determine which topics make the most sense based on the time of year. This helps address uncertainty because you will have an overview of what needs to be accomplished, and can modify that plan as the school year rolls out.

  1. Many parents are trying to work from home while also helping with school work. How do I choose activities that are practical to complete at home?

Once you have selected a topic, think about the lessons you usually teach in the classroom. Look for ideas in the suggested activities in the curriculum and your educational resources.

If you are using lessons from a Hands-On resource, it is a good idea to scan the lessons in order, since they have been developed to scaffold skills and concepts.

Regardless of the resource you are using, remember that not every part of every lesson needs to be taught. Pick and choose activities that are most appropriate for distance learning, such as activities that

  • students can do independently or with minimal assistance
  • require only a few materials
  • could include the whole family in the learning experience

Once you have chosen tasks, adapt the activities to be more easily completed at home.

  1. How can I adapt activities for students and parents to complete at home?

Given that this approach is new to all of us—teachers, students, and families alike—we need to maintain a positive and encouraging relationship with our partners in the learning process. The more family-friendly the instructions, the more success students will have in completing the tasks you assign.

When planning activities for distance learning, create simple and clear instructions for tasks. Like a very basic lesson plan, you might consider a format such as the following:

Materials Needed

Include a list of easy-to-access supplies that students have at home, or that will be provided in a distance learning package.


Provide step-by-step instructions that students and parents can follow. Word these as simply as possible to help students work independently. Make sure the instructions can be understood by families learning English.

Show Your Work

Explain what students need to do to demonstrate learning. For example, students might complete a journal entry or activity sheet, draw a picture, or take a photo of a project. Photos can be taken with any digital device, but make sure to include options for students who may not have access to cameras.

Here is an example of a distance learning task, based on an activity from Hands-On Social Studies for Ontario, Grade 6:

Materials Needed

  • a variety of Canadian coins and bills (or images from online sources)
  • Activity Sheet: Symbols and Images on Canadian Currency 


  1. Look at each coin or bill. Identify the symbols or images you see on each one.
  2. Talk about these symbols and images with family and friends.
  3. Complete the activity sheet.


  1. Record the value of the coins and bills in the first column of the activity sheet.
  2. In the second column of the chart, record the symbol that is shown on the coin or bill.
  3. How is this symbol significant? Share ideas with your family, and check references. Record your ideas in the third column of the chart.

For example:

  1. How can I infuse nature-based experiences and help students focus?

As much as possible, encourage students to learn outdoors!

Current research (Jordan & Chawla, 2019) suggests that nature-based learning inspires students, helps them stay focused on tasks, and encourages them to get exercise. Be sure to intentionally select tasks that require students to explore nature (with adult supervision as appropriate). This is another time when the whole family can be involved.

For example, during a family walk in the neighbourhood or a local park, students can play Eye Spy to learn about colours, or take photographs of three-dimensional objects they see while studying geometrical shapes.

Source: Cathy Jordan and Louise Chawla. A Coordinated Research Agenda for Nature-Based Learning. Frontiers in Psychology, published online April 22, 2019.

  1. How can I foster accountability and celebrate learning?

One of the biggest challenges of distance learning is helping students stay engaged. As much as possible, encourage students to provide work products that show what they have done and what they have learned. This provides you with evidence of learning to track progress and achievement. Submitted work might include

  • an activity sheet
  • a written story
  • a book report
  • a video presentation
  • photographs (for example, of a makerspace project)
  • a slideshow
  • an audio recording or podcast

Since many families have access to digital cameras on phones or tablets, photography is a great way for students to record their learning process. Sharing slideshows and photographs with classmates can also help students stay connected with one another.

And, of course, for students who might not have access to technology, have them submit hardcopies of their work (for example, drawings, activity sheets, or written work), which you can then photograph to share with the class.

Try to plan a variety of tasks to maintain students’ interest, and celebrate their successes each step of the way. Stay connected and provide feedback regularly. Celebrate learning as a class by sharing experiences and accomplishments.

These six tips are just a starting point. What have been your successes and challenges with distance teaching and learning? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for curriculum resources to help you with your planning this fall? Check out the Hands-On series, and find the resources for your province and grade level here.


Enjoy the View (Inside)!

Savour one last excursion before the summer ends!

Take a virtual tour and view inside two upcoming graphic novels that explore the experiences of Indigenous teenagers. Enjoy this sneak peek into Breakdown

and From the Roots Up.


