Books for Teaching Sustainability, Ecology, and the Environment in BC Classrooms

Sustainability is more than a trend; it’s the initiative our world depends on. As our world reels from climate change, our mission must be to place environmentalism at the heart of our culture. Educators like you have the unique opportunity to engender young people with the desire to live sustainably.

With that goal in mind, we have a lot to learn about sustainability from Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Grizzly Mother, part of the Mothers of Xsan series, and the Hands-On Science for British Columbia classroom resources make these lessons accessible.

How The Grizzly Mother Teaches Kids About Sustainability

The Grizzly Mother, written by Gitxsan author Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)  and illustrated by Métis artist Natasha Donovan, is the second book in the Mothers of Xsan series. The book was released September 1, 2019.

The book follows a family of grizzly bears along the Xsan, or the “River of Mists.” The life-giving River of Mists is the heart of the Gitxsan Nation, an unceded territory in the Northwest Interior of British Columbia. 

Through Huson’s poetic language and Donovan’s captivating full-colour artwork, readers learn about the ecosystem that binds the rivers, forests, and people together—and how the bears’ survival hangs in the balance.

The story builds beautifully on the first book in the series, The Sockeye Mother, which introduces readers to the life cycle of the sockeye salmon, the grizzlies’ primary food source.

The third book in the trilogy, The Eagle Mother, is coming soon. You can start your collection by ordering your copy of The Sockeye Mother today.

Teaching Sustainability with Hands-On Science for British Columbia

The books in the Mothers of Xsan series are a great introduction to the bridge between sustainability and Indigenous knowledge, but these quick reads only scratch the surface. For more comprehensive lessons on sustainability, the Hands-On Science for British Columbia series goes even deeper.

The series is split into eight modules for each multi-age grade level, each aligned with the new BC science curriculum and grounded in the Know-Do-Understand model. The content of all eight modules integrate First Peoples’ knowledge and perspectives, along with in-class activities and assessment tools.

The four modules for K-2 are Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2, Living Things for Grades K-2, Properties of Energy for Grades K-2, and Properties of Matter for Grades K-2. Each module contributes to an overall understanding of sustainability by exploring the core Big Ideas within each book.

Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2 focuses on the observable patterns and cycles in the sky and landscape. Students learn how daily and seasonal changes affect all living things, and how water is essential to all of them.

Living Things for Grades K-2 teaches kids to identify plants and animals while thinking about how their characteristics help them survive in their environment. Students learn about ecology with themes like adaptation and the life cycles of living things.

Properties of Energy for Grades K-2 gets kids thinking more about the role that energy plays in our lives as well as in the natural world. Students learn how forces influence motion, how an object’s motion depends on its properties, and how light and sound can be both produced and changed.

Finally, Properties of Matter for Grades K-2 explains what matter is and how it’s central to everything we do. Students learn how and why matter is useful. Hands-on activities illustrate how physical and chemical processes can change different types of matter.

With comprehensive content that helps students understand their world, you’re better equipped to guide discussions on how it can be changed for the better. These topics segue easily into questions like:

  • Why is pollution dangerous?
  • Why do we need bees and other pollinators?
  • What is ‘clean energy,’ and why is it important?
  • What happens to all the plastic from the grocery store?

Each of these modules has the power to engage young learners with the biggest challenge our world is facing today. 

The Hands-On Science for British Columbia modules for kindergarten to grade two are available now. All four modules for grades three to five are now available for pre-order, and Living Things for Grades 3-5 will be ready to add to your bookshelf on September 16.


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Authentic Indigenous Content for Middle Years and High School Classrooms

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

If you’re looking to incorporate more great literature from Indigenous authors into your classroom, this list is for you. These stories make great reads for older students with powerful touch points for learning.

Books for Bringing Indigenous Perspectives into the Classroom

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.

Surviving the City

High school is tough enough. On top of class work, best friends Miikwan and Dez must also struggle with grief for missing family members and the threat of being placed in a group home. When Dez doesn’t come home one night, Miikwan is distraught. Both girls must lean on their communities and the spirits of their ancestors to watch over them.

