Aambe is an Anishnaabe word that means “let’s go” or something very much like it. I traveled through 2021 with you, via books and along the way I became a new person. This project became a substack where I am still putting books into conversation with each other to see what they make me think and how their ideas continue to reshape me.
I am slowly editing and transcribing those conversations that we recorded in 2021 and you can listen to them as they get released. All the twitch streams are still available and linked below.
Years ago I was in a mailing list. Our shared interest was the music of the Christian musician Mark Heard, though we generally didn’t talk about his music. We had one conversation about Christmas and how the birth of Jesus was seen differently by Protestants and Catholics and several of us were having a hard time wrapping our heads around the difference in world view so one of the Catholic members suggested reading Catholic authors. Not theology, authors. And that was my first book themed new year’s resolution. For one year I read Catholic authors. I discovered Graham Green and Flannery O’Connor among so many others. And it made a difference.
Since then I’ve done it several times. I’ve read nothing but women. Focused on Black authors. Always looking for who is missing from my bookshelf and then being intentional and immersive and it has made a real difference.
So for 2021 I offered you a list of books. I posted it on Twitter and here it is for you. They are themed and in a kind of order, my hope is that by reading selections in this particular order the later books will take on more significance. This list was updated and changed as the year progressed, books taken off, books added. Particularly books by Black, queer, and disabled authors as I worked to remedy the gaps in my bookshelf.
We met monthly streaming on twitch which has a chat feature and a closed captioning extension to talk about that month’s theme. Each month had a small panel on each topic which often included at least one of the featured authors.
Books in bold are written by one of the panelists.
January 20th 7pm EST: Foundations
January panel: Daniel Heath Justice, the author of the Why Indigenous Literatures Matter; Janet Marie Rogers, poet and artist; Joy Henderson, an Afro-Indigenous writer and educator; Ishkenikeyaa Waawaashkesh, an Ansihnaabe activist and educator, Robin McBurney, a settler educator, and Neil Ellis Orts, a settler artist and perpetual student.
Please read Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice. This overview of a range of Indigenous lit is a good foundation and will set you up for the next 11 months.
This is also the time to pick up poetry. Find the works of Janet Marie Rogers, Tenille Campbell. Cheryl Savageau. Billy Rae Belcourt. Flip through them throughout the year and think about how poetry speaks in each of these months.
February 17 7pm EST: History
February panel: Authors Nick Estes, Cheryl Savageau, and Tiya Miles, will be joined by myself, Khadija Hammuda and Seán Carson.
We talked about:
- An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States – Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
- Our History is the Future – Nick Estes
- Heartbeat of Wounded Knee – David Treuer
- All Our Relations – Tanya Talaga
- The Ties that Bind: The story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom – Tiya Miles
- Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country – Tiya Miles
- Mother/land by Cheryl Savageau, particularly the piece “I wrote about Indians again today”
- Additional reading that is helpful, but not Indigenous, though clearly impacted by Indigenous perspectives and thinkers: 1491 by Charles C Mann and Property and Dispossession by Alan Greer.
March 17 7pm EDST: Stolen Treature: Memoirs
Panel participants: Authors Ernestine Hayes (Tao of Raven) and Demita Frazer (How We Get Free), join me and guests Jenessa Galenkamp
We talked about:
- Heart Berries, Terese Marie Mailhot
- How We get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective Edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
- Walking in My Own Moccasins, Helen Knott
- Up From the Ashes, Jesse Thistle
- The Tao of Raven, Ernestine Hayes
- One Native Life, Richard Wagamese
- A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliot
- Last Night on Earth, Bill T Jones
- A Touch of Innocence, Katherine Dunham
- Heavy, Kiese Laymon
- Native, Kaitlin Curtice
April 21 7pm EDST. We are Surrounded by Relatives
Panel participants: Authors Daniel Heath Justice and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, join me and guests Neil Ellis Orts, Celeste Smith, and Ben Krawec
- Braiding Sweetgrass and Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Badger by Daniel Heath Justice. You can pre order Racoon, also by Daniel, to be released June 2021. These two are part of a series by Reaktion Books about animals. Daniel brings an Indigenous lens to his contributions
- Undrowned: Black feminist lessons from marine mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumb
- The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.
May 19 7pm EDST. Refusing Patriarchy
Colonialism has given us a gender binary that simply did not exist in Indigenous communities. Although we understood gender, we also understood that it existed in ways that only seem complicated when you insist on a binary. People lived how they lived and they loved how they loved and the focus of Indigenous civilizations was concerned with being human, with being good relatives, with living together.
Many Indigenous languages don’t use gender the way European languages do. For example, in Anishnaabemowin words are animate or inanimate rather than male or female and there was no gender specific pronoun. Me, you, them.