Retrieve your boarding pass and read the excerpts by downloading the following pdf. Enjoy_View_Inside_Breakdown_RootsUp(2)

Once you’ve had a chance to take this tour, let us know if you Enjoyed the View(Inside)! Share your thoughts, reactions, and ideas for using these books with your students at #HWPviewinside.

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Step into Learning Indigenous Languages with Children’s Books

Children’s books are a beginner-friendly and engaging way to learn a new language. We’ve put together a list of children’s books that introduce Indigenous languages, celebrate language revitalization, and are fun for kids. These books are appropriate for read-aloud or independent reading. Extend the exploration with the whole family using the ideas following each book! 


Ispík kákí péyakoyak | When We Were Alone 
By David A. Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett
Language: Swampy Cree

Hot off the press, Ispík kákí péyakoyak/When We Were Alone includes Swampy Cree syllabics, Roman orthography, and the original English. 

When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength. When a young girl helps tend her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

Extend your learning
Hear the pronunciation of Cree words used within the English Edition of When We Were Alone.


Siha Tooskin Knows the Best Medicine
By Charlene Bearhead and Wilson Bearhead
Illustrated by Chloe Bluebird Mustooch
Language: Nakota

Siha Tooskin Knows the Best Medicine incorporates Nokata words within the text. A glossary provided at the end of the book lists the Nakota words phonetically along with their definitions. 

When Siha Tooskin—Paul Wahasaypa—finds himself not feeling at all well, he learns that there are answers for him from the healing practices of his own people and from Western medicine. Visit the hospital with Paul as he learns more about where “modern medicine” really comes from and how we can all benefit from Indigenous and Western healers as Paul seeks the best medicine for his own wellness. Antibiotics, bandages, cough syrup, ointment, pills…modern medicine has so much to offer when we become ill. But are medical science, health, and healing practices actually modern? 

Extend your learning

Continue exploring the Nakota language with the other books in the Siha Tooskin Knows series. 

Listen to the pronunciations in this reading from Siha Tooskin Knows the Best Medicine featuring artist Chloe Bluebird Mustooch.

The Eagle Mother
Mothers of Xsan, Book 3
By Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan
Language: Gitxsanimx

Learn about the life cycle of these stunning birds of prey, the traditions of the Gitxsan, and how bald eagles can enrich their entire ecosystem. Gitxsanimx words are incorporated throughout the story, and the Gitxsan moons are listed and defined at the end of the book. Evocative illustration brings the Xsan’s flora and fauna to life for middle years readers in book three of the Mothers of Xsan series.

Extend your learning

Practice the Gitxsan language using the other books in the Mothers of Xsan series including The Sockeye Mother and The Grizzly Mother. 

Hear the pronunciation of some Gitxsan words found throughout the Mothers of Xsan series.

Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw
By William Dumas
Illustrated by Leonard Paul
Language: Rocky Cree

Out of an important archaeological discovery came this unique story about a week in the life of Pīsim, a young Cree woman, who lived in the mid 1600s. In the story, created by renowned storyteller William Dumas, Pīsim begins to recognize her miskanaw—the path for her life—and to develop her gifts for fulfilling that path. The story is brought to life by the rich imagery of Mi’kmaw artist Leonard Paul, and is accompanied by sidebars on Cree language and culture, archaeology and history, maps, songs, and more. 

Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw includes a full glossary at the back of the book, as well as Cree vocabulary highlighted throughout the book.

Extend your learning

Download the free app from the iOS store to discover more about Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw. Hear narration from the story, and pronunciation of words in the Cree Glossary. 

Watch this video of William Dumas sharing a behind-the-scenes look at Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw. 

Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock
By Dallas Hunt
Illustrated by Amanda Strong
Language: Cree

During an unfortunate mishap, young Awâsis loses Kôhkum’s freshly baked world-famous bannock. Not knowing what to do, Awâsis seeks out a variety of other-than-human relatives willing to help. What adventures are in store for Awâsis? 

The book includes a pronunciation guide for the Cree words used throughout, and the recipe for Kôhkum’s world-famous bannock.

Extend your learning 

Practise the Cree words for baking ingredients with the recipe for Kôhkum’s world-famous bannock! 

Listen to the pronunciation of Cree words from the story.