Surviving the City deals with the prejudicial treatment experienced by Indigenous teens. This eye-opening graphic novel is written by Tasha Spillett with captivating artwork by Natasha Donovan. 

Will Dez make it home? Find out by ordering your copy here.

The Reckoner Trilogy

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. 

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

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.

Perception: A Photo Series

After a racist, high-profile tweet 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.

A Girl Called Echo series

Thirteen-year-old Echo Desjardins is adjusting to her new reality; separated from her mother, living in a new home, and navigating the first few days of middle school. Her reality is hard enough—until she’s suddenly transported back 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. 

The first two graphic novels in the series, Pemmican Wars and Red River Resistance, are available for purchase on the HighWater Press website. The third volume, Northwest Resistance, is slated for release in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

This Place: 150 Years Retold

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 peoples. Through the anthology’s 10 beautifully illustrated stories, young 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

Recommended Teacher Resources

It can be daunting to communicate the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in the classroom. To better understand these perspectives before you approach them with your students, we recommend adding Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony by Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, as well as Truth & Reconciliation in Canadian Schools by Pamela Rose Toulouse to your own reading list.

We also recommend Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation for actionable guidance on creating an inclusive, supportive learning environment. The book focuses on developing a classroom that accommodates your students’ mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Read more about these fantastic resources here, along with some of our recent titles for early years learners.

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Authentic Indigenous Content for Early Years Classrooms

As you prepare for another school year, curriculums across Canada are changing to include thoughtful, high-quality Indigenous content. This is a critical shift in Canadian culture, in which you—as an educator—have the power to spark important discussions about where we’ve come from, and where our future may lead.

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 Ideas into the Classroom

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

Mothers of Xsan Series

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 first book, The Sockeye Mother, follows a sockeye salmon fry from its nursing waters, to the Pacific ocean, and back. The second book, The Grizzly Mother, has readers joining a mother grizzly and her cubs as they journey through the Gitxsan territories. Both are available on the HighWater Press website.

Look out for the third book, The Eagle Mother, coming in 2020.

Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock

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 the Cree terms that describe her world.

Written by Dallas Hunt and illustrated by Amanda Strong, this charming book uses traditional Indigenous methods of storytelling to help kids practise common Cree words. It also includes a recipe for kôhkum’s world-famous bannock!

Available for purchase on the HighWater Press website.

Nimoshom and His Bus

Nimoshom loves driving the bus for the school children in his rural community. This accessible children’s story brings kids aboard Nimoshom’s bus to learn basic Cree words.

Written by Penny M. Thomas with beautiful watercolour illustrations by Karen Hibbard, kids from all backgrounds will fall in love with Nimoshom. You can purchase Nimoshom and His Bus on the HighWater Press website.

Early-years learners 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.

Resources for Teachers

In many ways, the methods of teaching are just as important as the content being taught. These resources can help engaged teachers create inclusive learning environments for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony

In 1884, the Canadian Government passed a law to ban the potlatch, the foundational ceremony of the Haida people. However, the ceremony—which was a time to share stories, knowledge, and resources—was too important for Haida Elders to let it die. The potlatch lived on through generations of oral tradition.

Author and educator Sara Florence Davidson grew up learning Haida traditions from her father, Robert Davidson. While Potlatch as Pedagogy isn’t a licence to borrow Haida traditions, it is a robust framework for holistic learning. The book offers an approach to contemporary education that focuses on the relationship between teacher and student.

Order your copy on the Portage & Main Press website.

Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation

We want our schools to be places where students feel safe, capable, and supported in their pursuit of learning. The reality, for many students, looks very different. Ensouling Our Schools author Dr. Jennifer Katz believes educators can change our approach to education to foster better outcomes for students. To get there, teachers need the tools to understand and talk about mental health, identity, and diversity.

With an approach that focuses on accommodating differences, Ensouling Our Schools is a roadmap to reconciliation and well-being in our schools. 

You can purchase a copy on the Portage & Main Press website.

Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued their final report, they included 94 Calls to Action. These action items are necessary for healing the wounds left by Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. In Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools, author Pamela Rose Toulouse asserts that educators have a unique opportunity to take part in this healing process.

With lesson plans for all grade levels, Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools is an accessible book for incorporating the TRC’s Calls to Action into school curriculums. Each lesson contains background information, strategies, and step-by-step plans for restorative learning. 

You can purchase a softcover copy or download the ebook on the Portage and Main Press website.


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Here’s Your Reading List for Labour Day Weekend

The dog days of summer have begun, and the fall term is just around the corner. We can hardly believe it either!

With a few weeks left before you meet the new faces of the 2019-2020 school year, there are just days to go to prepare your materials. While there’s undoubtedly a long list of supplies to get ready, your mindset is the most important one.

This Labour Day weekend, get ready for another amazing year with these weekend reads—each with takeaways you can bring with you to class.

1. Catch a Fire
Fuelling Inquiry and Passion Through Project-Based Learning

Hot off the presses, Catch a Fire is a new and enlightening look at the transformative power of project-based learning. In each chapter, contributors to the book offer insights into how project-based models benefit learners. The book is packed with intriguing and useful information for educators, and yet it’s a quick and engaging read. Perfect for reading on the patio the weekend before fall term begins.


2. Perception
A Photo Series

What began as an independent project by artist KC Adams has evolved into a powerful achievement of social action. Perception is an arresting collection of portraits that challenge readers to “look, then look again” at the stereotypes that Canada’s Indigenous people live with. First displayed on billboards, bus shelters, storefronts, and projected onto buildings in downtown Winnipeg, the collection is now available in book form.


3. One Without the Other
Stories of Unity through Diversity and Inclusion

As an educator herself, author Shelley Moore understands the challenges of working in diverse classrooms. One Without the Other explores the philosophies and practises behind creating a truly inclusive learning environment. A master storyteller, Moore uses her witty and empathetic voice to share and build on her experiences with learners of all needs and abilities.


5. This Place
150 Years Retold

You don’t have to be a comic book fan to get swept up in this graphic novel anthology. This Place is a journey through time that combines Indigenous retellings of history with stunning full-colour artwork. Don’t be surprised if this engrossing anthology sparks new ways of teaching Indigenous history to your students.



4. Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools

A must-read for educators seeking to enrich their classroom content with progressive, respectful Indigenous education. In Truth and Reconciliation, author Pamela Rose Toulouse puts relationship-building and reconciliatory action front-and-centre. This book is a complete framework for leading conversations with students about Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations.

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

Among other things, the long history of genocide, racism, and inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has caused a vast chasm of misunderstanding. In this bold, clear, and refreshingly accessible read, Indigenous Writes dismantles some of the most harmful myths about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. If you’re a non-Indigenous reader, prepare to find answers to questions you may never have known to ask.


6. Ensouling Our Schools
A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation

Stress, marginalization, and isolation are real impediments to learning. In Ensouling Our Schools, author Jennifer Katz offers teachers the tools to support students’ mental, emotional, and spiritual health in the classroom. Contributor Kevin Lamoureux adds an Indigenous perspective on adapting this approach to address the TRC Call to Action.


7. Potlatch as Pedagogy
Learning Through Ceremony

The potlatch, the foundational ceremony of the Haida people, is a tradition that has lived on in spite of the odds. Banned by the Canadian government in 1884, the survival of the potlatch is a testament to the resilience of the Haida people. Author Sara Florence Davidson lists her late father, Robert Davidson, as the co-author of Potlatch as Pedagogy as the book explores how the traditions he passed to her can find a place in contemporary classrooms.

While summer may be on its way out, the incoming school year may be your best yet. May the stories and lessons within these inspiring titles stay with you all year long.

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8 Takeaways on Project-Based Learning from Catch a Fire

While project-based learning, or PBL, isn’t exactly a new concept in education, it also isn’t mainstream. Catch a Fire: Fuelling Inquiry and Passion Through Project-Based Learning, is a collection of insights edited by Matt Henderson. The book combines the perspectives of fourteen educators on the power of PBL. In every chapter, each writer presents a new angle on PBL—from the ways it can accommodate different learning styles to success stories. Here are eight intriguing takeaways for educators from Catch a Fire.

