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BookNet Staff Picks 2021 - Reads by or about Indigenous peoples

By (author): Jordan Abel
Jordan Abel


McClelland & Stewart



Product Form:



General Trade
May 18, 2021
$32.95 CAD


8.91in x 7.39 x 0.93 in | 1.45 lb

Page Count:

288 pages


McClelland & Stewart
BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Cultural, Ethnic & Regional / Indigenous
WINNER of the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize at the 2022 BC and Yukon Book Prizes

From Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel comes a groundbreaking, deeply personal, and devastating autobiographical meditation that attempts to address the complicated legacies of Canada’s residential school system and contemporary Indigenous existence.

As a Nisga’a writer, Jordan Abel often finds himself in a position where he is asked to explain his relationship to Nisga’a language, Nisga’a community, and Nisga’a cultural knowledge. However, as an intergenerational survivor of residential school—both of his grandparents attended the same residential school—his relationship to his own Indigenous identity is complicated to say the least.

NISHGA explores those complications and is invested in understanding how the colonial violence originating at the Coqualeetza Indian Residential School impacted his grandparents’ generation, then his father’s generation, and ultimately his own. The project is rooted in a desire to illuminate the realities of intergenerational survivors of residential school, but sheds light on Indigenous experiences that may not seem to be immediately (or inherently) Indigenous.

Drawing on autobiography and a series of interconnected documents (including pieces of memoir, transcriptions of talks, and photography), NISHGA is a book about confronting difficult truths and it is about how both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples engage with a history of colonial violence that is quite often rendered invisible.

    AUDIENCE: For readers of Terese Marie Mailhot, Alicia Elliott, Thomas King, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Tommy Orange, David Chariandy, and Teju Cole.


Jordan Abel is a queer Nisga’a writer from Vancouver. He is the author of The Place of Scraps (winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Un/inhabited, and Injun (winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize). NISHGA was the winner of the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize and the VMI Betsy Warland Between Genres award, and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction, and the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. Abel’s work has been published in numerous journals and magazines—including Canadian Literature, The Capilano Review, and The Fiddlehead—and his work has been anthologized widely, including The Broadview Introduction to Literature. Abel completed a Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University in 2019, and is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta where he teaches Indigenous Literatures, Research-Creation, and Creative Writing.

Author Residence: Edmonton

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“With NISHGA, Jordan Abel has reinvented the memoir, incorporating personal anecdotes, archival footage, legal documentation, photos and concrete poetry to create an unforgettable portrait of an Indigenous artist trying to find his place in a world that insists Indigeneity can only ever be the things that he is not. Abel deftly shows us the devastating impact this gate-keeping has had on those who, through no decisions of their own, have been ripped from our communities and forced to claw their way back home, or to a semblance of home, often unassisted. This is a brave, vulnerable, brilliant work that will change the face of nonfiction, as well as the conversations around what constitutes Indigenous identity. It's a work I will return to again and again.” —Alicia Elliott, author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

“In NISHGA, Jordan Abel puts to use the documentary impulse that has already established him as an artist of inimitable methodological flair. By way of a mixture of testimonial vignettes, recordings of academic talks, found text/art, and visual art/concrete poetry, Abel sculpts a narrative of dislocation and self-examination that pressurizes received notions of “Canada” and “history” and “art” and “literature” and “belonging” and “forgiveness.” Yes, it is a book of that magnitude, of that enormity and power. By its Afterword, NISHGA adds up to a work of personal and national reckoning that is by turns heartbreaking and scathing.” —Billy-Ray Belcourt, author of NDN Coping Mechanisms and A History of My Brief Body

"This is a heartshattering read, and will also be a blanket for others looking for home. NISHGA is a work of absolute courage and vulnerability. I am in complete awe of the sorrow here and the bravery. Mahsi cho, Jordan.” —Richard Van Camp, author of Moccasin Square Gardens

“Jordan Abel digs deeply into the questions we should all be asking. Questions that need no explanation but ones that require us to crawl back into our bones, back into the marrow of our understanding. NISHGA is a ceremony where we need to be silent. Where we need to listen.” —Gregory Scofield, author of Witness, I Am

is a book that cascades across borders, genres, temporalities, and oralities. This book wounded me, but in a way that I felt seen and held. Here is a book, by which I mean a body of text, blown righteous with holes from behind which dispossessed and disenfranchised Indigenous historicities peek. This book is a masterpiece and a text direly needed for those in conversations of: reconciliation and decolonization, literature and literary practices, Indigeneity and its ability for survivability (or what you may call our 'resilience')—see here the embodied horror of the revenant that is Canadian legacy and the exhaustive work one undertakes to animate language as NISHGA." —Joshua Whitehead, author of Jonny Appleseed and full-metal indigiqueer

"NISHGA is a book of profound artistic, philosophic, and emotional power. Reading it, I was taught, heart-moved, and deeply humbled." —David Chariandy, author of Brother and I've Been Meaning to Tell You

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