*BONUS Coming Soon* 


Stand Like a Cedar
By Nicola I. Campbell
Illustrated by Carrielynn Victor

When you go for a walk in nature, who do you see? What can we learn from the animals around us? Follow along as Nicola Campbell’s lyrical storytelling takes the reader on a journey through the wilderness to discover the animals of British Columbia, their names in the Nłe7kepmxcín or Halq’emeylem languages, and the teachings they have for us.

Watch our social media for news about Stand Like A Cedar and more upcoming 2021 books that feature words in Indigenous languages. 

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Authentic Indigenous Content for Ages 13–18

With the new school year just around the corner, we’ve heard from teachers like you looking to include Indigenous perspectives in your curriculum.

Grades 7–12 are tumultuous years for all students, and a time when kids are especially vulnerable to bias. These titles help Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth process tough concepts while offering a more multi-dimensional understanding of Canada.

Incorporate great literature from Indigenous authors into your lessons with the list below.

Surviving the City series

For ages 12-18
Written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan

High school is tough enough. On top of class work, best friends Miikwan and Dez struggle with grief for missing family members, the death of a grandparent, placement in a group home, navigating a first love, and coming into their identities, as well as being at odds with each other from time to time. Together, the teens face the challenges of growing up Indigenous in an urban landscape, and learn to look to their communities and the spirits of their ancestors for support.

Surviving the City and From the Roots Up deal with the racism and discrimination experienced by Indigenous and Two-Spirit teens. These eye-opening graphic novels are written by award-winning author Tasha Spillett-Sumner with captivating artwork by Natasha Donovan

Order your copies here.


The Reckoner Trilogy
for ages 12-18
By David A. Robertson

Cole Harper is the hero Wounded Sky First Nation needs. In David A. Robertson’s page-turning trilogy, Cole and his friends must fight against the mysterious evils that threaten their community. 

With a brilliant portrayal of what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder, The Reckoner trilogy can help spark a discussion on mental health. The three books—Strangers, Monsters, and Ghosts—are a superhero origin story like nothing you’ve read before. Watch for the forthcoming graphic novel series that continues the story.

Once you meet Cole Harper, you won’t want to rest until you’ve learned what happened at  Wounded Sky First Nation. Start with the first book today.

Also available as audiobooks on our website or from your favourite online retailer.


The Reckoner Rises series
for ages 12-18
By David A. Robertson
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson
Colour by Donovan Yaciuk

Acclaimed writer, David A. Robertson, delivers again with suspense, adventure, and humour in this stunningly illustrated graphic novel continuation of The Reckoner trilogy.

Breakdown (Volume 1) picks up the story after the events in Wounded Sky First Nation. Cole and Eva arrive in Winnipeg, the headquarters of Mihko Laboratories, intent on destroying the company once and for all. However, their plans are thwarted when a new threat surfaces. When Cole is mired in terrifying visions, Eva must harness her newly discovered powers to investigate Mihko without him. Are Cole’s visions just troubled dreams or are they leading him to a horrible truth? 

Perfect for superhero fans, The Bloodhound Gang returns in this all-new graphic novel series, The Reckoner Rises!


I Will See You Again
for ages 12 and Up
By Lisa Boivin

Presenting “a fresh understanding of death and grief” (Publishers Weekly), this book is a breathtaking journey through art, loss, and love from interdisciplinary artist and bioethicist Lisa Boivin.

When the author learns of the death of her brother overseas, she embarks on a journey to bring him home. Through memories and dreams of all they shared together, and through her Dene traditions, she finds comfort and strength. 

The lyrical art and story leave readers with a universal message of hope and love.

Get your copy here.

This book also has a reader’s guide for teachers, parents, and communities to help guide discussions and lesson planning. 


Perception: A Photo Series
for ages 16+
By KC Adams

After a racist, high-profile social media post surfaced in artist KC Adams’s hometown, she decided to challenge people to “look, then look again” at Winnipeg’s Indigenous people. This brilliant collection of portraits was first displayed on billboards, buildings, and bus shelters around the city. Each image aims to replace dehumanizing assumptions with positive truths about the subjects’ identities.

With a foreword by Katherena Vermette and a critical essay by Cathy Mattes, Perception is a valuable resource for dismantling stereotypes and guiding conversations about bias and racism.