1. PBL can improve outcomes for students who struggle with traditional models.

The success of a PBL teaching model isn’t based on the method itself. It’s about how teachers can combine relationship-building, inclusivity, and engaging work. The frameworks at play in PBL are conducive to these experiences, but it still takes good teachers to drive results.

“All learners deserve the opportunity to be in the most engaging learning environment as possible,” says Catch a Fire’s editor, Matt Henderson. “As educators, it is our responsibility and obligation to include all learners and to ensure that we have high expectations for all learners. Good teaching, whether PBL or not, includes all learners. Good teaching allows all learners to see themselves within that community. Good teaching allows learners to have voice, to exercise agency, and to feel what they are doing has a purpose.”

2. The key strength of the PBL model is the relationship between student and educator.

In the essay “How Does Project-Based Learning Allow for the Development of the Whole Student?”, Bonnie Powers and Tom Lake describe the experience of a student named Julia. Julia transitioned from a traditional classroom setting to a PBL-modelled learning environment. The PBL approach, and the support of great teachers, motivated her to do amazing things.  

“Julia’s story is compelling because it reveals how critical the relationship between learner and mentor is, and how powerful learning is generated through passion, interest, and relevance,” says Henderson. 

3. An adjustment period between traditional teaching models and PBL is to be expected.

Julia’s story also draws attention to the challenges of being a PBL student coming from a non-PBL school. In the PBL environment, Julia is in control of the direction of her learning outcomes. This is challenging at first, as Julia finds this structure disorienting. With the support of her teachers, Julia succeeds when she’s able to pursue her talents and interests.

“Her story is less about the transition from a traditional school to a project-based school, and more of a testament to the transition from an environment where school was done to her to an environment that was loving, enriching, challenging, and about her,” says Henderson. “This speaks to the difference between schooling and education. One is a system and the other is a relational process of transformation.”

4. Traditional classrooms prepare students for tests, but PBL prepares them for life.

As students graduate, standardized tests become a distant memory. Relationship-building, problem-solving, and coordination become skills paramount to success. PBL allows students to build these skills before they launch into independent living.

“Properly conceived, PBL allows learners to do adult work,” says Henderson. “In helping to create this book, a bunch of us came together to develop a final product that we thought helped solve a problem. We collaborated, we researched, we thought, we wrote, we came together and created something that was authentic and created meaning for us. This is what experiential education and PBL can do. It can allow for learners to engage in deep inquiry that has purpose and meaning.”

5. Engaged educators make the difference.

Effective education isn’t a formula. Henderson says a teacher’s effectiveness relies on the “bring it” factor.

“Poorly designed projects can be just as oppressive or disengaging as any other methodology,” he says. “What is critical in any teaching is that educators fundamentally love kids, that they are passionate about what they are teaching, and that they have the “bring it” factor. That is, that they come to their learning community each and every day ready to bring it—to blow the minds of their learners, to cause disequilibrium, and to channel the inherent curiosity that exists in all our learners.”

6. PBL is a great tool, but not a fail-safe.

In the same way that no textbook has a 100% success rate at teaching a concept, PBL is not a foolproof method. While it’s a powerful framework for diverse student groups, it’s not a cure-all. High-quality supplementary materials and awesome teaching are vital for great results.

“I think another major misconception about PBL is that it is better than direct instruction or other modes of teaching,” says Henderson. “This is absolutely not the case. In my practice, good PBL involves direct instruction. It needs lectures. It needs essay writing. It needs novel study. It needs field experience. It needs research in libraries and archives. It needs mentorship, experts, effective assessment, and everything else required for excellent teaching and learning. There can be a tendency to create false dichotomies in teaching, but good teaching equates to expertise, passion, relationships, and bringing it every day.”