Nevertheless, we live in a colonial world and in May our minds turn to mothers and so the books for this month consider what it means to live in this patriarchal world as a woman, a mother, a person who is not male.
May Panel: Nick Thixton, Author Taté Walker, Seán Carson, Robyn Bourgeois, and Angela Gray.
- Half breed. – Maria Campbell (get the new edition)
- Hood Feminism – Mikki Kendall
- Split Tooth – Tanya Tagaq
- The Beginning and End of Rape – Sarah Deere
- Reproductive Justice: The politics of healthcare for Native American Women – Barbara Gurr
- Fierce: Essays by and about dauntless women (Taté Walker contributor)
- A Two Spirit Journey: Ma-Nee Chacaby
June 16 7pm EDST. All we are is story: Finding our way home with Richard Wagamese ba.
Richard Wagamese ba is best known for Indian Horse but he wrote so much more than that. Raised in foster homes, his writing is about finding home and becoming himself.
Shelagh Rogers, Daniel Delgado, Raven Sinclair, Jenessa Galenkamp, and Dalton Walker joined me to talk about Finding home through the writings of Richard Wagamese.
We talked about Medicine Walk and Starlight, about For Joshua and One Native Life, Embers, and Him Standing. We talked about his essays and his life. It was a great conversation about the works and life of Richard Wagamese baa.
July 21 7pm EDST. Fiction to read on your vacation or under a tree.
There is so much fiction. Whatever genre you are interested in there is fiction. There is science fiction and horror, romance and historical fiction. There is basic drama and character driven story and sprawling geographies of time and space. I don’t read nearly enough fiction and we forget that so much of our story is contained and told in fiction. It doesn’t mean untrue, it’s simply another way of exploring history and possibility. So rather than bring together authors and readers to talk about specific books, I have brought together storytellers from different traditions.
Waubgeshig Rice is an Anishinaabe journalist and author. Janet Marie Rogers, who we have had on Ambe before, is a poet and storyteller and now a publisher as well. Sonia Sulaiman writes and tells Palestinian folktales. Kesha Christie tells African and Afro-Carribean stories. It was a great evening of storytelling and laughter.
September 22 7pm EDST. Graphic Novels
I don’t read nearly enough fiction. And what fiction I do read is rarely graphic in nature. I mean I used to read comic books. I grew up on Archie and Veronica, as an adult I read The Maxx for a while. And then I went on to more Serious Things eventually shedding fiction altogether and reading only non fiction.
There just seemed too much that I didn’t know and no time for things that weren’t real.
Boy is that a mistake and a flawed way of thinking because fiction is a way of examining the world that we live in. Or might live in. Or used to live in. It’s a way of picking it up and turning it this way and that, seeing how the light hits differently depending on where and how you hold it. Depending on who holds it. And this appears to be a lesson I need to learn again and again because clearly it did not take the first time I picked up Why Indigenous Literatures Matter and marveled at Daniel Heath Justice’s lessons about how fiction teaches us to be human.
I was joined by Jay Odjick, writer, artist and television producer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin Nation in Quebec, Lee Francis IV (Pueblo of Laguna) is the Head Indigenerd and CEO of Native Realities, the only Native and Indigenous pop culture company in the United States, Neil Ellis Orts, a writer and performer living in Houston, Texas, and Anrya Fouberta second year student of Anthropology at McMaster University with an interest in archaeology as well as a disability activist and member of the LGBTQ+ community.
We talked about:
The Outside Circle,
500 Years of Resistance,
Moonshot: the Indigenous Comics Collection,
A Girl Called Echo.
October 20 7pm EDST. Harvest time.
For a lot of people October means the the end of summer and the beginning of colder seasons. It means harvest and preparing for the long nights ahead. I realize that isn’t true in all climates but I am Anishinaabe and this is what it means for us. Our food is so much more than what we pick upin the grocery store. It is a web of relationships and responsibilities that have been significantly impacted and at times curtailed by settler colonialism.
This discussion, with Dr. Jonathan Ferrier, Mayam Garris, Ben Krawec, and Ziya Tong considers this in the context of two books. We talked about:
Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People
Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States
November 17 7pm EST. What is it to be Indigenous.
Native American DNA
Seven Fallen Feathers
The Ties That Bind (Afro Indigenous)
How We Go Home
December 15 7pm EST. Sovereignty: A new beginning.
This has been postponed. I promise I’m going to get to it because a conversation with Daniel Heath Justice, Celest Pedri-Spade, A H Rheume, and Janessa Galenkamp about Indigenous sovereignty is too good not to have.
Unsettling Canada/Reconciliation Manifesto
God is Red