Look for yourself—then look again—by ordering Perception in hardcover. Download a copy of the free Teacher Guide here

A Girl Called Echo series
for ages 11-15
Written by Katherena Vermette
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson
Colour by Donovan Yaciuk

When we first meet thirteen-year-old Echo Desjardins, she is adjusting to her new reality: separated from her mother, living in a new foster home, and navigating the first few days of middle school. Everyday life is hard enough—but she can’t stop slipping back and forth in time. In this graphic novel series, Echo struggles to make sense of the present while learning more about her Métis heritage. 

With absolutely stunning artwork by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk, author Katherena Vermette’s series brings the history of the Métis Nation to life. 

Three graphic novels in the series, Pemmican Wars, Red River Resistance, and Northwest Resistance, are available now. 

Follow us @PortageMainPres for updates about the final volume The Road Allowance Era, slated for release in spring 2021.

This Place: 150 Years Retold
for ages 15+

Indigenous broadcaster and film critic Jesse Wente has called This Place: 150 Years Retold  “the graphic novel I’ve waited for my whole life, and the graphic novel Canada has needed for 150 years.” 

This Place is a groundbreaking graphic novel anthology that re-frames Canada’s history, present, and future through the perspectives of Indigenous writers. Through the anthology’s 10 beautifully illustrated stories,  readers will encounter Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and even time travel.

Get a new perspective on the past 150 years—and beyond—by ordering your copy today.

Include this book in your lesson plans this fall with ideas from the teacher guide

What are your favourite books to use with your students? Tell us in the comments! 

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Authentic Indigenous Content for Ages 5-12

As you prepare for another school year, we know you’re looking for thoughtful, high-quality Indigenous content to include in your lessons. Written by Indigenous authors, these books give teachers the language and tools to introduce students from kindergarten to grade 6 to Indigenous perspectives.

Books for Bringing Indigenous Perspectives and Knowledge into the Classroom

Stories help young children understand the world around them. These books use storytelling to teach elementary school students about both traditional and contemporary ways of life in Indigenous communities.

Siha Tooskin Knows series
for ages 9–11

Written by Charlene Bearhead and Wilson Bearhead
Illustrated by Chloe Bluebird Mustooch

Paul Wahasaypa (aka Siha Tooskin) is a young Nakota boy living in a modern, urban community guided by the age-old knowledge and traditions of his family, his people, and his ancestors. This 11-year-old boy demonstrates the spirit of love and community among his Indigenous relations. 

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Gifts of His People, Paul learns about the origins of many modern conveniences and inventions. There’s so much to learn about the earliest forms of technology, travel, medicine, and food from right here on Turtle Island! 

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Sacred Eagle Feather, Paul’s Mitoshin explains the teachings about where eagle feathers come from and why they are so sacred.

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Strength of His Hair, Paul is nervous about starting at a new school. Mitoshin reminds him how strength of character can be found in the strength of his hair.

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Catcher of Dreams, Paul imagines the future of a new baby sister and listens to Mugoshin’s teachings about dream catchers.

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Nature of Life, Paul learns how strength, generosity, kindness, and humility are all shown to us by grandfather rocks, towering trees, four-legged ones, and winged ones.

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Best Medicine, Paul isn’t feeling well, and he learns that there are answers for him from both the healing practices of his people and from Western medicine.

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Offering of Tobacco, Paul knows it is important to show honour and appreciation when taking plants from the earth or knowledge from a learned person. Join Paul and his teacher Mrs. Baxter as they learn about the protocol of offering tobacco. 

In Siha Tooskin Knows the Love of the Dance, Paul has invited his friend, Jeff, to his first-ever powwow! Follow along as Jeff learns all about the dances and their beautiful traditions.

Order all eight books as a set and save! 

Get the education guide to support learning and discussion.

Mothers of Xsan series
for ages 9–12

Written by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan

The Gitxsan Nation are Indigenous peoples whose homeland surrounds the Xsan, or “River of Mist,” which is also known as the Skeena River. In the Mothers of Xsan series, author Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) and illustrator Natasha Donovan guide young readers through the life cycles that nourish the land and people. 

The Sockeye Mother follows a sockeye salmon fry from its nursing waters, to the Pacific ocean, and back.

The Grizzly Mother has readers joining a mother grizzly and her cubs as they journey through the Gitxsan territories.

The Eagle Mother shows how bald eagles can enrich their entire ecosystem in this perfect mix of story and science.

Click here to pre-order the fourth book, The Frog Mother, coming spring 2021.