7. Projects allow kids to do their work, not “our” work, and the results can be incredible.

Sometimes, you need to witness a group of kids united in a shared mission to appreciate the power of projects. Henderson had such an opportunity while working with a group of local youth to develop CKUW’s Radio Camp. This was one of his first teaching experiences, and a pivotal moment in his understanding of PBL.

“Given my inexperience with kids and with formal teaching, I really had no expectations. But what transpired was amazing,” he says. “Through the practice of making radio on a daily basis, these incredible kids were able to tell their stories, work side-by-side with caring and passionate adults, and develop their literacy skills for a real audience. I was blown away by how much we all learned. I was struck by how when young people are allowed to do their work, not our work, they are able to go deep into relevant content, develop incredible literacy skills, and fundamentally become transformed. And all of this learning was predicated on relationships.”

8. There’s no limit to what can be achieved with engaged students and educators.

Projects are collaborative by nature. When students and teachers come together, they can build anything—even another school.

“Three years ago, 60 learners and five adults came together to start the Maples Met School,” Matt recalls fondly. “The kids were given the opportunity to make their own school. While the educators set high expectations, the kids found their internships and mentors, they designed their projects, they planned their field experience, and set the tone for their learning community. The connections we have as a school community are deep and allow for rich learning. Everyone knows we have each other’s backs, but we also expect the best from each other. This was the ultimate student-driven project.”

Get more ideas for using PBL in your classroom – order Catch a Fire today.


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How “The Reckoner” trilogy contributes to TRC

The Reckoner: Even in Fiction, There Is Truth!

If you haven’t been following Indigenous teen superhero Cole Harper’s adventures in Wounded Sky First Nation, now is the time to catch up. The third book in David A. Robertson’s The Reckoner trilogy, “Ghosts”, is finally here—and fans will finally learn the fate of Cole’s community. While the books are fun and riveting to read, the series also invites readers into some very real topics. We spoke to David about the series, portraying mental illness, and what the series could mean for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

You mention in the acknowledgments of Strangers that the stories were really born ten years ago, while discussing stories with a friend. What were the stories you discussed that compelled you to produce The Reckoner trilogy?

Originally, The Reckoner was envisioned as a television show. A friend of mine, Jeff Ryzner, and I were discussing TV: what worked in shows we loved, what didn’t. And from that conversation, the concept of The Reckoner was born. It was really a product of influences. I think those influences are reflected, even today, in the tone of the series. Shows like Lost, X-Files, the kind of claustrophobic mystery that The Reckoner can be at times. You know, what would happen if all these terrible things were taking place in a remote community, where there was nowhere to run? Of course, over time, the series became so much more than that, but that feel is still there. Now it’s about relationships, about contemporary issues that First Nations people face, about representation, etc.

Why was it important to you to create a protagonist, Cole Harper, who struggles with the effects of trauma?

I wanted Cole Harper to be authentic. I wanted him to be an authentic representation of a Cree teenager who had become detached from his community, and what would happen if he had to return, and I wanted him to be an authentic representation of somebody living with anxiety. We don’t have a lot of protagonists who live with a mental illness, and I wanted him to be somebody that readers of all ages could relate to, people who are going through what he is going through. I think it’s empowering to know other people are living with mental health issues, whether they are real or fiction. If the representation is real, that’s what matters. Because I live with it, I could write from a place of truth. And the whole idea of Cole being a superhero, accepting that he can be a superhero, that he can be strong, even with this perceived weakness, was very important to me.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report illustrates how “reconciliation” means something different to everyone, but many contributors agree that reconciliation must be preceded by a time of healing and learning to decolonize. Do you believe that the Reckoner trilogy plays a role in this process, and if so, how do you hope it can impact the lives of Indigenous readers?

Sure I do. We need more stories like The Reckoner, because even in fiction there are important truths. If we read between the lines, this series addresses a lot. It has a lot to teach. It’s not for me to say what I want people to learn from it, but it’s there. You know, reconciliation is all about connecting with each other at a human level, through a lens of truth and respect, to listen and learn from each other, and to shove all the preconceptions and stereotypes aside. Books can facilitate that process very effectively. Maybe more effectively than anything else.

