Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Diversity Rocks -- Native Peoples

Every child should be able to find him or herself in books. We're doing better, but we're not there yet. Not anywhere near there.

Today I share two books that will hold up a mirror for Native American children. One that acknowledges the pain of the past, and one that is full of hope for the future.

Shin-chi's Canoe
by Nicola I. Campbell
illustrated by Kim LaFave
Groundwood Books, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

From the flap copy: "Nicola I. Campbell is Interior Salish and M├ętis...Many members of her family, including her grandfather and mother, attended residential school."

In order to "civilize" them, Europeans forced hundreds of thousands of Native children to attend residential schools, where they were taught European culture, religion and language in replacement of their own.  Shin-Chi's Canoe tells the story of a little girl and her brother riding in a cattle truck away from their family and the beloved landscape of their home, which they would not see again "until the sockeye salmon return," to the separation and strange routines of the residential school. The strength of the children and the power of their own culture is shown when the little brother finds time to go alone to the river, experience nature deeply, sing his grandfather's prayer song, and send the little canoe his father carved down the river back towards home. We also see strength and resilience when the little brother and his new friend find a way to steal food from the school's root cellar! 

The beautiful but spare illustrations communicate with gesture, line and color the pull of home, and the children's resistance to the dulling experience of the school.

Niwechihaw (I Help)
by Caitlin Dale Nicholson
text translated into Cree by Leona Morin-Neilson
Groundwood Books, 2008

From the flap copy: "Caitlin Dale Nicholson is a graduate of the First Nations Studies program at the University of Norther British Columbia...Leona Morin-Neilson teaches Cree at the "Power of Friendship" Aboriginal HeadStart Program in Prince George, British Columbia and at the University of Norther British Columbia. She also teaches people in her community about traditional plants and how they can be used for medicinal purposes."

This is a very simple story about a boy and his grandmother out for a walk in the woods to pick rosehips. Everything his grandmother does, he does in his own way. Some things seem universal -- "driving" his toy car while grandmother drives the car, walking, helping, picking. But some things show how culture and tradition are passed on -- he listens and he prays. In the end, when his grandmother sits, he says, "Not me!" as he pulls back on his slingshot. No matter what else he is, he's a BOY!

Each page features a beautiful painting of either grandmother or the grandson.  There is one short sentence below the picture, first in Cree, then in English. For example, "Kohkom pimohtew. Kohkom walks." is paired with "Nipimohatan. I walk."

A recipe for rosehip tea is included at the end.

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