When We Were Alone
for ages 4–8

Written by David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett

An empowering story of resistance that gently introduces children to the history of residential schools in Canada. 

In When We Were Alone, a young girl notices things about her grandmother that make her curious. As she asks questions, her grandmother tells her about her experiences in a residential school.

Order the Governor General’s Award-winning book that captivated readers across the country. 

Coming soon in a bilingual edition featuring Swampy Cree syllabics and Roman orthography alongside the original English! Pre-order now to get it for your classroom this fall.

Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock
for ages 4–8

Written by Dallas Hunt
Illustrated by Amanda Strong

When Awâsis’s kôhkum (grandmother) asks Awâsis to deliver a batch of her world-famous bannock to a relative, a mishap takes her on a detour through her community. As young readers follow Awâsis on her journey, they’ll encounter words in Cree that describe her world.

Using traditional Indigenous methods of storytelling to help kids practise common Cree words, this charming book includes a recipe for kôhkum’s world-famous bannock!

Add it to your library.

Nimoshom and His Bus
for ages 4–8

Written by Penny M. Thomas
Illustrated by Karen Hibbard

Children from all backgrounds will fall in love with Nimoshom, who loves driving the school bus for the children in his community. With beautiful watercolour illustrations, this heartwarming story brings kids aboard Nimoshom’s bus to learn daily expressions in Cree. 

Learn new Cree words with your students. Purchase this book for your classroom today.

Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw
Revised Edition
for ages 10–18

Written by William Dumas
Illustrated by Leonard Paul

The newly revised edition of Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw features updated Rocky Cree translations and an expanded glossary, augmented with new maps to give a more detailed look at Pīsim’s journey. These enhancements make this book a great tool for teachers and a great addition to any library.

Out of an important archaeological discovery came this unique story about a week in the life of Pīsim, a young Cree woman, who lived in the mid 1600s. Pīsim begins to recognize her miskanaw—the path for her life—and to develop her gifts for fulfilling that path. The story is accompanied by sidebars on Cree language and culture, archaeology and history, maps, songs, and more.

Get your copy here.

Great ideas for using this book in your classroom can be found in the Teacher’s Guide for Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw.

Young readers are filled with curiosity about their world and the people in it. With colourful artwork and kid-friendly language, these books can help foster healthy dialogue about Indigenous peoples in your elementary classroom.

What are your favourite books to use in your classroom? Tell us in the comments!

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You are invited to Enjoy the View (Inside)!

Looking for an exciting journey this summer? Take a tour with Siha Tooskin and Enjoy the View (Inside)!

Join Siha Tooskin (Paul) as he explores his identity and develops a sense of cultural responsibility through the teachings, practices, and values of his Nakota family. 

View eight excerpts from the new Siha Tooskin Knows series for middle grade readers.

  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Best Medicine
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Catcher of Dreams
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Gifts of His People
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Nature of Life
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Offering of Tobacco
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Sacred Eagle Feather
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Strength of His Hair
  • Siha Tooskin Knows the Love of the Dance

Retrieve your boarding pass and read the excerpts by downloading the following pdf. Enjoy_the_View(Inside)Siha_Tooskin_Knows

Once you’ve had a chance to take this tour, let us know if you Enjoyed the View(Inside)! Share your thoughts, reactions, and ideas for using these books with your students at #HWPviewinside.


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 Dig Into These Indigenous Books for Your Summer Reading List

Looking for some great books to read this summer? Dig into one of our summer reads! We have compiled a summer reading list here for you with Own Voice stories perfect for the whole family to enjoy. Want to enhance your reading experience? We have included opportunities to “Dig Deeper” with each selection.  

Indigenous Books for Kids and Teens


I Will See You Again

By Lisa Boivin

This unique blend of art and story is an illustrated book for ages 12 and up. Written and illustrated by Lisa Boivin, the lyrical art and story leave readers with a universal message of hope and love. 

When the author learns of the death of her brother overseas, she embarks on a journey to bring him home. Through memories and dreams of all they shared together and through her Dene traditions, she finds comfort and strength. 

I Will See You Again was selected as one of “CBC’s 20 Canadian books for kids and teens to read for National Indigenous History Month.”