Did you receive any meaningful feedback from readers of the first two books in the series that stayed with you through the creation of Ghosts?

Mostly, it’s kids and adults who are living with mental health issues. And reading Cole and what he goes through, and listening to me talk about what I go through and have gone through, has helped them. This series has become a series that is at its most effective in the area of mental health awareness, and I’m proud of that. The theme of
Ghosts is really Cole accepting his anxiety as a part of who he is, and a part of what makes him a hero. That’s an important message.

Where there any scenes in Strangers, Monsters, or Ghosts that felt especially challenging to capture?

I think any scene that requires a significant emotional investment is challenging. Where you have to put a lot of yourself in it, and go places that will take something out of you. This book required a lot of that, but at the same time, it was cathartic. It’s healing to share, and I found that to be true. But, you know, writing about Cole having a panic attack can be anxiety inducing. But writing about Cole going through coping mechanisms reminds you of things you need to be doing in your own anxiety journey. 

And in terms of the subtext of some of the story, the contemporary or historical issues that The Reckoner addresses, like experimentation on kids, that can be hard, because you know it’s happened in the past, and you want to be respectful and do it in a subtle but appropriate way, with the right tone and message. So, yeah, all of that was pretty challenging. 

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Look, Then Look Again: Remarks on KC Adams’ Perception: A Photo Series

Art has always been a catalyst for social change. It’s one thing to bring awareness to a cause, or appeal for a change to the word of law. It’s quite another to use an artistic medium to dismantle harmful, pervasive stereotypes. In KC AdamsPerception: A Photo Series, she asks her audience to question their own prejudices with a simple, but revolutionary, request – look, then look again, at Indigenous faces. 

“Adams’ photo-based series Perception challenges racist stereotypes and remedies the aftershocks of colonization and its continuous and present hold on contemporary Canadian society,” writes Cathy Matthes in “The Perception Series: KC Adams, and the Value of Socially Engaged Art”, a critical essay included in the book.

In 2014, Adams came upon a viral Facebook post that had surfaced during the Winnipeg mayoral election. The racist post had been written by the wife of a mayoral candidate in 2010, but Adams knew the stereotype-laden tirade was no relic of the past. This was the inspiration behind the earliest shots in the series, which Adams debuted that August. Sadly, the series debut was shrouded in tragedy.

“I posted the images on August 18 at 12:01 a.m. because I was so excited to get this artwork out to the public,” Adams writes in the book’s preface. “Sadly, I found out later that day that the Winnipeg police had pulled two bodies out of the river the day before.”

One of the bodies belonged to Faron Hall, an Anishinaabe man who had saved two people from drowning in the same river that carried him away as he washed himself. The other belonged to Tina Fontaine, the murdered 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation who went on to become the emblematic face of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. It was a dark time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Winnipeg, but the right time for Adams’s images to enter the public conversation.

“One strength of this work is that it doesn’t point fingers at people—it emphasizes the injustice towards the original people of this land,” Adams continues, “The lack of confrontation allows viewers to react and ponder their own prejudices.”

Each subject of the series was photographed as they offered a genuine reaction to familiar, hurtful comments and labels. They were then asked to clear their mind before Adams captured them a second time. In the second set of images, Adams worked with her subjects to represent them as they wished to be seen.

“People from all walks of life volunteered to be photographed, including students, youth workers, singers, philanthropists, award-winning journalists, and community leaders,” Matthes writes. 

Among the subjects of Perception was Katherena Vermette, a Métis author, educator, and Governor General Literary Award Winner.

“I forget the exact words she used as she directed me, but it was something about remembering a time I was made to feel worthless, less than…a time when I felt like I didn’t belong or was unwanted,” writes Vermette in the book’s foreword. Vermette was then asked to recall an intimate moment she shared with her husband. “That’s what you see in my pictures—sadness, smallness, and wanting to retreat, and then joy, love, and pure relief. Both are true, and both are only parts of the greater whole.”

As more people participated in the project, Adams was contacted by Winnipeg’s Urban Shaman Gallery to help her adapt her series to reach a wider audience. The images were displayed on posters, billboards, and bus benches from March to June 2015. In 2016, the campaign was replicated in Lethbridge, Alberta. Finally, the collection has found a permanent home in print.

Readers viewing the series for the first time can expect to be confronted by arresting portraits, each accompanied by the subjects’ self-descriptions which Matthes describes as “..revealing, humanizing, and, at times, cheeky and humorous.” 

From the moment you see Adams’ own self-portrait on the front of the hardcover, Perception is bound to provoke thought, heartache, and even a few smiles. Above all, however, it should provoke self-reflection. In Matthes’ words; “working in a collaboratively, culturally grounded way, Adams reminds us that it is important that we all ‘look again’ before making up our minds.”

You can order Perception: A Photo Series now.

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Richard Van Camp on Honouring Frank T’Seleie

Richard Van Camp is the author of “Like a Razor Slash,” a story in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. The story features illustrations by Scott B. Henderson and colour art by Scott A. Ford. In his author statement below, Richard explores how the events of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline served as inspiration for the #IdleNoMore movement, and shares the experience of writing about one of his heroes. 

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I was three years old when Chief Frank T’Seleie delivered one of the most important testimonies of our time in Fort Good Hope, NWT, defending the North against the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. You can watch the entire speech online and feel the tension grow in the room.[1] 

I wanted to use this chapter to highlight Mr.T’Seleie speech, but also to honour Justice Thomas Berger for his commitment to listening to almost 1,000 testimonies. He visited 35 communities along the Mackenzie River as well as other cities across Canada. This was three years of his life: listening, writing, deciding. 

I feel that The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline laid the groundwork for the IdleNoMore movement and the strong activism we see against corporations and pipelines to this day. This is when we used our voice to let Canada know that we would continue to proclaim our need for self-determination. 

I feel that Mr. T’Seleie’s speech is one of the finest speeches ever crafted. His words are eternal. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to call Mr. T’Seleie in his home several times as I wrote this. I was sad to learn that he, his mother, and his great aunt all went to Residential School. I decided to open this story by honouring Mr. T’Seleie as a young boy. 

Mahsi cho to everyone involved with this project. It’s not every day that you get to call one of your heroes and ask the questions that you’ve always wanted to.

Thank you. Mahsi cho.

– Richard Van Camp


[1] CBC Digital Archives. “Dene Chief: ‘My Nation Will Stop the Pipeline.’” Video. CBC Television News Broadcast, August 5, 1975, Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories. (also available as “Dene Chief Frank T’Seleie – Mackenzie Valley pipeline/Gas Project in 1975”.)  

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Interested in learning more about the events that inspired “Like a Razor Slash”? Watch Fort Good Hope, a short documentary film shot during the Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. 

Ready to read “Like a Razor Slash” for yourself?  Order your copy of This Place: 150 Years Retold today.

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Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. 

Featuring Stories By: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel

Illustrated By: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm

Colour By: Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk


This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada. 


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Jen Storm on Windigos and a Way of Life that Changed Forever 

Jen Storm is the author of “Red Clouds,” a story in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold. The story features illustrations and colour art by Natasha Donovan. In her author statement below,  Jen delves into the inspiration behind “Red Clouds” and shares what was important in writing from a woman’s perspective.

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In the early 20th century, the Indigenous peoples of northwestern Ontario were starving. The fur trade era was coming to a close, and animals had become scarce through over-hunting. During this time, there were notable instances of people becoming delirious and resorting to cannibalism. Indigenous communities took this offence very seriously and had their own laws to deal with it. 

In writing this story, I relied heavily on the oral histories, trial transcripts, and other information in the excellent book Killing the Shamen, by Thomas Fiddler and James R. Stevens. It was important to me to write this from a woman’s perspective, as it granted me the opportunity to tell a story without retelling the one already written.

Page from “Red Clouds” illustrated by Natasha Donovan.