Dig Deeper 

Download the free I Will See You Again Reader’s Guide. Written to support discussions about Dene culture as explored through the author’s art, the guide also introduces a practice that can bring rest and healing: telling and sharing difficult experiences through art. Use this guide to reflect on I Will See You Again on your own, or as part of a discussion with friends and family, or students. 


The Eagle Mother (Mothers of Xsan, Book 3)

By Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) 
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Learn about the life cycle of these stunning birds of prey, the traditions of the Gitxsan, and how bald eagles can enrich their entire ecosystem. A perfect mix of story and science to hold the interest of readers aged 8-12. 

Dig Deeper

Experience more of the poetry of the Xsan river valley ecosystem through the first two books in the Mothers of Xsan series. With striking illustration and lyrical language, the award-winning books The Sockeye Mother and The Grizzly Mother  offer other perspectives of the ecosystem of “the River of Mists.” 

Click here for a video pronunciation guide for words featured throughout the series.


Siha Tooskin Knows the Nature of Life

By Charlene Bearhead and Wilson Bearhead
Illustrated by Chloe Bluebird Mustooch

Rocks, grass, trees, birds—what can they possibly teach human beings? This early chapter book is a great choice for a summer afternoon outside, and is suitable both for young readers or as a read-aloud for family storytime. 

Paul Wahasaypa knows that Ena Makoochay (Mother Earth) gives us many things. On this compelling nature journey with Ena (his mom), we learn how strength, generosity, kindness, and humility are all shown to us by grandfather rocks, towering trees, four-legged ones, and winged ones, reminding us of the part we have to play in this amazing creation.

Dig Deeper 

Enjoy the other seven titles in the Siha Tooskin Knows series, whose vivid narratives and dazzling illustrations in contemporary settings share more stories about Paul Wahasaypa (Siha Tooskin). 

You can also download the Free Education Guide that supports teachers, students, and families in learning about and discussing the teachings, practices, and values of Paul Wahasaypa’s Nakota family, and exploring these concepts in relation to the Indigenous peoples where they live.


When We Were Alone

By David A. Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett

David A. Robertson’s Governor General’s award-winning book, When We Were Alone, has recently returned to the Canadian Bestseller list. Included on Indigo’s “Antiracist Reading List for Kids,” it is a book for anyone looking for an age-appropriate way to teach young children about Residential Schools. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.


Dig Deeper

Click here to watch a video pronunciation guide for Cree Words used in the story. 

Download the free Parent/Teacher Guide. This guide helps parents and educators use When We Were Alone to discuss diverse perspectives, experiences, and traditions with young readers that foster a deeper understanding of ourselves as human beings and of our relationships with others. Watch a video conversation between the author and a classroom teacher about “Teaching Difficult Subjects.”

Indigenous Reads for Adults

The Evolution of Alice: Reissued Edition

By David A. Robertson

David A. Robertson’s first novel returns in this reissued edition with a new chapter, and a foreword by Shelagh Rogers. 

Immerse yourself in Alice’s story, where spirits are alive, forgiveness is possible, and love is the only thing that matters. Peopled with unforgettable characters and told from multiple points of view, The Evolution of Alice is the kaleidoscopic story of one woman’s place within the web of community. 

Dig Deeper 

Did you know that the first edition of The Evolution of Alice was the 2016 On The Same Page selection. Visit the Winnipeg Public Library website for resources from the archives, including a Reader’s Guide. Grab a copy of the newly revised edition, a few of your friends, and host an online book club this summer! 

Not sure if you’ll have time to read the book? The Evolution of Alice is also coming soon as an audiobook. 

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

By Chelsea Vowel

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 these terms? 

In the national bestseller 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. The essays within this book will help to confront narratives about Canada’s history and Indigenous peoples.   

Dig Deeper

Indigenous Writes was a selection of Unsettling Ideas: Winnipeg Chapter, “a book club intended to engage students, staff, faculty and community in discussions around anti-racism, decolonization and reconciliation.” Join in the book club yourself and watch this video of the book club discussion with Chelsea Vowel. 

Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony 

By Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson

Inspired by Haida ceremonial practice, father and daughter Robert Davidson and Sara Florence Davidson, present a model for learning that is holistic, relational, practical, and continuous. 

Over the course of her own education, educator Sara came to see how the traditions of the Haida practiced by her father—holistic, built on relationships, practical, and continuous—could be integrated into contemporary educational practices. 

Highly recommended for all educators and parents interested in exploring pedagogy and learning models this summer. 