Wahsakapeequay is the name of a real woman who was killed by her community’s leader, Jack Fiddler, when she became delirious. However, she never ate human flesh. Little is known about her life. In this story, the character is a fictionalized composite of Wahsakapeequay, Kichi Kakapetikwe, and a number of other windigo accounts told by Fiddler’s descendants. The police charged Fiddler and his brother with murder upon hearing of the medicine man who had killed 14 windigos. 

This is the story not just of a windigo, but also of a way of life that changed forever.

– Jen Storm


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Want to find out more about the story behind “Red Clouds”? Learn about the life and trial of Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow [Jack Fiddler] in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Ready to read “Red Clouds” for yourself?  Pre-order This Place: 150 Years Retold today.

* * * * *

Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. 

Featuring Stories By: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and Chelsea Vowel

Illustrated By: Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, and Jen Storm

Colour By: Scott A. Ford and Donovan Yaciuk


This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada. 


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New Books for BC Classrooms

Now that the weather is getting warmer, the school year is drawing to a close. For students, that means summer vacation is just a few sleeps away. For teachers, it’s almost time to plan for another year.

These new and upcoming titles are perfect additions for BC classroom bookshelves and will help you incorporate Indigenous perspectives in your lessons.

Mothers of Xsan series from HighWater Press

The Mothers of Xsan series uses a story-based approach to guide kids through concepts in the natural world. These books are a great choice to support science curriculums up to Grade 5 .

The Gitxsan culture relies on the life cycles of native plants and animals. The Mothers of Xsan series offers young readers a closer look at these ecosystems with storytelling by Gitxsan creator Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson) and colour illustrations by Vancouver artist Natasha Donovan.

The Sockeye Mother is the first book in the series, released in 2017. The story follows the life cycle of the sockeye salmon, a traditional food and trade staple of the Gitxsan people. Students will learn about the delicate balance of the natural world.

Young readers will enjoy story-based exploration of concepts in the natural world while learning both scientific terms and words in Gitxsan language. The Sockeye Mother was awarded the 2018 Science Writers and Communicators of Canada book award in the Youth Category.

If you enjoyed the storytelling style in The Sockeye Mother, you can add to your collection with the second book of the Mothers of Xsan series, The Grizzly Mother, coming this September. The Grizzly Mother will capture young imaginations as they embark with a family of grizzlies through the land and forests along the Skeena River. The story uses beautiful language and artwork to show how a mother grizzly teaches her cubs how to survive on their own.

The third book in the series, The Eagle Mother, is expected for release in 2020.

Hands-on Science: An Inquiry Approach from Portage & Main Press

Developed specifically for BC’s New Curriculum, Hands-on Science and Technology: An Inquiry Approach is a resource for kindergarten to grade 2 classrooms. The four volumes in the series are Living Things for Grades K-2, Properties of Matter for Grades K-2, Properties of Energy for Grades K-2, and Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2.

The revised BC science curriculum is the province’s most progressive yet. Learning objectives will focus on Core Competencies like Critical Thinking and Communication. It also calls for the inclusion of First Peoples knowledge and perspectives.

The Hands-On Science: An Inquiry Approach series is tailor-made for BC science teachers. These learning resources use a student-driven scientific inquiry approach based on the Know, Do, Understand model.

Each book uses a multi-age approach geared toward kindergarten to grade two learners.

The multi-age bands presented in Hands-On Science support the diversity inherent in both single grade and multi-grade classrooms, as they centre each of the modules around overarching questions, Big Ideas, Curricular Competencies, and Core Competencies. — Faye Brownlie, staff development consultant, author

The content in each chapter helps students digest Big Ideas while practising the curricular competencies they need to meet provincial learning standards. The books also include a comprehensive assessment plan to help teachers and students reflect on the learning.

These titles make great tools for a well-rounded science program, while honouring BC’s ethnic diversity. With these books in your classroom, kids can build a stronger connection to the world around them.

Early years educators can purchase their copies today from the Portage & Main Press website. The grades 3–5 modules will be released starting this fall!

Follow us on social media for more information on new releases!

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