Dig Deeper 

Check out the 5 Moore Minutes Book Club by Shelley Moore. The dynamic educator behind Reimagining Inclusion: The ONE Series hosted a virtual book club to explore Potlatch as Pedagogy. All episodes of this online conversation between educators are available on YouTube.

Something both Teens and Adults will enjoy

This Place: 150 Years Retold
Written and illustrated by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm et al.

Included on the 2020 Horn Book Summer Reading List as a high school pick, this award-winning graphic novel is a favourite of teen and adult readers alike. 

Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. 

Currently appearing on both Winnipeg and Canadian bestselling book lists, this is a popular Own Voices read for Indigenous History Month. 

Want to Dig Deeper? 

This Place: 150 Years Retold was selected for the One Book UWinnipeg Fall 2019 campus reading project. Learn more about This Place through the 1BUW website, including links to videos of panel discussions and author presentations. 

This Place: 150 Years Retold Teacher Guide is a great resource for teachers wanting to get a jumpstart on planning for next year! Bring This Place into your classroom to introduce your students to the unique demographic, historical, and cultural legacy of Indigenous communities, and explore acts of sovereignty and resiliency. 


We can’t wait to see where your summer reading takes you!

Show us what you are reading by tagging us on social media:



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Audiobooks Roundup

Are you heading back to the office? Catch up on your summer reading list during your daily commute! Find the audiobooks below on our website, or through your favourite audiobook app. 

The Reckoner Trilogy

Strangers Monsters Ghosts

Author: David A. Robertson
Narrated by: Malcolm Sparrow-Crawford

Do you know a superhero fan looking for a great origin story? Narrated by Malcolm Sparrow-Crawford, The Reckoner Trilogy audiobooks will transport you to the community of Wounded Sky First Nation. Here Cole finds his home community in chaos: a series of shocking murders, a mysterious illness ravaging residents, and new questions about Cole’s role in the tragedy that drove him away a decade ago. Strangers, Monsters, and Ghosts are great audiobooks for teens that will bring hours of enjoyment. 

Cole Harper’s story continues this fall! As you wait for Breakdown, the first volume in The Reckoner Rises graphic novel series, listen to this audiobook trilogy to find out where it all began. 

Start listening now:
HighWater Press

The Gift Is in the Making

The Gift is in the Making

Author: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Narrated by: Tiffany Ayalik

An audiobook the whole family can enjoy! In The Gift Is in the Making, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson retells familiar Anishnaabeg stories for a new generation. Tiffany Ayalik’s narration will immerse you in a world where all genders are respected, the tiniest being has influence in the world, and unconditional love binds families and communities to each other and to their homeland. Recommended for ages 9 to 15 and laugh-out-loud funny, this would be a great audiobook for your family road trip!

Coming July 13, 2020
HighWater Press

The Evolution of Alice: Reissued Edition

The Evolution of Alice

Author: David A. Robertson
Narrated by: Andrew White-Martin and Olivia Lucas 

Revisit Alice’s story in the reissued edition of The Evolution of Alice. Featuring a new chapter by David A. Robertson and a foreword by Shelagh Rogers, this audiobook narrated by Andrew White-Martin and Olivia Lucas tells the kaleidoscopic story of one woman’s place within the web of community. The Evolution of Alice is the first novel by award-winning writer David A. Robertson, and was selected as the one book all Manitobans should read as winner of On The Same Page (2016). 

Listen to a sample now. 

Coming June 30, 2020.
Pre-order Now:
HighWater Press

Indigenous Writes

Indigenous Writes

Author: Chelsea Vowel
Narrated by: Brianne Tucker 

In Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada, Chelsea Vowel, legal scholar, teacher, and intellectual, opens an important dialogue about the wider social beliefs associated with the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. Brianne Tucker captures Vowel’s voice as she narrates these 31 essays that explore 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.

Coming August 1, 2020
HighWater Press

One Without the Other

One Without the Other

Written and Narrated by: Shelley Moore

Narrated by the passionate and dynamic Shelley Moore, One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion explores the changing landscape of inclusive education. Hear real stories from Shelley’s own classroom experiences with this new audiobook.

Coming Fall 2020
Portage & Main Press

Looking forward to more audiobooks? We are, too! Be the first to learn about our upcoming HWP Audio and PMP Audio releases. Sign up now for our newsletter and receive the latest news and updates right in your inbox:

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